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Telework trial relying on plans hatched for IT workers

Australian government agencies chase 12 per cent work-from-home target

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The first trials of teleworking by Australian government agencies, announced last week as part of a push to get 12 per cent of employees working from home by 2020, will not require any new security measures and will rely on guidelines drafted for remote work by IT workers.

Australia last week launched a campaign to encourage teleworking, a practice said to “overcome skill shortages caused by geographical barriers” and bring about “A reduction in absenteeism associated with short term staff family issues and through improving work/life balance for staff.”

“Increased workforce participation”, bureaucratic jargon for finding ways disadvantaged workers can work without having to travel to an office, is another hoped-four outcome.

Six to eight agencies, one of which will definitely be the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, will participate in the trial.

But participating agencies aren't being offered any guidance on the IT needed to run their trials.

When The Reg asked Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO), the body that sets policies for use of IT by government, if any thought had been applied to security arrangements for the trials, we were referred to the 2009 Tele-working policy for ICT staff, AGIMO's most recent pronouncement (PDF) on teleworking.

That document opens with the following statement of its purpose:

“The Australian Government Tele-working Policy for ICT staff will reform the ICT workforce in the Australian Public Service (APS) and ensure agencies attract and retain skilled Information and Communication Technology (ICT) professionals.”

Later in the document, it states the document was developed in response to a shortage of ICT staff, especially in Canberra. It goes on to describe sysadmin-centric telework practices, hardly the thing one would imagine is needed for a wider teleworking push.

AGIMO did say it “will be working with the Australian Public Service Commission and the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy in providing technical advice over the next few months.” We were also told “Many Australian Government agencies have existing secure remote access solutions in place today to support staff who need to access the department’s IT systems remotely, including for telework.”

Whether those solutions are sufficiently scalable to meet a target of 12 per cent teleworking is not known.

Nor is whether Australia's government sees merit in developing a cross-government standard for the security kit required to enable telework. Such an approach would seem to be more in tune with Australia's recent linking for streamlined government purchasing and the cost savings that come with bulk buys. ®

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