Govt pushes telework for extreme weather response

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Govt pushes telework for extreme weather response

Looks to make another case for the NBN.

The Federal Government is promoting telework as a way for companies to rebound more quickly from the growing problem of natural disasters and other extreme weather events.

The suggestion was made by the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy in its submission to the Senate Committee investigation into extreme weather events.

In its submission the Department argues teleworking organisations are less susceptible to natural disasters and crises because their staff are distributed across different locations.

The Department cites the US state of Minnesota which is known for its frequent extreme weather events and has a 22 percent rate of telework. It also cites data showing telework in New York City increased by 20 percent in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

The Queensland floods saw similar moves in Australia, with companies including private equity firm QIC relying heavily on staff working from home after their riverfront headquarters became inaccessible.

“The first thing to think about in extreme weather events is whether you’ll have access to electricity, because it’s a bit hard to be a teleworker without power,” said David Lamond, pro vice-chancellor of offshore development at Victoria University.

“The whole notion of teleworking presumes the infrastructure will be able to do that,” said Lamond, who has co-authored a book on teleworking.

In its efforts to help build the case for the National Broadband Network, the Government has committed to a goal of at least 12 percent of public sector employees teleworking at least one day per week by 2020.

Lamond said it made sense for government services to be farmed out to teleworkers in a post-disaster situation.

“People in back office jobs in Centrelink, Medicare, responsible for paying out payments, looking at tax returns, all those things could continue with those individuals doing it from a distance.”

But post-disaster communications would be heavily dependent on the ability for networks to recover quickly, Lamond said, with high levels of bandwidth required to communicate effectively.

“In a post-disaster situation you want to be able to get onto people quickly and engage them in a positive way.”

In its submission the Department argues fibre 'loops' used to connect key pieces of NBN infrastructure, satellite services and disaster recovery gateway stations will help to ensure the network can offer high levels of availability and redundancy.

Lamond said that the richness of communication was important for teleworkers, an issue that had not yet been tackled by technology.

“What we try to reengineer is the capacity for instant chat, for asynchronous conversations, but it doesn’t have the same impact as the face to face stuff.

“We are social beings and we like to see and touch and smell.”

Lamond agreed the National Broadband Network wasn’t currently required by teleworkers, but said greater bandwidth would help communication.

“The richness of the contact, the richness of the communication of telepresence is enhanced by the size of the pipe through which the data are being exchanged.”

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