As Australia’s Covid cases decrease, the public health order mandating NSW employers to enable workers to work from home during the Covid-19 crisis has been lifted. However, many employers are updating their remote working policy, based on changes implemented in 2020, where a large proportion of the workforce (46% in NSW) was forced to adapt to a remote working model.
What have we learnt from lockdown?
In Australia, many of us already worked at home occasionally, but many more were discouraged from doing so. ‘Productivity loss’ being the main concern for businesses. Covid created a ‘forced experiment’ — a large sample of people working from home, where the benefits and disbenefits of remote working could be observed and easily compared. With a timely NBN rollout Australia-wide, conditions for a mass remote working workforce became possible.
The NSW Innovation and Productivity Council (IPC), conducted a survey of NSW remote workers during the pandemic. Combining this new data with other data sources, we presented their findings in the NSW Remote Working Insights report which revealed the potential remote working has for employees, as well as their employers.
We worked closely with the Council over a series of Zoom workshops, to develop data visualisations and infographics that visually conveyed some important learnings from 2020. Using an iterative approach, we transformed a data-rich document into a visual piece of storytelling.
This report has the broadest audience, of all the reports we have produced to date for the Innovation Economy Research Series. The insights are relevant to small and large employers, in a range of industries across the state, and beyond. Media took the results beyond policymakers to the general public, with The Australian, The Mandarin and news.com.au among the publishers reporting on the reports eye-opening findings.
What are the pros and cons of remote working?
The most obvious benefit of remote working is removing the need for the daily commute. Working from home just two days per week, equates to an additional 3.3 weeks of leave and $860 in travel savings.
IPC’s research found that more than half (53%) of workers felt more productive working from home. Remote workers tend to work slightly longer hours and have added job satisfaction, so the benefits are shared by employers. Sceptics of workers self-reporting productivity will find the report includes references that confirm the validity of these reports. The benefits to an organisation can’t be ignored.
On a more granular level, certain jobs, and certain tasks, are more suited to remote working. Whilst some occupations (such as IT support) may be 100% suited to remote working, other vocations, such as nursing or personal training, may find it difficult or impossible. “Knowledge intensive” industries are most suited whereas “producing” industries can only adapt so far.
“Many NSW remote workers reported that their individual productivity is higher when working remotely. But we also know that teams and businesses are more than the sum of their parts.”
NSW Remote Working Insights
Reflecting upon our own studio’s experience, certain tasks resulted in greater productivity, such as formatting, writing and project planning. But other tasks were more difficult, such as creative collaboration or problem solving. IT issues still persist for memory-hungry tasks, such as developing a presentation where many assets from various sources have to be collected — productivity was limited by internet bandwidth.
What will workplaces look like in the future?
The IPC report includes 10 ways remote working could change NSW, which we enriched with a continuous illustration. Significant changes in our workplace could have lasting effects on our cities. Whilst a decentralised workforce may affect service-related industries in the CBD, regional businesses may expect an increase in trade. Roads and commuters routes will become less trafficked, which has the added benefit of reducing carbon emissions.
Remote working is still a relatively new phenomenon, so some benefits and challenges may be yet to present themselves. Working in your pyjamas is novel for a while, but your mental health may suffer longer term as your human interactions decrease.
Remote working also adds complexity to employment law. Employers are obligated to ensure their employees can carry out their duties in a safe environment, but not all workers can afford a home office, ergonomic office furniture or fast internet speeds. This also poses questions around workplace equality as different employee’s domestic environments may affect their opportunities in the workplace, both positively and negatively.
“A mix of remote and in the office time would let me enjoy the physical social interaction alongside the work benefits of being remote”
Female, 64, Sydney, Professional Services
The report indicates that a “hybrid model” of remote and onsite working is preferred. This allows employers and employees to optimise working arrangements, with two to three days at home being optimal.
With two-thirds of us expecting to work more from home in the future, this is an interesting time for employees and employers to re-define traditional workplaces, which they may never have thought to question pre-Covid. Our workplace locations, our physical desks, our working hours and even what is considered acceptable workplace attire are all up for discussion.
Have you spoken to your employer about the productivity that could be unlocked from remote working? Check out IPC’s report for more insights.
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