APS hybrid work is here to stay, report finds

Hybrid working in the APS is here to stay, and the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, according to a new report from the UNSW Public Service Research Group.

Sue Williamson: hybrid work now entrenched in APS.

“Our main finding is that hybrid working is no longer being seen as a new way of working or as the ‘new normal’,” a report by Associate Professor Sue Williamson and colleagues says.

“Instead, it is ‘business as usual’.”

According to the report, more than 50 per cent of APS employees worked from home or away from the office in 2023.

Hybrid working is likely to become further entrenched in the APS with enterprise bargaining negotiations removing requirements that employees work a minimum number of days in their agency’s workplace, they note.

This report, focusing on 2023, is the research team’s third study of working from home/hybrid working in the APS and builds on research conducted in 2020 and 2021.

Researchers conducted 20 focus groups and small group interviews with 78 APS middle managers and supervisors in 37 agencies, and a further five interviews with Senior Executive Service (SES) officers.

“We are now seeing widespread support for working from home and hybrid working,” the report says.

“We found that hybrid working is now entrenched at the APS, with employees at all levels accessing options to work from home for some of their working week.”

Covid-induced epiphany

The research also found hybrid working and working from home is becoming more palatable for employers.

In 2020, 37 per cent of managers said they would be more supportive of employees working from home, but this increased to 44 per cent in 2021.

Professor Williamson said managers, who have traditionally been distrustful of work from home models, have had an ‘epiphany’ since the Covid years.

When the pandemic hit, and working from home was mandated and then became very common, managers had an epiphany. They started to think, oh look, working from home is working.

Professor Sue Williamson

“In 2018, we interviewed about 200 managers, and one of the things that came out at that time was that they didn’t trust people to work at home, they thought if they couldn’t see people then they didn’t know they were working,” she told Government News.

“When the pandemic hit, and working from home was mandated and then became very common, managers had an epiphany. They started to think, oh look, working from home is working.

“Now we see that managers are saying it’s still working well, people are still as productive, if not more productive, when they’re working from home.”

Positives outweigh negatives

The researchers say they have identified both positives and negatives associated with hybrid working in the APS, but the positives outweigh the negatives.

This includes increased trust, autonomy and flexibility, as well as a better work/life balance.

“The biggest benefit is that people are more focused, they perceive themselves to be more productive,” Professor Williamson said.

“We interviewed about 80 managers they were saying that people are telling them they really appreciate working without interruption.

“That backs up other literature which shows that people don’t want to go back into the office because there are so many interruptions, it’s noisy, they get distracted.

“The key challenge is around making sure that employees’ wellbeing is maintained. That’s the flip side of working from home – you have to make sure people are not getting too isolated.”

Other more ‘problematic aspects’ of working from home that require cultural or behavioural change -such as preventing proximity bias, limiting surveillance, and behaviour management – will require more thought and attention, the report says.

Opportunities can be maximised

Overall, the researchers conclude that hybrid working in the APS is meeting the needs of organisations, managers, teams and individuals, and doesn’t appear to have affected productivity.

The next challenge will be to maximise the opportunities arising from working in different locations, and experimenting with various ways of working hybridly.

Hybrid working can no longer be considered a temporary workplace adjustment but “reflects the present and represents the future for workplaces,” the paper concludes.

“Some APS agencies are reviewing lessons learnt over the past few years and are innovating and looking to the future of work. Further experimenting and trials may yield positive results for agencies.

“There is still much to learn about hybrid working. “

Professor Williamson says the research shows that the APS is agile, and that people can conduct their work just the same when they’re at home as when they’re in the office.

“But it also indicates to us that maybe a little bit more experimentation could be occurring to optimise different ways of working depending on location,” she says.

“The main message of the report is that things have changed. So maybe it’s time to experiment a bit more with ways of working.”

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One thought on “APS hybrid work is here to stay, report finds

  1. The value of hybrid work can also be expressed on a societal level. Transport costs saved by thousands of people that have helped them through this current high interest period with their mortgages and other inflationary expenses. Think of the environmental benefits of less vehicles on the road equalling less CO2 levels. Think of the mental health benefits of not doing the daily return trip of work/home of about 3 hours for many equalling 15 hours a week. Think of the opportunity in health at a macro level as well as a personal level for savings in less capability in developing communicable diseases eg flu/covid and other diseases

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