The New South Wales government’s Innovation and Productivity Council has released new research to better equip policymakers with responding to the cultural shift towards remote working occurring in the state.
The IPC on Wednesday launched its first report in a series that will examine longer-term changes in working patterns and arrangements to support public policy development and workforce planning into the future.
The paper noted that a permanent increase in remote work is likely to change many aspects of social and economic life in NSW, and policymakers need quality data on that change.
“If remote working is here to stay, policymakers can help NSW workers and businesses grasp the opportunities and overcome the challenges. This could require adjusting regulations, shifting services and reprioritising infrastructure spending to meet new patterns of demand and ways of doing business,” it said.
“The changes caused by remote working could be both broad and deep. So policymakers need high-quality data — and they need it as soon as possible.”
Jobs minister Stuart Ayres said major changes to the way the state works can be expected despite the push for public servants to return to the office.
“The IPC’s report looks into what we learned from the experience, and how it could affect the future of work. While the NSW government is now encouraging public servants to spend more time back in the office, we can expect long-term changes to how our working week takes shape,” he said.
The survey designed by the Department of Premier and Cabinet’s data and statistical analysis team asked 1500 remote employees during August and September about their experience with working from home.
While “opportunities to socialise” was ranked as the worst aspect of remote working, respondents ranked “better work-life balance” as the best aspect. Meanwhile, having tasks that can’t be done remotely was named the biggest barrier to remote work.
Economist, futurist, and IPC member Steve Sammartino said the report showed the pandemic has prompted more of an appetite to work remotely.
“The biggest benefit is the time we save from commuting, which on average is more than an hour a day. Reducing traffic congestion makes life better for everyone, even people who don’t work remotely,” he said.
“We are also more productive when we work from home, with NSW remote workers 13% more productive than when they work on-site.”
However, COVID-19 “pushed remote working to an unhealthy extreme”, Sammartino said, with some people facing challenges such as loneliness and barriers to collaboration.
“In the future, NSW workers want the best of both worlds — a hybrid of remote and onsite work. Cities and offices will be buzzing again, and central business districts will be crucial for collaboration, innovation and consumption,” he said.
In addition to the survey, the IPC also used technology from Sydney-based artificial intelligence company Faethm to analyse the “remoteability” of the NSW workforce, revealing the types of workers who can work remotely, and to what extent.
The research found that while just 5% of the NSW workforce can perform all of their tasks remotely, half of the workforce can work remotely for at least two days a week. Two days per week of remote work equates to more than three extra weeks of annual leave, and about $860 in saved travel costs per year, the report noted.
The IPC also found that NSW workers could save an average of 1 hour and 17 minutes per day from not commuting through working remotely.
As a result of the study, the IPC identified four ways remote working may change NSW:
- Productivity could rise, strengthening economic growth, state finances, and living standards;
- Sydney’s CBD will remain the state’s employment hub, but offices could be reborn as spaces for collaboration and innovation;
- Congestion may ease with less pressure on the roads and rail system and better CBD access; and
- There could be impacts on health and inequality, for better or, in some cases, worse. Workers who cannot work remotely will not benefit as much as those who can.
The report noted that once COVID-19 has passed, the challenge for policymakers, employers and employees is “to find a flexible mix of workspaces, policies and practices that caters to these preferences”.
The release of the research has coincided with reports that a union-initiated survey of 10,000 Australian workers found that 81% want to work from home provided they receive enough support, 47% have been more productive at home, and 49% remote workers have experienced a mental health issue.