February 19th, 2013
Law firm partner Michael O’Brien knows better than most people the impacts Ultra-Fast Broadband will have on people’s ability to work from home. As an employment law expert at Kensington Swan, one part of Michael’s practice is to advise employers on the legal considerations in enabling employees to telework – something which will be greatly enhanced by UFB.
Michael knows the advantages of teleworking for employees and employers – numerous international studies have shown it can boost productivity, reduce absenteeism, help companies reduce their carbon footprint, and allow them to continue working in a disaster like the Christchurch earthquakes. (Put “studies telework” into Google for a raft of research into the subject.)
However Michael is also aware there are important issues around employees working from home. There are impacts for health and safety, for example – staff members’ home offices become their workplaces, with the associated legal responsibilities that involves. And there are also implications for key employment law areas like expenses, performance, and how the arrangement is documented in the employment contract.
The only experience Michael doesn’t have yet is what it’s like to use Ultra-Fast Broadband to work from home himself. However, Takapuna, the Auckland suburb where he lives, is due to get connected in May this year, and Michael says his family will be signing up when it arrives.
From a work point of view, the faster, more reliable, connection will be very handy for video conference meetings from home, particularly with overseas clients in different time zones, Michael says. Around 30% of Michael’s work comes out of Australia, and over the last couple of years he’s also been involved in litigation as far afield as Africa and the UK. Being able to make calls at odd hours from home is crucial; video conferencing will be better.
Michael also looks forward to being able to search big legal databases faster from home, and to be able to download and work on big documents – potentially in real time – in conjunction with other lawyers or clients.
Outside work, Michael can imagine UFB being an important enabler in his family’s life. He has four sons aged between one and nine, and for them the future options for education, gaming, movie streaming, social media and other apps will be hugely appealing. From a more personal viewpoint, Michael says UFB will also give the chance for better quality communication with his parents and other family in Australia, where he was born.
While teleworking won’t be suitable for all Kensington Swan staff, Michael says (there’s a lot of “learning by osmosis” involved in legal practice, especially in the early years), his Wellington-based colleague Hannah Boast hopes Ultra-Fast Broadband will be one factor allowing her to work from home almost all the time in the future.
Hannah is an anthropologist by training and works with the firm’s Maori team on cultural research projects. She has always been able to do a certain amount of work from her home office. But with a three year old, and UFB scheduled to go into her Lower Hutt street around March, Hannah is excited by the opportunities.
“I can’t see why anyone wouldn’t get it – if it isn’t too expensive. We aren’t exactly the most tech-savvy family, but I can see it being really helpful. Our connection is a bit patchy at times. Sometimes, for example, you try to watch a YouTube video and it freezes. And I’m doing a Masters [post-graduate degree] at university, so [having faster, more consistent internet access] will definitely help with that too.”
Part of Hannah’s work for Kensington Swan involves big files – plotting cultural sites onto large maps, for example. At the moment, these files have to be sent back and forth on a disk – they are too large for her present internet connection. UFB should hopefully solve that problem too, she says.
There will also be the opportunity to keep in touch with clients more easily – eventually using video conferencing to replace at least some meetings, she says.
“We have clients based all around the country. While face-to-face is important with Maori clients, when you are dealing with lead negotiators they are pretty tech-savvy. It’s good to have the best connection possible so you are able to keep in touch with people.”