New research suggests enabling flexible work makes employees happier and more engaged, as Australian workers navigate returning to the office.
The study, conducted by the NSW government in partnership with Edith Cowan University, found employees able to work remotely and who could dictate the terms of their work, gave overwhelmingly positive feedback on their workplace.
The report found workers surveyed said their emotional security was better looked after despite being socially isolated at home.
The study looked at the psychological health of the 1,039 white collar employees interviewed about their experience of lockdown, finding that the industry workers were in had little impact on their experience of lockdown.
Those who reported the greatest benefits were those who had a disability or had caring responsibilities, with those reporting benefits overwhelmingly being women.
The key finding of the study was that flexible workers placed a high value on feeling trusted by managers and employers.
NSW Centre of Work Health and Safety director Skye Buatava said the research was conducted to examine the impact of an overwhelming move toward flexible work by organisations following work-from-home orders imposed by the pandemic.
Buatava said the research showed flexible working arrangements would be an overall net positive.
“It’s reassuring to see that for the most part, working flexibly can be a very positive experience,” she said.
At the same time, the dramatic work from home shift during the pandemic has “highlighted the need to ensure the right support mechanisms are in place for modern ways of working,” with the NSW government using the research as a touchpoint for developing tools to support businesses in transitioning to a new way of working.
The survey results highlighted the gaps in many companies’ infrastructure for remote and flexible workforces.
“We discovered some flexible workers felt their organisation did not have adequate work health and safety processes in place and that training around mental wellness was lacking,” Buatava said.
In response to the survey’s outcomes, the centre has launched best practice guides and resources on supporting flexible workers.
The resources are geared toward providing “practical advice for employers and employees on creating a mentally healthy workplace at home, both during and after the COVID-19 restrictions,” Buatava said.
The survey is one of a raft of initiatives launched by the NSW Centre of Work Health and Safety in response to changing work practices since the start of the pandemic.
In late 2020, the centre launched a research project that allocated $660,000 into preparation for the “workplace issues of the future”, in particular risks in health and safety.
At the time, the NSW Minister for Better Regulation and Innovation Kevin Anderson said the investment was designed to help companies adapt for what it anticipated would be a transformation of the workplace thanks to the pandemic.
“The future of work will be vastly different from today’s landscape, and we want to be ready to adapt so that we can continue to protect our workforce,” Anderson said.
In 2015, those working from home as part of flexible work arrangements represented just 13% of the Australian workforce, according to the ABS.
By June 2020 around 32% of working Australians were working from home due to lockdowns.
An ABS survey released this year suggests employed Australians expect these practices to continue.
“Employed Australians expected work from home arrangements to continue throughout the year,” ABS Head of Household Surveys, David Zago said.
“In the next six months, 47% of employed Australians expected the amount of work from home to remain the same, 11% expected a decrease and 8% expected an increase.
Wider research conducted around the Australian workforce supports the NSW government’s future workforce management.
A new national survey of Australian knowledge workers, conducted by Swinburne’s Centre for the New Workforce, found that almost every worker surveyed wants some form of flexible arrangement.
When asked the ideal number of days of work each week in the office post-pandemic, office-based workers cited 3.7 days as the ideal number to be present in the office.
A survey by recruitment company Hays of 2,500 “working professionals” in November last year found that 61% believed a hybrid working model was the most productive.
Hays’ research revealed that 47% of employers were open to retaining working from home as part of their workplace mix.