There is quite a range of conjecture at present when it comes to the number of people working from home and whether this trend is going to retain some permeance once we return to some form of normality.
I wrote about working from home in the early days of Covid and you can revisit that post here.
That post outlined – prior to Covid – that some 29% of Australian workers did undertake some work from home. This is up 1% from ten years ago.
Yet it was estimated – again prior to Covid – that just under 10% of the Australian workforce work at home on a regular basis.
Therefore, we can estimate that about 1.3 million workers across Australia worked from home on a steady basis before March 2020.
We also know that about 20% of Australian businesses (not employees here but businesses) had some employees teleworking from home prior to Covid. So, inversely some 80% businesses didn’t support working from home in early 2020.
So, what has happened over the last 18 months?
A recent release from the ABS finds that 27% of those businesses that didn’t allow teleworking prior to Covid, have introduced working from home in response to Covid-19.
The ABS study also found the 27% of businesses that did support teleworking prior to Covid increased the number of their staff working from home over the last 18 months.
In addition, a further 33% of these ‘did support’ businesses increased the frequency of staff teleworking.
As a result of these changes, it is estimated that today, some 31% of the Australian workforce works from home on a consistent basis.
This amounts to about 4 million workers, and this is three times the number of regular teleworkers prior to Covid.
The current breakdown of the number of teleworkers (31%) by business is as follows:
- 11% of businesses have under 25% of the workforce teleworking,
- 7% of businesses have between 25% and 75% such workers, and
- 13% of businesses have teleworker numbers currently set between 75% and 100%.
So, if appears that it is either some of business’s employees or almost all of them telework.
Looking forward 1% of Australian businesses expect to increase the number teleworkers, whilst 60% expect that the current levels to remain steady post Covid.
At present only 9% of businesses expect to reduce or eliminate the number of teleworkers in the future. And 11% – at this stage – just don’t know what the future holds.
Australian business believes that teleworking has helped improve staff wellbeing (45%); reduced overheads (27%); increase productivity (26%); retain existing staff (18%) and has broadened their potential recruitment pool (6%).
When it comes to the teleworkers, most say (65%) that what they like the most about working from home is that they do not have to commute to and from work. A further 58% like the flexible scheduling that working from home allows. This is followed by being better able to complete work (38%) and being able to spend more time with the family (36%).
Another study, this time from the Australian Government Productivity Commission, found that three quarters of teleworkers survey considered that they were at least as productive working from home as from the office. It is of little surprise that employers had a different view. Yet the difference between the two was marginal overall.
Working well from home depends on the teleworker being able to so effectively and this is determined by their role and tasks (both at work and at home), and their family and housing circumstances.
The latest research (mid-2021) finds that 74% of survey teleworker respondents worked from their own work room or dedicated work space in a shared room.
Another three quarters of those surveyed also had the equipment at home to work successfully.
With the two big states still in extended lockdown and several others exercising strict border controls, it isn’t that surprising that about a third of Australian’s are currently working from home.
What is surprising – well to me anyway – is that some 60% of businesses don’t expect to see a change once we resolve how we live with Covid. Given that an addition 11% of businesses remain undecided as to how they will manage staff post Covid restrictions, this 60% could be even higher.
If that eventuates then we will see major changes across our urban and regional landscapes.
But I still reckon that once we get our freedoms back – well some of them at least – many, if not most, will go back to the previous long-term work patterns.
We are social creatures and our infrastructure (and who owns it) is centred around expensive physical assets and almost all of it involves people working together in concentrated urban centres.
As I stated in early 2020, working from home has big urban advantages, but I just don’t see us – collectively – changing our entrenched patterns of behaviour that much once finally get a grip on how we manage this respiratory infection.
But that 60% figure, I must admit, has given me pause for thought.