Workers prefer a balance of home and office, but many employers have different expectations
For many, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the working environment, abruptly ushering in a new era of working from home. Some workers have experienced more flexibility in performing their job by working from home, and employers have been required to adapt to this new remote working arrangement. This week the Victorian government lifted the recommendation for people to work from home, announcing a push to return to the office. But what does this mean for workers who now prefer a flexible work arrangement? And how does this meet their employers’ expectations?
The Taking the Pulse of the Nation Survey asked Australian workers questions around working from home three times over the past 10 months: in April 2021, September/October 2021 and January 2022. From their total paid hours, workers were asked how many hours they currently work from home, how many hours they would like to work from home, and how many hours their employer would permit them to work from home.
Over half of Australians can perform their work tasks from home
Fifty-eight percent of respondents are employed. They report working 33 hours per week on average (median of 37 hours). This remains consistent across the three time periods. Over half of respondents (58 per cent) report they have work tasks that can be undertaken from home. This varied somewhat over the three periods, with 57 per cent in April 2021, 61 per cent in Sept/Oct 2021 and 56 per cent in January 2022. Of those who have work tasks they could perform at home, they have slightly longer work hours. They reported working 35 per week on average (median of 38 hours), and this did not vary over the three periods.
Most Australians want to continue working at least some of the workweek at home
Of those who have work tasks they can perform at home, the majority (69%) work full time (35 or more hours a week), and a minority (11%) work less than half-time (20 hours or less a week). Figure 1 shows the proportion of the workweek working from home. The figure shows the current proportion spent working from home, the proportion the worker would like to work from home and the proportion the worker reports their employer would permit them to work from home. Most workers (82%) are currently working at least some of their workweek at home, and most (89%) would like to continue working at least part of their workweek at home. One-third of Australians would like to spend all of their workweek at home, and 64 per cent would like to work at least half of their workweek from home.
Worker-employer disagreement: 40 per cent of workers want to work more from home than their employer permits, but over one-quarter want more time in the office
Do workers’ preference for working at home match with what their employer will permit? Figure 2 illustrates this. Over one-third of workers have employers who agree with them on the proportion of their workweek they would spend at home. This percentage was 44 per cent in April 2021 but dropped to 32 per cent in January 2022. The portion of workers who want to work more from home than their employer would permit has grown from 31 per cent in April 2021 to 40 per cent in January 2022. And, between 25-33 per cent of workers want more time in the office than working from home.
Australian workers and employers need to negotiate home/office balance
The COVID pandemic lockdowns and disruptions upended how and where we work. Abruptly, both workers and employers experienced an alternative way of performing a job. Some workers have enjoyed this flexibility and would like to hang on to it. Others are more inclined to get back in the office, even when their employer would permit them to work from home. The labor market has been permanently disrupted, and workers and employers now need to negotiate where work will be done.
* Data from the TTPN survey periods of April 2021 (April 5-9, 19-23), September/October 2021 (Sept 20-24, Oct 4-8) and January 2022 (Jan 10-14, 24-28). Each period includes two rounds of surveys of 1,200 adults from a representative sample of the Australian adult population. This report is based on the combined 7,200 respondents from the six survey rounds. Respondents are employed, full or part-time workers who have work tasks that can be performed at home.
**“Agreement” means workers report the proportion of the workweek they would like to work from home is the same as their employer would permit. “Employer permits…” means employers would permit the worker to spend more of their workweek at home than the worker would like. “Worker wants…” means workers would like to work more at home than the employer would permit.
***This report is written by Professor Ragan Petrie, Melbourne Institute Professorial Fellow.
© The University of Melbourne – Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research, 2022. This work is copyright. The material may be reproduced and distributed for non-commercial purposes only, subject to the inclusion of an acknowledgment of the source(s).