Govt.’s Productivity Commission endorses working from home in research paper

The current trend of more employees working from home is here to stay and that Australians should not stand in the way of this evolution, according to research from the Australian Government’s Productivity Commission.

This endorsement from a government body should continue to provide more business to the IT channel, after the COVID-19 outbreak last year prompted many businesses to invest in technologies to allow for the new arrangement.

In the Commission’s research paper named “Working from Home”, the shift to working from home amid the COVID-19 pandemic caused “one of the biggest” changes to the way Australians work in the last fifty years. The paper explored how the trend would impact Australia’s economy generally and individuals’ income, employment opportunities and health and wellbeing.

The paper called the move a “forced experiment” created by the pandemic, where working from home has become more common, accepted and expected by employees and employers.

“In less than two years we have gone from less than 8 percent of Australians working from home to 40 percent. While this percentage may not always remain so high it is inevitable that more Australians will work from home,” Productivity Commission chair Michael Brennan said.

“On balance, working from home can unlock significant gains in terms of flexibility and time for employees and could even increase the nation’s productivity.

“Risks can be managed but we should keep an eye on them and be ready to intervene if necessary.”

The paper said working from home is unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels, citing some surveys that found many respondents finding the move better than expected, the increase in technology patents to support working from home better, the investments in both physical and human capital, a change in attitudes, and workers becoming willing to change jobs or accept lower pay to continue working from home.

The Commission said that while the technology allowing a large number of staff to work from home existed, very few took it up due to a variety of reasons. The practice was discouraged due to established management practices and cultural norms in workplaces, the stigma attached to working from home, and the general uncertainty about its benefits.

Technology risks brought by remote work were also a concern for some fields, like banking and finance, due to potential fraud and staff misconduct.

The paper said the next wave of experimentation would involve employees and employers choosing to implement work from home models that work for both parties.

”This evolutionary process of learning and adaptation is likely to continue for some time,” the research paper read.

“While it is not possible, nor meaningful, to predict the precise outcomes of this evolution, understanding the economic forces that underpin this process can help policy makers understand change and be prepared for it.”

The Commission also recommended that governments should support the work from home transition and that they don’t need to take any immediate direct action.

“Working from home won’t suit everyone or every business but for many employees working from home arrangements will be a factor in deciding which job to take,” Brennan said.

“Some employees have even indicated they would be prepared to take less pay in return for the ability to work from home.

“There is a long history of technology enabling different ways of working. The forced experiment of COVID-19 has greatly accelerated the take up of technology including that which assists working from home opportunities.”Got a news tip for our journalists? Share it with us anonymously here.

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