Working from home: it’s not just what you do, it’s where you do it

There’s a push to give professional staff  the right to work some of the week from home

In 2020 a UNSW staff survey found just 3 per cent wanted to return to work on campus full-time post pandemic (Campus Morning Mail July 22 2020).

During the Covid quarantine there was a common assumption that three days a week on-site could become the norm for professional staff, if they chose, a variation on the long-standing independence of academics to choose where they get their research and teaching preparation done. 

The National Tertiary Education Union thought it was an achievable ask, making rights for professional staff working from home a national bargaining claim.

But what a difference a pandemic does not make – with managements’ kicking back against giving professional staff the right decide where they will work some of the week.

Not everywhere. The University of Western Sydney’ new staff agreement allows professional staff to work remotely for one or two days a week, with bi-annual reviews.

But at others, “managements just don’t trust staff work unsupervised” an observer of multiple big-city negotiations says.

“It’s flat-out prejudice when compared to the way academics work.”

There’s a reason for that. When La Trobe U tried  pre-pandemic to change academic practise, it did not go down well. In 2016, university management decided academics should be on campus five days straight, unless they had permission to be working elsewhere. It was an attempt to have staff on campus to teach on Friday.

It went nowhere. Within a fortnight of the announcement LTU management assured everybody, “flexible work arrangements, including working off campus for research purposes,” would continue. (Campus Morning Mail, July 23 2018.)

And now the pandemic experience has confirmed that flexible work works for teachers and researchers.

A survey of academics in Aus, the US, UK and Singapore by architecture firm Hassells found staff now want to spend three days a week on campus, compared to four prior to Covid. Women wanted to be at work for two days.

But for staff without a tradition of working off campus, back to the office is expected. Last August the Fair Work Commission made the case for managements (CMM August 22 2022),

 “The fact that there has been a period – often extended significantly for many people – where work has been undertaken at home does not dictate a conclusion that work can continue to be undertaken wholly, or even substantially, remotely.

“The performance of particular tasks is only one aspect. … There are less tangible benefits of having people working physically together, particularly “the interactions and the engagements that occur”. The importance of these interactions – also often a facet of teamwork – should not be  underestimated.”

It’s an argument that has set the tone for university policies. Uni Tasmania’s new procedure allows “fixed, regular and on-going days working from home,” with four in the office and one away day.  But approval is at management’s discretion, with a list of broad reasons why it can be denied.

As at UTS, where remote working can be denied If “the requested working arrangements would be likely to have a negative impact on service delivery, efficiency, performance or productivity for the work area”

And in genera,l work on campus is what universities want, as Uni Tasmania states.

“To enable a vibrant campus atmosphere, team effectiveness, and enhanced organisational culture, employees are expected to fulfil the responsibilities of their roles primarily on campus,” the university makes clear.

Except when they aren’t. U Tas is in the market for an interstate student recruiter – the job can based remotely, anywhere across Australia.

Got a story the world needs to read? Tell me about it so I can tell everybody else,



Sign Up for Our Newsletter

Subscribe to us to always stay in touch with us and get latest news, insights, jobs and events!