Australian Government,  Blog post

Working from home: the future of work

Over the past two years, as we moved in and out of lockdowns, many people have gotten used to working from home. COVID-19 was a game-changer for how we work and where we work. On a mass scale, we were introduced to virtual or remote working for the first time.

With concerns in the media about the impact this had on mental health, productivity, and engagement, I wanted to understand if this was something people wanted to continue to do. What does work look like in our “new normal”?

To answer my question, I asked people in my network to do a short survey to understand current perceptions of working from home, the issues and the opportunities, and what you need to be successful.

As a result of the fact that I live in Canberra, most of the people who responded to the survey work in the Australian Public Service (66.7%) or as a contractor/consultant into government (20%).

Does anyone want to keep working from home?

Of those that responded to the survey, an overwhelming 94.5% want to continue to work from home, less than 4% are ready to go back to the office today.

This is higher than our counterparts around the world. Global research by Gartner earlier this year found that 75% of workers worldwide say their expectation of working flexibly has increased.

Respondents to my survey said while they want to continue to work from home, they don’t want to be there full time. Most people are looking for a hybrid approach (81.5%) with a few days in the office and a few days at home.

A recent PWC Australia Future of Work report found that 74% of Australian employees want to work in a hybrid environment with the working week split between the home and office. Only 10% of Australians want to go back to the office five days a week.

Why do you want to work from home?

People said they wanted to continue to work from home, even just a few days a week to:

  • maintain a work/life balance (66.7%)
  • save time (57.4%) from commuting, finding a park, waiting in line for the lift
  • support family and carer responsibilities (38.9%)
  • avoid office distractions (31.5%) – we all love the coffee chat or gossip in the kitchen, but it is a distraction.

Interestingly, 11% said it is now ‘a right of employment which should be available to every staff member’. So for some, working from home is not being seen as something to negotiate for. It is something that should be readily available to everyone.

The research from Gartner found 4 out of 10 employees are at risk of leaving if the organisation insist they return to an in-person office environment on a full-time basis.

The benefits of working from home

Many people said there were benefits to working from home, including:

  • greater flexibility (85.2%)
  • improved wellbeing (77.8%) and
  • being more productive (57.4%).

There is just something nice about being in your own space, being able to put on a load of washing or get dinner started early, wearing what you want and being able to go for a walk at lunchtime.

Not only do these things help work/life balance and enable your family life to be a little easier, but it can help you to be more creative and innovative. New ideas often come when you change your environment, walk away from the computer or are out of back-to-back meetings. Sometimes the best ideas for me come when I am sitting on the floor in my leggings…

The challenges of working from home

Working from home does have its challenges, primarily with team engagement and communication.

Most people felt working from home led to a loss of connection (61.1%) or some staff feeling isolated (46.3%). I have heard from many people this was a common theme over the last two years. You miss the comraderie you have when you spend all day, every day with a group of people. We miss the hallway chat and the cups of tea that created deeper relationships with our colleagues.

Others felt a key issue was communication breakdowns (40.7%). This is an interesting one, a lot of people in the public service I have spoken to have reported increasing levels of communication during the pandemic, with many leading or participating in daily virtual catch-ups, online social activities, and Executive briefings. There has been a much more conscious effort to communicate and engage with staff at home to keep everyone connected to the workplace.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t misunderstandings due to the increase in email compared to conversations when you can’t just walk over to someone’s desk and ask a question or seek clarification.

Stay tuned!

The survey had other interesting outcomes like what you need to be successful working from home and what managers are most concerned about in managing their teams. So keep an eye out over the coming weeks for more fun facts!

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