Teleworking is apparently a controversial topic. The recent decision by Yahoo! to effectively ban it has inspired a lot of discussion. Absolutes aren't useful in this context, but it is worth recognising that telework can be useful even in areas where you might expect that face-to-face contact was vital.
Speaking at the Cisco Live conference in Melbourne, Grant Arden, chief technologist for the Bay of Plenty District Health Board in New Zealand, explained how teleworking had quickly become a vital tool for health workers in the region.
"Our company has around 3000 staff, and about 1000 of those at some point telework," he said. "That ranges from managers who might be crook and keep working anyway to radiologists and clinicians who might be in another country but still come back and check their notes or do a diagnosis from a radiology image That's been a significant change in itself because we're now processing patients faster."
Increasing use of teleworking has also helped the board reduce costs in other ways. "What we're doing now is focusing on reducing patient admissions," Arden said. Health costs are evenly split between hiring clinical workers and "bricks and mortar and admissions", and cutting costs in the second area is easier. "If you can keep people out of hospitals, you save quite a lot of money."
That said, Arden doesn't underestimate the cultural challenges in shifting to telework. Indeed, he anticipates similar challenges with the increased use of video conferencing in the health sector. "Video conferencing between hospitals and health providers is starting to explode in New Zealand," Arden said. "One of the risks associated with that is that there's so much demand now and it's paying off so quickly that the protocols around the use and when and where and how are really not in place yet. It's like when we started the whole teleworking thing. We tried it as a proof of concept and a year down the track we had 1000 people doing it. I think the same thing this year is going to happen with video."
Despite the success of the telework trial, it's worth nothing that it doesn't involve all the staff; there are still 2000 working in "conventional rules". Again, absolutes aren't helpful, and an outright ban on remote working, in the style of Yahoo! or Best Buy, doesn't seem to have any real business logic behind it. As Martin Stewart-Weeks, director of the global public sector practice at Cisco, put it: "Work flexibility should be the norm, not the exception." We'll second that.
Disclosure: Angus Kidman visited Melbourne as a guest of Cisco.