Australian employees will be less likely to work from home after the COVID-19 pandemic than peers in comparable countries – but those that do will have more say than ever about which productivity tools they use, according to new figures suggesting that Australian companies are relaxing their concerns about cloud application security.

Before the pandemic began, Australian companies were on par with those in China and Germany in eschewing remote work, with just 13 per cent of the 1,077 respondents to the Infoblox COVID-19 Challenges for the Borderless Enterprise report saying that at least half their employees were working from home.

That was well behind the overall average of 21 per cent and a third of the 37 per cent in the chart-topping United States.

Months later, working-from-home arrangements are all but mandatory and 68 per cent of Australian companies now have half or more of their employees working from home – consistent with the overall average of 70 percent.

Respondents to the survey were more comfortable than most that they had the right technology and security in place to support this shift – with 52 per cent saying they were “very prepared” for the shift, ahead of Germany (46 per cent), China (38 per cent), Japan (38 per cent) and the UK (32 per cent).

COVID-era mandates have broken down resistance to working from home in many areas that had long eschewed the idea: one recent survey of 6000 public servants, for example, found that “extensive managerial resistance” to home working in 2018 had changed dramatically after the pandemic emptied out administrative office complexes.

Even Parliament has come to the party, kicking off its first-ever virtual session this month as state and territory border closures make long-held rules about physical proximity untenable.

Some 57 per cent of public-service managers thought their workers were just as productive when working from home, while nearly 35 per cent said their employees were more productive than in the past.

This, in a public service where former Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s 2012 goal of 12 per cent home-workers was once considered ambitious.

Despite their preparedness, however, just 32 per cent of respondents estimated that more than half of their employees would continue working from home once the crisis has passed – behind the UK (46 per cent), Japan (54 per cent), and the United States (58 per cent).

Free, even when you’re not

However long it lasts, managers have become more willing to let employees use whatever technologies work best for them – including once-controversial consumer-focused cloud collaboration tools.

Despite ongoing reports of security issues in platforms like Zoom, Instagram and WhatsApp, fully 73 per cent of Australian respondents said their companies are allowing employees to use those tools – and other popular consumer applications like Skype, Google Meet, and Houseparty – for business purposes.

That’s well ahead of the 63 per cent figure globally.

Such broad endorsement of consumer tools has long concerned IT administrators that had little or no control over them, and often had no idea which employees were using them or what data they were storing inside of them.

Despite enthusiasm for cloud applications, however, decision-makers were still ambivalent about home working’s implications – with their two biggest post-pandemic concerns that people will prefer to work from home, and that more people will bring personal devices to the office.

Multi-factor authentication had also become widespread, with 56 per cent of Australian companies adopting the technology – compared with 48 per cent of UK and American companies, 43 per cent in China, and 35 per cent in Japan.

That bodes well for the confidence of IT managers who are staring down the need to support larger numbers of workers from home indefinitely, all while ensuring that confidential data remains secure even on home networks over which they have no control.

“When the COVID-19 pandemic first began, organisations in Australia rushed to enable remote work overnight,” said Matthew Hanmer, country manager and regional director, Australia and New Zealand at Infoblox.

"Their top priority was making sure workers could connect to enterprise applications from their homes — sometimes through unsecured personal devices. While most can now accommodate the basics of remote work, it’s clear there’s a need for greater security controls.”