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Telework as a tool for workforce participation and inclusion - evidence, opportunities and risks

Author: Catherine Raffaele

The economic costs of workforce exclusion are high, not just for Australia’s productivity but for individuals, with unemployment being found to be a major cause of primary poverty.

Disability and ill health, caring responsibilities, and prior marginalisation can create barriers to participation in paid work, limiting the contributions and the potential of many – for example, the workforce participation of people with mental illness in Australia is only 29%, compared to 76% for the general working-age population (ABS 2009).

Telework has been proposed as a tool to improve workforce participation and inclusion in disadvantaged groups.

This research aims to evaluate the evidence base that supports this claim and identify areas of opportunity and risk to inform workforce policies and workplace practice.

This research comprises a review of academic and grey literature in Australia and internationally to identify and evaluate the evidence for using telework to improve the workforce participation and inclusion of disadvantaged groups.

Findings suggest that telework has the potential to improve workforce participation and inclusion; however, there are significant risks that telework can also further marginalise those who are already disadvantaged. Telework strategies and policies need to be implemented with care and awareness of potential workplace issues to avoid unintended consequences.

The use of telework can run the risk of further marginalising disadvantaged individuals, thus it is important that any telework strategy include awareness and addressing of these risks. This research can help to inform telework implementation in workplaces and broader policies designed to improve workforce participation and inclusion.