Can Web commuting end the skills shortage?

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Can Web commuting end the skills shortage?

Take a look around. Is your office looking emptier? Driven by a focus on the work-life balance and enabled by improved broadband availability, more Australians are working from home.

And according to H.R. Shiever, managing director of Citrix Online Asia Pacific, the shift towards telecommuting is likely to continue as the decade wears on.

Shiever cited a 2007 IDC report that forecast nearly 75 percent of the U.S. workforce and 1 billion workers around the world, would be classed as mobile by 2011.

He used the term “Web commuting” to describe what he said is the next generation of telecommuting, in which telephone communications are enhanced by Web use.

“Telecommuting is a bit of an outdated term that encompasses older technologies, and Web commuting is the next generation of that, which enables individuals and companies to embrace collaboration and things driven by the ubiquity of the Internet,” he said.

“We’re seeing a lot of companies in Australia and New Zealand embrace Web commuting and I think this isn’t a trend that’s going to stop; I don’t see any obstacles to this continuing,” he said.

Web commuting offers workers added convenience, a more flexible work-life balance, cost savings and the ability to collaborate with international teams.

In addition, Shiever expects a global uptake of the technology to have knock-on environmental effects by potentially reducing peak hour traffic and the need for long-distance travel to business meetings.

“We’re seeing a lot of employees from all segments adopt this kind of technology and we’re seeing a lot of employers from all segments adopt this kind of technology,” he said.

Simon Lynch, who is the national director of technology at recruitment agency Michael Page International, is skeptical.

“There are certain positions that it [telecommuting] works well for and there are others for which it might be more problematic,” he said.

“It [the IDC forecast] seems like an ambitious number to me, but anything is possible.”

Lynch explained that that whether a job lends itself to a mobile workforce depends on the position, the employer, and the personal preferences of individual employees.

While Web commuting might be effective for independent work, Lynch expects it to be less practical for team-based tasks, or for working with large amounts of confidential information.

Employees who work from home might also be more difficult to manage than employees based in-house, he speculated.

But according to Citrix Online’s Shiever, the move towards a more mobile workforce may be inevitable.

An estimated 30 percent of the Australian workforce is currently comprised of Generation Y employees who, Shiever said, expect flexible, technologically-enabled work arrangements.

“The Net-native, Gen Y workers are forming an increasingly large portion of the workforce,” he said.

“They are going to demand more flexible working anyway; that’s just a part of the way that they work and the way that they are productive. I think that this is a trend you’re just going to see happen.”

And according to Bob Olivier, director of specialist recruitment firm Olivier Group, a long-standing skills shortage in Australia could mean that workplaces might have to meet workers’ demands.

“Given the technology is so much better than even two years ago and that the skills shortage is still so severe, I’m surprised it’s [Web commuting] not more commonplace,” Olivier said.

All Olivier group managers are equipped with laptops, which enables them to work from home. The firm’s work-from-home arrangements are particularly helpful to working mothers, Olivier said.

But newly hired workers shouldn’t expect to work from home right away, Olivier said, explaining that it is necessary for staff to establish a trusting relationship with their employers before they are able to telecommute.

“As a recruiter, we don’t see too many instances of telecommuting arrangements offered up front as typically hiring managers want to build trust first,” he said. “It is however more common to see employers offer this to trusted and long term employees, often to women coming back from maternity leave.”

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