Will Working from Home continue? And how?
The first completed projected in our suite of Working from Home (WFH) projects, Encouraging continuation of work from home post-pandemic, has been completed, and the final report is now available for download.
This project worked to:
… identify the impacts of different WFH arrangements on productivity, transport, health and wellbeing, and then to develop recommendations for policy and practice for use by government and industry to encourage the continuation and greater adoption of different WFH arrangements during and after the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
WFH: The numbers, before and during the pandemic
Before getting into the key finding in the report, it would be good to understand just how much the pandemic touched our working lives.
Based on the 2016 Census, it is estimated that on average, roughly 2 to 8% of the Australian workforce were working remotely on any given day. Cut to during the pandemic, ABS surveys revealed that at least 40 per cent of the Australian workforce reported working remotely one or more times a week during the peak of the pandemic, and 30 per cent reported working remotely most days.
Based on the numbers above, it’s clear that not only was a large percentage of the workforce able to work from home, but that given the longevity of the pandemic it was a way of working that, well, worked.
The methods employed in this report were:
- A review of the relevant academic and grey literature on remote working arrangements, their impacts on productivity, health and wellbeing, and transport, energy and land use behaviours, and policies that could be used to support and enable their adoption
- Analysis of relevant Australian labour market data collected by the ABS and other organisations before and during the pandemic, to examine how uptake of remote working arrangements has varied historically.
- Analysis of qualitative data from different employers drawn from across the country to understand their experiences with remote working arrangements.
- Collection and analysis of quantitative data from a large-scale nationwide online survey of 3,853 employees and managers to understand their attitudes and preferences towards remote working arrangements.
From this mixed-methods approach some key findings in the report are:
- Roughly 51% of employees working in large Australian urban areas (populations greater than 100,000) believe that some of their jobs tasks and activities could be done remotely. However, only 22% have formalised remote working arrangements with their employers.
- Larger firms are more able to adopt remote working arrangements. Smaller businesses frequently do not have the resources to build the requisite technical infrastructure and organisational processes to enable remote working.
- Small business and family enterprises in Australia account for almost 98 per cent of all businesses, employing 44 per cent of the workforce and accounting for 35 per cent of Australia’s gross domestic profit (ASB and FES, 2019). Resourcing needs to be available to these businesses if they are to transition to any kind of long-term work from home practices.
- 40-50% of employees and 60-70% of managers expressed concern about impacts on supervision, coordination, performance appraisal, career advancement, organisational loyalty and other aspects of human relations.
- While 55-60% of employees see clear benefits, in terms of impacts on work/life balance and general life satisfaction, 40-50% also express concern around finding it difficult to separate work and home life.
- In terms of transport impacts, we estimate that remote working arrangements could reduce weekday commute travel by car by 12-17 per cent and by public transport by 22-31 per cent across large urban areas.
- 42% of employees in our sample agreed that they would consider living further away from their current workplace, 72% of managers agreed that their company would consider reducing its office space, and 68% of managers agreed that their company would consider renting cheaper office space in a different location.
The future of work
The likelihood is that future workplaces are likely to adopt one of two hybrid approaches in order to incorporate (continued) remote working:
- The offer of increased flexibility to work remotely some workdays and/or workhours.
- Companies may significantly increase their remote workforce, while maintaining a sizable fraction of on-site only workers.
Based on this report’s findings, it is estimated that:
… roughly half of existing jobs will continue to be done completely on-site, up to 50 per cent of existing jobs could have flexible arrangements that allow individual employees some ability to work remotely, and 10 per cent or more of existing jobs could transition to permanent remote working arrangements.
Download the report
For your copy of the final report documents for this project, click the link below:
UPDATE: September 2023
Akshay Vij, Flavio F. Souza, Helen Barrie , V. Anilan, Sergio Sarmiento, and Lynette Washington have published an academic paper emanating from this project for the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization. The article can be read at: Employee preferences for working from home in Australia.
UPDATE: January 2024
Researcher Lynette Washington wrote about findings from this project for The Conversation. Read the article at: What’s it worth to work from home? For some, it’s as much as one-third of their wage