Money Work Experts back Richard Branson’s call that telecommuting benefits everyone

Experts back Richard Branson’s call that telecommuting benefits everyone

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Working from home can benefit parents and the wider workforce, but many Australian employers are against it. Photo: Getty
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Australian researchers have backed Richard Branson’s calls for more work-at-home flexibility for parents with young children, saying it would boost productivity. But bosses are not so sure.

The billionaire Virgin founder told CNN’s Boss Files this week that he spent his children’s younger years working from home and was a “great believer” in workplace flexibility.

But in bad news for parents, new survey data shared exclusively with The New Daily revealed employers overwhelmingly opposed working from home.

Despite the resistance of bosses, health and workplace researchers insisted that telecommuting was something companies should embrace – especially for parents.

“I find people are enormously much more productive working from home. What happens is, they’ve got less physical commuting and more time to work without interruption,” RMIT industrial relations expert Dr Sara Charlesworth told The New Daily.

“We know the average travel time to work has been increasing for years now, so more of us are spending time in bumper to bumper traffic, so avoiding that one or two days a week is good for mental health.

“All good literature tells us that a worker who has good work-life balance, lower stress, is more likely to be engaged and committed to their work.”

According to the Indicators of a Thriving Workplace survey, due to be released by SuperFriend next week, only 33 per cent of managers supported flexible working arrangements, while only 17 per cent of workers believed their work-life balance was optimised.

“We have a long way to go here in Australia to promote work-life balance,” SuperFriend CEO Margo Lydon told The New Daily.

Richard Branson and his daughter Holly. Photo: Getty

An early convert was Mr Branson.

“I lived in a houseboat when my kids were young … I was building Virgin,” he told CNN.

“They were fooling around. I changed a nappy and I’d be on the phone. So I suspect I’ll see more of my kids and family than almost any father.”

Because of this positive experience, Mr Branson said he was a “great believer in people working from home”.

“I encourage our staff if they want to work from home,” he said.

“The most important [thing] in the end in life is your family and friends.”

According to University of Sydney workplace expert John Buchanan, telecommuting is not only beneficial to families but is also an “employer’s dream”.

“In principal it’s a really good idea,” Mr Buchanan told The New Daily.

“The capital requirements of not having to provide office space is huge, all you’re paying for really is the labour.”

For 18 months, Bec Bell has telecommuted from her family’s blueberry farm outside Byron Bay in northern New South Wales as general manager of member health for Medibank.

For Ms Bell, the major benefit of telecommuting is she spends more time with her husband, but “I also get to do my job. I bring my whole self to work and I am more creative being at home”, she told The New Daily.

Ms Bell is one of the 70 per cent of Medibank staffers who now work flexibly via telecommuting, an increase from 57 per cent a year ago.

Telecommuting does not benefit everyone

However, Dr Charlesworth said working from home may not be beneficial for all new parents.

“I often say this in particular to new parents who think this is going to be a great alternative to child minding, it’s not,” she said.

“Unless you’ve got a very, very good baby that sleeps for long sections of the day, fantastic, but it’s very hard to be looking after children, toddlers, particularly pre-school children when you’re working from home.

“Workers need to be clear that you’re at work but also so employers have a confidence that these people will be working.”

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