The NSW Government has announced three new ‘Smart Work Hubs’ for Sydney’s western suburbs.
Deputy Premier and Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Stoner made the announcement last week as part of the state's $1.5 million pilot program, which is designed to offer commuters alternative work locations closer to home.
Sydney suburbs with large commuter populations were prioritised, with Smart Work Hubs proposed for Rouse Hill Town Centre (managed by GPT Group), Oran Park Town (managed by Greenfields Development Company in partnership with Urban Growth NSW) and Penrith (managed by Penrith City Council and located in the CBD.)
Each Smart Work Hub will cater for corporate clients, small businesses and casual users such as freelancers. Each will support a teleworking environment and will offer high speed internet, video conferencing facilities, meeting spaces and on-site tech support. While the spaces will be formal, they will offer a community-based environment, social opportunities and a shorter commute for local suburban dwellers.
The project responds to rapidly changing work environments in which 9 to 5 desk work are no longer the norm.
“A ‘Smart Work Hub’ is a facility or space that offers workers an alternative to working in their normal place of work or working from home – teleworking from a ‘third space’ that is usually focused around large commuter populations, like Western Sydney,” Stoner said. “About 33 per cent of workers living in Western Sydney commute outside the region for work. Anyone who has had to fight their way through peak hour traffic, or experienced long commutes to get to their work place, should be excited by the huge potential of this initiative.”
Stoner also recognised the personal and commercial productivity benefits of Smart Work Hubs.
“New work practices and high speed broadband are changing the way people operate in the knowledge economy and NSW has much to gain from taking a leading position in this emerging landscape,” he said. “By establishing Smart Work Hubs in Western Sydney, we can help accelerate the many economic and productive benefits of using technology to support smart working practices."
He also confirmed that the three projects are expected to be open by the end of the year and would operate for a minium of 12 month, during which time the government will collect feedback to understand user demand, what models worked and the overall infrastructure and financial benefits to the NSW economy.
A study from the The Institute of Sustainable Futures (UTS) analysed the work opportunities in the suburbs chosen. It details a significant increase in the rate of teleworking and demand for new types of workplaces.
According to the researchers, for "knowledge workers – professionals, managers, administration and clerical workers – work is increasingly defined by performance and a physical presence in the office is no longer essential."
While individual workplaces are opting for designs that offer campus style open plan offices and collaborative spaces, Smart Work Hubs are more strategic, offering workers across different companies and industries a chance to work under the same roof. They also allow people to work close to home no matter where their employer's office is located.
"By reducing the amount of peak period travel workers undertake to key centres, even one or two days a week each, the community benefits from the reduced demand on the transport systems. This eases the supply pressure on government," the research report reads. "The public benefit is sizable and significant enough to justify active support by state governments of teleworking generally and smart work centres in particular."
The study also suggested Smart Work Hubs offer financial benefits, as teleworking can save workers more than $32 per day and save the public between $4,000 to $5,500 per year per teleworker.
The Smart Work Hub project is part of a global redefining of the workplace. A 2012 Harvard Business Review report said experts project that within a few years more than 1.3 billion people will work virtually, whether by freelancing or by working in a co-working environment.
Not everyone is cut out for the isolation of a work-from-home lifestyle. Work hubs offer an opportunity for workers to connect, be productive and have increased work/life balance due to a smaller commute while also taking a much needed load off their state's infrastructure.