In this dissertation I investigate what, if any, work-family benefits telework offers female and male employees with family responsibilities. Telework is often promoted as a 'family-friendly' work arrangement without an adequately critical basis for such an assertion. The two specific questions which are addressed by this research are: Can telework facilitate work-family balance by providing increased flexibility in, and autonomy over, paid work? and Does telework challenge the male breadwinner/female carer model by disrupting the longstanding space and time divisions of paid and domestic labour that underpin it?
In light of the research goals, the inquiry combines quantitative and qualitative methods in a 'funnelling down' research design. While the design does not permit the establishment of clear causal links between organisational and domestic factors and the work-family utility of telework, it allows the identification of variables which, in particular contexts, appear to be consistently associated with more and less favourable outcomes. A broad review of existing related literature reveals a lack of data about the use of telework in Australia, prompting a large national organisational survey. This survey provides new descriptive and perceptual information about telework from a representative sample of Australian organisations, including the importance of work-family issues as a motivating factor. Finer grained data demonstrating a range of combinations of conditions and outcomes is supplied by four organisational case studies. Qualitative data were gathered from teleworkers and cognate staff using interviews and focus groups. An additional set of individual interviews concentrates on the domestic sphere experiences of 11 teleworkers from the organisations for whom work-family balance was an issue.
In the dissertation I argue that the realisation of the positive work-family potential of telework is conditional upon a range of organisational factors, including matters of telework policy, organisational culture and job; and domestic factors, including the manifestation of telework policy in the home and the pre-existing domestic situation, specifically the importance of paid work and the extent and division of domestic work. While some particular organisational conditions would appear to 'offer' teleworkers greater flexibility and autonomy, which are likely to contribute to work-family balance, what is offered by organisations is not necessarily the same as what is 'taken' from telework (and related flexible work provisions) by employees.
The gender-based expectations associated with paid and unpaid work remain strongly influential. As a consequence, the majority of the female teleworkers (who have primary domestic responsibilities) make the most of telework for work-family advantage. In contrast, the majority of the male teleworkers have wives whose commitment to domestic work allows them to operate as ideal workers/universal breadwinners, largely unencumbered by domestic work. Some exceptions to this general pattern are noted and alternative households are also evident. Despite the time and space variations telework introduces, which are helpful for work-family balance, its impact does not ultimately contest household understandings nor the gendered division of domestic labour which continue to prevail in twenty-first century Australia.