Hybrid work here to stay in APS but will office access determine opportunity?

By Jackson Graham

Monday October 11, 2021

Come one, come all.
Come one, come all. (Image: Adobe/ korkorkusung)

The pandemic has given birth to a hybrid future for work that will occur in both homes and offices in the Australian Public Service, yet equity issues could arise, researchers say. 

Sue Williamson, an associate professor from UNSW Canberra’s Public Service Research Group, said APS agencies were closely considering the future of offices and employees working flexibly. 

“The public sector and the APS are looking very closely at hybrid working, but also other models of working such as activity-based working and remote-working hubs,” Williamson told The Mandarin

At the height of national restrictions in 2020, 56% of all APS employees were working from home, according to the Australian Public Service Commission

Williamson is the lead author of a literature review published Monday for Home Affairs and the Australian Taxation Office that notes numerous studies during the pandemic found workers reported improved productivity at home. 

“The emerging literature and our research has found managers and employees overwhelmingly said they were more productive working from home,” she said, adding most studies were based on self-reporting that warranted further research. 

Williamson believes working from home will remain normal for the public service as lockdowns no longer occur. But she suspects employers and workers will need to address questions about who gets access to the office and whether opportunities are equal. 

“We know that if employees were less visible, pre-covid, they had fewer career development opportunities,” she said. 

“We know that with part-time workers, who are predominantly women, pre-COVID  had fewer development opportunities and didn’t get as many of the good projects.” 

Her research finds the preferred amount of time for people to work from home is two-to-three days a week and that hybrid working will “continue as the established norm”. 

She said while women with caring responsibilities preferred working from home, younger people losing networking opportunities wanted to return. 

“A lot of employees do want to return,” Williamson added. “I think if managers had conversations with their staff about how they can work together, what’s the purpose of them being in an office, that will convince employees to return.” 

She said the APS had been slightly slower to adjust to working from home than other public sectors such as in Victoria but the adjustment had defied stereotypes of rigidity in the public service. 

“[The sector] embraced working from home and doing all these big projects and service delivery, and getting all the COVID payments out and creating surge task forces,” Williamson said. 

“The APS has proven that it is really agile … [and is now] looking at how business and working practices can go forward and can be done much more efficiently.”’

UNSW Canberra’s Public Service Research Group will launch the report on Monday. 


READ MORE:

How to lead the public sector workforce in the COVID-era

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