Australia ripe for future work

Alison Maitland's picture

I spoke about Future Work at an excellent conference in Sydney last week organised by Women on Boards, which has driven the debate about gender balance as a business issue in Australia. With its vast distances yet congested major cities, Australia is ripe for new ways of working, but management attitudes and processes are a significant barrier.

The country lags other parts of Asia Pacific in adopting telework, according to government data: only 4-6% of Australians work in their main job from home most of the week, compared with 25% in India and 18% in China. Government strategy is to get at least 12% of employees working from home or another non-office location by 2020, with high-speed broadband-enabled telework expected to add A$8.3bn to GDP, creating the equivalent of 25,000 full-time jobs. Australia's ageing workforce means there is talk of people working into their 80s, while at the other end of the age range Gen Y Australians expect a different style of working from the past. 

The mainly female delegates at the WOB conference reflected the spectrum from self-employed professionals with complete autonomy over how they work through to employees of large companies where even simple access to conventional flexible working arrangements depends on the progressiveness of their line manager. When I asked delegates to pinpoint the biggest gaps between their existing and ideal work cultures, they cited management processes, masculine leadership styles (for which read "alpha male"), and billable hours in professional services firms.

Given that many of the leadership skills needed for future work play to female strengths, this is another area where women can be at the forefront of change. We discussed our TRUST principles and they came up with ways to start moving to future work in their companies - including five-minute meetings, better delegation, and setting clearer objectives and measures in order to give people greater autonomy. 

As for wider initiatives, Australia is starting to develop smart work hubs  - there is one in Melbourne and another opening in Sydney, according to the Australian Anywhere Working Research Network. Anywhere working will feature at Macquarie University's Women and Leadership conference in Sydney on 18-19 July, and National Telework Week takes place in November. 

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