Department expects refitted office to be collaborative space for flexible workforce

By Jackson Graham

Wednesday November 17, 2021

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The research examines three ‘wicked problems’ Australia has recently faced. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

The Department of Health expects a ‘busy day’ in its main Canberra office will see up to 70% of workers be on site going forward, amid a proposal for a major refit.

Under a plan the department has been considering since 2018, it is proposing $64 million worth of works at its Sirius Building in Woden. The refit would bring capacity to “modify spaces” and be more collaborative. 

Department management is also introducing a “new ways of working program” that embraces flexible working arrangements, including unallocated desks and offices. 

Paul McCormack, the department’s first assistant secretary of financial management, told the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works on Tuesday that he expected about 60% to 70% of staff to be in the office on a busy day. 

He said busier days would be “in the middle of the week, when those collaborative activities, team meetings and so on tend to be scheduled”. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen the department’s staff surge to 4600, up from 3800 in early 2020, but McCormack expects numbers to settle back to 4000. 

“The growth is a mix of both temporary, related to the health response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and ongoing, related to the significant reform agendas underway — in aged care particularly and also in mental health,” McCormack said.

Asked whether the department would cover any costs of staff working from home, McCormack said there was no employer compensation but pointed out the wider tax deductions available through the ATO. 

“We haven’t proposed to financially compensate staff for those costs. Nor in our engagement with staff has that come up as an issue,” McCormack said. 

First assistant secretary Rachel Balmanno told the committee that the department was working with about 500 staff on a pilot floor testing unallocated desks and offices. 

She said there would be “a change journey” that staff would go through when the program was introduced for the wider workforce. 

Balmanno said the plan for the Sirus building meant there wasn’t a work point for every employee, but this would allow for more collaboration space.  

The department is proposing to stage the works over four years to finish in March 2025. 

The works would refit nine floors to accommodate about 4150 staff. A 10th floor would have 450 workspaces for temporary surge capacity, for sublease, or for a future refit.


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