Will work from home really be for long term?

| June 2, 2022

Small office home office was all the rage some twenty years ago. Interestingly enough the statistics suggest that in the 20+ years lead up to the COVID-19 pandemic the proportion of the population working from home had held steady at five per cent– one percentage point of which was farmers. The concept, then, was not exactly embraced – though feasible.

The Australian Government Productivity Commission reported in 2016 that over 35 per cent of jobs had aspects that allow staff to work remotely. Working from home is particularly suited to office-based workers where the use computers and telecommunication is dominant and the requirement for direct interaction with the public is minimal but in 2019 only 8% of employers had a formal work-from-home arrangement, and worked a median of one day per week from home.

According to Bernard Salt (2021) in the age of coronavirus, industry surveys have shown this has risen to 45 to 50 per cent. This is quite a remarkable leap in comparison and was certainly not expected. It is safe to say COVID-19 coughed up a range of things unexpected.

As a result it projected that more than one million cars are likely to disappear from Australian city motorways forever because the number of people who work from home permanently is set to treble along with a sizeable shift to urban living. The challenges, though, are related to the ability of the individual and organization to achieve a level of disconnect.

The shift is having other concrete consequences as employers evaluatethe need to keep paying for half-empty city real estate.In the tertiary sector, university timetables were previouslycreatedto maximise the use of campus infrastructureand students had to fit their lives around that.This balance has now shifted in favour of student travel times for compulsory on-campus classes compared to the flexibility of hybrid models of study.

Our personal reflection (we work from home 3 days a week and work from the office setting two days a week) is that the model encourages a 12-15 hour day – starting with emails at 5am and finishing with writing articles at 8pm. For self-confessed workaholics this is highly acceptable – but for most it is not sustainable.

Salt believes once life returns to something like normal (whenever that is) the rate will drop back to between 10 and 15 per cent working from home. At 15 per cent, 1.8m Australians would be working from home.


Working from anywhere may provide a valuable option moving forward. With WFA, workers get geographic and/or time zone flexibility, eliminate lengthy commutes and reportedly a better work/life balance. This option is also ideally suited where the need for synchronous communication is not always essential and fills the middle ground between working in the office and working from home.

A recent observation notes the rise in the number of collaborative meeting spaces in cafes with power outlets and semi-private booths. Prior to the pandemic, shared office and co-working spaces were gaining popularity and it is anticipated that there will soon be a return to this workplace choice.

In order to travel and return to a relatively ‘normal’ existence the notion of being able to work from any location (cognisant of time differences) using some relatively high-end technology would appear to be a worthwhile option. The key ingredient, though, would be a strong WIFI access and the appropriate teleconferencing gear.

The other benefit to this model of WFA is the implementation of “Time Zone Stacking” that creates strategic flexibility by sequencing work hours across the world.

Using Melbourne and London as an example – the time difference is currently nine (9) hours. With a staff members starting at the usual 9am routine in Melbourne and working through to 5pm in Melbourne, followed by a London based colleague commencing their day at 9am (6pm Melbourne time) through to 5pm (2am Melbourne time). This essentially stretches the working day to 17hrs. The benefit for this level of staff access for university students would be immeasurable.

In terms of meetings scheduled on TEAMS (for example) a 5.30pm Melbourne meeting would require an 8.30am appearance in London. In all – very doable.

So where to now?

We suspect Salt, though expert in his estimates, has missed the issue of mixed mode – where people will WFH on certain days and return to the office on others. We also believe the WFA model will be taken up with considerable enthusiasm. For ourselves we will become digital nomads – wandering the earth – checking WIFI strength and time zones on a regular basis – and wondering why we had not thought of this some 20 years ago.