As we stood in the depth of the pandemic pit, a UNSW staff survey found 3% of them wanted to work a full-week on campus after the emergency (Campus Morning Mail July 22 2020). The following month, UNSW researchers surveyed public service managers and 90% reported that staff working from home were as productive, or more, than when in the office.
These insights set the tone for the work from home push for professional staff, to give them something approaching the location flexibility that academics have always enjoyed.
But three years on, there is a big-biz push for people to resume the commute and university managements are following suit, wanting to see more staff and students on campus.
The Fair Work Commission has long agreed in-office has productivity plusses. In August ’22 the FWC Deputy President Bell ruled that just because work can be done remote does not mean it always should be. In a Uni Tasmania unfair dismissal case he stated, “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,” (Campus Morning Mail August 17 2022).
Good-o, but how does that rack-up for people who have adjusted to working from home? Akshay Vu (Uni SA) and colleagues reported results from surveying 1100 Australian employees in the 17 largest urban areas.
They found that just over half their sample would not take a pay cut in return for working from home, people focused on in-person contact for relationships, learning, career advancement.
But 20% would, in a pay cut range of 16 per cent – 33 per cent. Overall, women valued working from home rights 28% more than men. And people are not inclined to change – results over the five month survey period were stable, “likely indicative of long-term preferences for remote working arrangements.”
That’s a swag of staff who, to paraphrase Jane Austin, think that for working in real comfort, “there is nothing like staying at home.”