In summary

  • Swinburne researchers have tracked work from home trends in Australia in a new report published by the Fair Work Commission
  • The transition to work from home has resulted in a both challenges and benefits for workers
  • Work from home has seen mixed productivity levels and some negative effects for gender equity and health and wellbeing

Swinburne researchers have identified important work from home (WFH) trends emerging in Australia as a result of the COVID-19 situation, in a new report published by the Fair Work Commission.  

Dr John Hopkins and Professor Anne Bardoel from Swinburne Business School co-authored the report which draws on various research findings to describe the key challenges, benefits, gender effects, future trends and implications for health and wellbeing resulting from the sudden move towards work from home.

The report identifies 41 per cent of Australians with a job were still working from home at least one day per week as of October.

Challenges and benefits

The transition to full-time work from home has resulted in a mix of challenges and benefits for workers.

Recent findings from a survey conducted by Dr Hopkins and Professor Bardoel found the major challenges were struggling with the ‘blurring’ of the boundary between work and home life (47 per cent), distractions at home (41 per cent), switching off after work (37 per cent) and staying motivated (34 per cent).

Workers were also able to identify a range of benefits including not having to commute to work (90 per cent), greater flexibility (68 per cent), financial savings (65 per cent) and more time with family or friends (48 per cent).

What is the future of working from home?

Professor of Human Resource Management Anne Bardoel discusses findings from a Swinburne survey that asked Australians about their work from home experiences.  

Mixed productivity levels

Around one-third of participants (34.5 per cent) felt they were more productive at home, but a similar number (30 per cent) felt they were less productive. The remaining third believed their productivity was about the same.

Significant relationships were found to exist between higher productivity and those who are given clear work expectations, create goals and structure, and those who are encouraged to create routine and establish a specific work space.

Women bearing the brunt

Much of the evidence covered in the report suggests that work from home during the COVID-19 lockdowns had negative effects for gender equity including:  

  • The responsibility for home-schooling during COVID-19 lockdowns mostly fell on women’s shoulders
  • More women than men reported spending more time caring for children and adults and doing household chores
  • Women were more likely than men to feel too tired after work to enjoy things they would like to do at home; and to experience an increase in anxiety.

Health and wellbeing

In general, the lockdowns were associated with a significant deterioration in mental health, with some research suggesting work stress may also have increased. However, Dr Hopkins says there was a sense that some challenges would ease once lockdown conditions were removed.

The findings also made it clear that not everyone’s experience of work from home is the same.

A survey by software giant SAP ANZ found while employee morale was positive overall, there were barriers to working from home for staff including not having a computer desk, connecting to internet, limited private space.

The Swinburne survey also revealed that just under 40 per cent of respondents were given comprehensive guidelines to set up their home workstation correctly – and more than 30 per cent received no guidelines at all.

Actions for employers

Dr Hopkins and Professor Bardoel conclude that working from home looks almost certain to continue to some extent, with many workers likely to be dividing their time between the office and home.

The evidence in the report illustrates this can work, and actually result in increased productivity, especially if the following conditions are met:

  • Work from home is voluntary for employees
  • Employees have the correct resources in their home, plus appropriate structure and guidance from their employers
  • Work schedules are such that employees are not on-call 24/7, respecting employees’ private time.

The full report is available to read online on the Fair Work Commission’s website.

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