SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Until companies get with the flexible work program, women will remain underrepresented among corporate and business leaders. So say the authors of a green paper from the Australian Institute of Management (AIM). It’s one more piece of evidence of the need for virtual offices.

According to the paper, flexible arrangements, which cover when, where and how women work, are integral to improving opportunities for them to advance through the leadership pipeline. And we know that virtual offices are part and parcel of flexible work arrangements.

“A major challenge to flexible work is workplace attitudes that see it as a curiosity, privilege, a nuisance or as an unnecessary cost,” says Dr. Robyn Clough, AIM’s manager of Public Policy and Thought Leadership.

As Clough sees it, too many managers believe the ideal workplace leader is someone who is able to work full time and is solely committed to their job because they are supported by someone outside of the workplace who attends to their non-work needs. Such a worker, she says, may have been the norm in the past, but this is no longer the case.”

“Work is no longer neatly contained within set hours,” she adds. “Workers have a multiplicity of non-work responsibilities and interests which they seek to balance against their work roles.”

The papers says that giving employees greater control over when, how and where they work results in “better human capital outcomes” which converts to “enhanced business outcomes” through improved productivity, finance performance and client satisfaction.

Professor Marian Baird from the Women and Work Research Group says childcare and elder care responsibilities drive many requests for flexible work arrangements, but women may also wish to study or reduce commuting time. This is one of the many benefits of virtual offices.

“Women are attracted to and remain in work that offers flexibility and recognizes their input at work,” says Baird. “They are more satisfied and more engaged in their work and that’s good for business.”

The paper calls for flexible work options to be “mainstreamed” within a framework that recognizes the business benefits of a flexible workplace which embraces the opportunities that the 21st century digital environment offers.

“Equipping managers with the necessary skills and providing them with guidance and resources so they can effectively apply those skills in a flexible work environment is an important step towards mainstreaming flexible work in Australian workplaces,” concludes Baird.