These benefits of the NBN seem clear, but to what extent can they be realised? And when?
The report Impact of the Digital Economy and the National Broadband Network on Skills states that Australia has been falling behind other OECD nations in digital access and the NBN will allow us to catch up, but not necessarily overtake other OECD nations by the time it is installed in 2017. Australia is currently sitting in 13th place measuring Broadband quality and speed, and is twice as expensive as most countries in the top 20 due to the non-competitive nature of the phone infrasturcute.
One of the major issues, currently rarely discussed, is the end-to-end NBN connection needed for higher speeds to work. Until the NBN is fully implemented in Austraila, the speed will be determined by the lowest connection (Casey, BEC, 18 July 2012). Hence, the NBN benefits will function fully when working with suppliers or clients living in an NBN connected or other fast networked locality.
The Impacts of Teleworking under the NBN report states that the NBN provides the potential for growth of teleworking in suitable industries and a decentralisation of people and office locations away from central business districts. The government is leading the change. On 12 November, at the beginning of National Telework Week, Prime Minister Julia Gillard, announced that the government has set a target of 12 % of public servants to telework at least one day per week by 2020. The report cites the benefits of teleworking: cost savings can be achieved in lower infrastructure maintenance; for rental of office space; electricity usage; employee recruitment; fuel consumption for travel; and increased workforce participation. Time savings are achieved for travel to work allowing for more social time and community contributions.
Sobel Lojeski and Reilly (2008) in ‘Uniting the Virtual Workforce’ highlight how employee engagement is associated with physical, operational and personal relationship distance. Teleworking increases all three types of distance. The authors state that physical distance reduces co-operation and information sharing, operational distance affects communication and disconnectedness and relational distance requires strong cultural, social and work values to overcome any trust and organisational citizenship issues and keep the workforce engaged and productive.
There is a culture of working long hours in Australia. In some organisations this is fostered by promoting those that seem to work hard (long hours) rather than those who are productive. The NBN has the potential to reduce the length of the day absent from home, but it also reduces the visibility of persons working. This implies that the organisational culture and current management styles need to adapt to a productivity focused system.
For distributed workforce management organisations will have to
- Assign resources for telework coordination and implement Policies;
- Individual managers need more work schedule planning and have more emphasis on macro-management than micro-management;
- Increase employee engagement as it directly correlates to trust including the braking down of work and socialisation barriers among team members beyond the physical location;
- Review performance management, key performance indicators and promotion criteria to ensure that staff are assessed for their actual rather than perceived work performance;
- Rethink their training and development to ensure staff have the capabilities in a changing world and the ability to achieve career goals.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ 2011 Household Use of Information Technology and the Australian Communication and Media Authority Communications Reports shows that older persons have less access to and use less diverse communication technologies such as the Internet, mobile phones in particular smart phones, VoIP, Twitter, Social Media etc. If current ICT skill levels remain at the current status quo, Australia will have at least another 40 years of users with lower ICT skills. In addition, Immigrants may have none or limited experience of ICT. And when struggling with general living pressures, upgrading skills may not be at the forefront of the needs wish list.
These issues need to be factored into the thinking in relation to breaking down digital access, setting up business models, creating distributed workforces or pushing all information services online.