Forced working from home ‘experiment’ a success for public service

| October 14, 2020

Thousands of public servants have provided new evidence that flexible work is good for productivity – and families.

After six months of working remotely, thousands of Australian public servants have been told to head back to the office. However, new research suggests that requiring employees to spend all of their time in their usual workplace could erode significant gains.

Working during the Pandemic: From resistance to revolution?, a report written by UNSW Canberra’s Dr Sue Williamson and CQUniversity’s Associate Professor Linda Colley, outlines the findings of a survey completed by more than 6000 Australian Public Service (APS) employees.

The report shows that working from home was an overwhelmingly positive experience for APS managers and employees, dispelling some long-held concerns over flexible work arrangements.

“Working from home works,” Dr Williamson said.

“Over 90 per cent of managers said their team was more productive or had about the same level of productivity compared with pre-COVID times.”

The benefits continued beyond productivity; more than 80 per cent reported having more time for themselves and their family.

While technology has provided the opportunity to work from home since the 1990s, uptake from organisations has been slow, due to uncertainties around the impact on productivity and performance.

The working from home ‘experiment’, forced on millions of employees by the global pandemic, has changed the mindset of many APS managers.

“Almost two-thirds of managers are more supportive of employees working from home in the future,” A/Prof. Colley said. “This is good, as the majority of respondents want to continue working from home for some days of the week.”

While there was room for improvement – some respondents said they worked longer hours or had fewer networking and professional development opportunities – the survey demonstrated that working from home could be the “new normal”.

It could also be a step towards gender equity in the workplace.

The majority of women and men were more able to undertake caring responsibilities whilst working from home. The research shows that combining work and caring can increase productivity.

“Women with children aged from five to 17-years-old, in particular, also reported being more productive working from home,” Dr Williamson said.

“This is a surprising result and contrary to emerging research.”

The Working during the Pandemic: From resistance to revolution? report includes a range of tips to help organisations facilitate working from home.

UNSW Canberra’s Sue Williamson. Photo Credit: Lannon Harley
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