Embrace the change: Working from home is here to stay

By Jim Bright

Working from home appears to be exercising the minds of Victorians this week. LaTrobe University academics were interviewed in the media about their study of working from home (WFH) during the 2020 lockdowns, most commonly with a focus on reported negative health impacts. In another contribution, Liberal Melbourne City councillor and barrister Roshena Campbell argued in this masthead that working from home risks creating a new class divide.

Ms Campbell’s piece was in response to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews saying that working from home is “here to stay”. This is not a good thing, apparently. The central business district will suffer from reduced footfall. Ms Campbell worries about productivity, and while falling short of accusing workers of lying on productivity surveys, she appears to believe that public servants are beyond the reaches of any measure of productivity.

Working from home, when embraced with imagination by management, can extend to a wide variety of roles.
Working from home, when embraced with imagination by management, can extend to a wide variety of roles.Credit:iStock

However, rhetoric aside, the main beef is that working from home is a middle-class privilege, removing the cheek-by-jowl solidarity of white and blue collar workers packed like pilchards into trams happily en-route to their industrial workplaces in the big smoke.

This ignores the fact that throughout the ages work has been conducted in a variety of environments. Notwithstanding the fact that before the industrial revolution most work was conducted in or near one’s home, there were always differences. Some got their hands dirty, others had to worry about no more than an ink stain. Some got frequent horse and cart points gallivanting off on crusades, whereas others toiled on the land.

Working from home, when embraced with imagination by management, can extend to a wide variety of roles – perhaps wider than many appreciate. Sure, you may still need someone to physically deliver your daily foie gras, but the customer contact operator could process your order while working from home.

Which brings me to the interesting research of Professor Jodi Oakman and her team, who surveyed nearly 1000 workers mainly in Victoria in 2020, published in BMJ Open.

The data was collected during the sustained Victorian lockdown, so 342 of the participants that had children were having to supervise their little mites at the same time. In other words, this was quite an extreme form of WFH.

The team reported some negative impacts that differed by gender, including work-family conflict and also problems like neck pain and stress. The picture was quite complex, with other factors such as a number of the respondents worrying about losing their university-sector jobs – a sector that laid off a lot of casual staff in this period.


Despite some of the negative impacts, I note that WFH was very popular. Less than 6 per cent of respondents did not want at least one day WFH, and almost 43 per cent wanted three or four days at home. A not trifling 14 per cent wanted to WFH every day, especially males (17 per cent).

I agree with the authors that we need to work with employers to enhance the design of WFH to maximise productivity and minimise health impacts and gender inequalities.

WFH is here to stay. It is popular, but it needs management to move beyond Industrial-Age thinking and to embrace the change, as they so frequently ask of their staff.

Jim Bright, FAPS is Professor of Career Education and Development at ACU and owns Bright and Associates, a Career Management Consultancy. Email to [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @DrJimBright

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