Era of only working from offices ‘over’ declares ACT chief minister

By Jackson Graham

December 3, 2021

Andrew Barr
ACT chief minister Andrew Barr. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

ACT chief minister Andrew Barr says “white collar public servants” will work from hybrid workplaces around Canberra up to two days a week, amid pressure to have staff return to offices to boost city businesses. 

Speaking in the ACT Legislative Assembly on Thursday, Barr was clear nine-to-five work from offices was “over” and many staff would adopt a hybrid working model.

“The world has changed,” Barr said. “And we are changing with it.” 

The government is investing in a number of ACT government ‘hubs’ for public servants to work flexibility from across Canberra, with staff being in the hubs on average one-to-two days a week, Barr said. 

“They may well be working out of the Gungahlin ACT government office building if they live in Gungahlin and that suits them,” he said.

“They may work out of the Woden ACT government building if they live in the Woden area and that suits them. Similarly in Tuggeranong, and in Belconnen, and in the city and in Dickson.” 

The shift will decentralise employment, with no directorate working from any one set location. 

“It will no longer be the case that the directorate X will be in location Y,” Barr said. 

“People will be able to work across a number of different ACT government office buildings and they will undertake hybrid working arrangements that meet the needs of them, the business unit that they work for, and to ensure that they can deliver the services that are required.”

Liberal opposition MP James Milligan expressed concern for Canberra’s small business sector “who are desperate for customers walking through the door”. 

With students now back at school our hardworking small business owners need our 24,500 ACT public servants back in the offices to stimulate trade,” Milligan said. 

Barr said most ACT public service employment was already “regionalised and distributed” throughout the territory. He would not a figure on the proportion who will be working flexibly, pointing out the majority of public servants were health and education staff in public-facing roles in hospitals and schools. 

Barr says embracing a global trend of hybrid working would help the government attract and retain high-quality staff. 

“We will never go back to nine-to-five, Monday to Friday, everyone in the same office all together,” he said.  

“That world is over, it is over, it is done, that is the case for all major businesses in this country as well. In fact, I think even the commonwealth is allowing a degree of flexibility for their own public servants.” 

Some federal government department heads have indicated staff could work from offices between 60% and 70% of the time, while public service minister Ben Morton has urged APS public servants to gather evidence on productivity gains if they want to continue working flexibly. 

APS commissioner Peter Woolcott told The Mandarin this week that flexibility would continue to be “part of the way we work in the future” but there was a strong sense “we need to return to normal”.


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