Teleworking - still a pipe dream?

Do you need to show your face at work?

It's National Teleworking Week. Don't feel bad if it snuck up on you this year, as it's actually Australia's first National Teleworking Week. It's not like it's an ancient pagan festival, but more like a week made up by people trying to push agendas and sell stuff. You know how it is.

Anyway, teleworking has always been up there with androids and flying cars as one of those great futuristic promises which never seems to arrive. Chances are your job requires you to turn up every day and do something that can't be done from afar. Otherwise they would have replaced you by now with an android or maybe a trained monkey. If showing your face is fundamental to your job, chances are teleworking isn't going to change your life any time soon.

Teleworking is more relevant for "information workers" -- a fancy term for people who don't actually break a sweat or get their hands dirty. If your job involves furrowing your brow and bashing away at a keyboard then teleworking might be relevant to you. Of course the countless teleworking reports tend to be written by information workers, who tell us that teleworking is going to change the world because they forget they're in a minority and that most people actually work for a living. They're the same people who write reports recommending that businesses replace people with androids or trained monkeys. Come the revolution, they'll be the first against the wall.

I really shouldn't pick on information workers too much, because I am one. My keyboard is my workplace. I'd say the biggest hurdle to teleworking today isn't the technology. There are plenty of remote access and collaboration tools, plus mobile and fixed-line internet access is always improving. The spread of the NBN and LTE will make it easier than ever to work remotely over the internet.

The biggest hurdle is that many organisations still aren't comfortable with the idea of you working somewhere where they can't keep an eye on you, just in case you're goofing off. Some bosses still want to treat you like a trained monkey, but that lack of trust is counter-productive because it means if you do get the chance to goof off you probably will. Eventually things will change as businesses realise that flexible working conditions are important to attract and maintain the best talent. Of course not all businesses are this forward-thinking, some bosses are also trained monkeys, so some people will always be chained to their desks even if they could work perfectly well elsewhere.

Like I said, I'm a freelancer working from home rather than a cubicle jockey. Once you're a self-employed information worker the term "teleworking" becomes meaningless because you tend to set yourself up so you can work anywhere. The cloud becomes king, with a shedload of backup options and redundancies in case things go pear-shaped. Even if you have a home office it's probably just one more place to work, rather than the home base which you sometimes telecommute to.

Now you can work in cafes, airports, hotel rooms, family holidays and everywhere else -- because there's no longer any such thing as annual leave. That's a slippery slope that mobility workers face even if they have a regular job.

Right now I'm writing this in a hotel room and I'm using all the same tools and services as if I was working at home. The only difference is that I'm connected to mobile broadband, alternating between Vodafone Pocket Wi-Fi and the Wi-Fi hotspot on my Telstra iPhone depending on which works best and how much data I've got left. As long as I've got internet access and occasional access to a power point I'm always at work. As you can imagine, that's good and bad.

I think that's why you don't hear the term telecommuting often any more. It's all about mobility and working wherever you are, rather than astral projecting back to your desk. How about you, can you get some work done without making an appearance at the office? Is it getting harder or easier?

The story Teleworking - still a pipe dream? first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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