Home isolation is causing some Australians grief and others to risk fines by breaking quarantine out of sheer boredom – but a survey of self-isolated office workers suggests the working-from-home trend will permanently change Australia’s working culture.
Some 88 per cent of organisations have adopted working from home as part of their coronavirus response plan, according to a Gartner survey that found most employers were cutting costs during the pandemic by focusing on effective use of technology (cited by 70 per cent of respondents) and freezing new hiring.
But the changes to working patterns could prove to be much more enduring than the pandemic, if the results of another recent poll are anything to go by.
Almost 80 per cent of respondents to a OnePoll survey – which was commissioned by Citrix and queried 1,000 self-isolating office workers in the last week of March – believe working from home will be more common even after the coronavirus pandemic is finished.
Little wonder: 70 per cent reported that working from home makes them as productive, or more productive, than they were in an office environment.
Some 49 per cent of respondents said they are working more productively during the time they would normally spend commuting to work, with 36 per cent saying they are less stressed and 32 per cent suggesting that working from home helps them concentrate better because they are not distracted by colleagues.
Employers vs employees
For many employees, the new working-from-home mandate is simply an extension of existing practices.
Fully 34 per cent of the OnePoll survey respondents were already working from home at least once a week before the pandemic began – ahead of French (26 per cent) and Italian (22 per cent) workers but behind those in the UK (45 per cent) and Germany (43 per cent).
Some 54 per cent of Australian respondents had retreated to custom home-office spaces – suggesting that many workers have been mixing family life and working life much longer than their employers might have been formally aware.
Workers have enjoyed the benefits of home working for years – to the point that one 2017 Telsyte study found 51 per cent of respondents would accept a lower salary for the privilege of working from home.
Just 35 per cent said they prefer traditional job roles involving working from the office five days per week.
Interestingly, not all employers have felt the same way: IBM, a long-time supporter of remote working, famously recalled its employees back to the office in 2017.
Yet, facing the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, even IBM has been proactive in reinstating the practice “wherever possible”.
That’s a much bigger commitment than the work-from-home compromises that some companies have offered – such as hot-desking, which was billed as a way of catering to mobile employees but seen by some as a cost-cutting exercise.
Government from home
Private employers have been striding towards working from home arrangements for many years, with a 2019 Indeed survey finding that 68 per cent of Australian employers allow remote working.
Reported benefits include increased productivity (67 per cent), improved morale (64 per cent), reduced employee turnover (57 per cent), and operational cost savings (51 per cent).
Yet 65 per cent of surveyed workers said their employers don’t offer a work from home policy – suggesting that many are simply not aware of what their employer is doing, or that the employer is only selectively offering the option.
Even the one sector that has been particularly resistant to teleworking – the Australian public service – is being dragged through a remote-working boot camp as it prepared to loosen long-held constraints on the country’s more than 160,000 public servants.
Government departments including the Department of Health, Department of Defence, and Services Australia have been progressing their contingency plans – potentially shifting tens of thousands of workers home for the duration of the pandemic, or beyond.
At the end of March, Commonwealth public service commissioner Peter Woolcott released formal guidance that said working from home was “a priority, wherever this is practicable.”
That’s a huge philosophical jump for a public service that saw Julia Gillard’s target of having 12 per cent of public servants teleworking from home by 2020 – to which she committed in November 2012 – as a radical stretch target.
At that time, Deloitte Access Economics research suggested that teleworking capabilities would improve the inclusiveness of the public service by empowering disabled, near-retirement, family carers, and regional and rural Australians to join the workforce.
But today’s all-in on working-from-home arrangements means that workers of all situations will benefit from the arrangements – and with all signs suggesting that they will be well received, working from home looks set to become a core part of the new normal.