Hasten not in packing away your home offices. The public service is embracing working from home, even after the end of Covid social distancing rules that sent bureaucrats out of their regular workplaces early last year.
New figures released this month to the Senate will encourage supporters of remote working. They show that public servants are requesting to work from home in the tens of thousands. What's more, their bosses are approving the requests.
The public service's mass working from home experiment in 2020 has turned into something more permanent. It's another lasting change to the bureaucracy, brought on by the pandemic.
A recent public service commission survey, which included 75 per cent of public servants, showed only 8 per cent of Commonwealth bureaucrats were working entirely at home. That was down from a peak of about 64 per cent in August.
The latest survey showed the rest were either back in their regular workplace or doing a combination - known as hybrid working.
Most tellingly, agencies in the last survey said about 40 per cent of staff were hybrid working, which could include working as little as a few hours at home or greater. So remote working is here to stay.
But anyone who craves flexibility will learn that when it comes to working from home in the public service, it's the luck of the draw.
While some of the overall numbers are impressive - from 30 agencies, about 22,000 requests approved - the finer details tell a different story.
About half of those public servants successfully applying to work from home, according to the figures given to the Senate, were from the Australian Taxation Office. The agency has approved more than 10,000 staff requests since September.
Compare that to the 12 months leading up to the pandemic, when each day about 1800 of the ATO's employees used technology letting them work from home.
There are large agencies that have reported low numbers of staff asking to work from home, and relatively high numbers of rejections. The Social Services Department, which has about 2200 staff, had only 62 requests. It rejected fourteen of them.
The numbers speak for themselves.
What stands out most in the overall figures is the inconsistency. Considering a job in the public service and wondering whether you could work from home? It depends what agency you're joining.
That's the result of a very deliberate policy from the public service. When asked about working from home, the Australian Public Service Commission said it's ultimately a choice for individual agencies.
"Agency heads remain responsible for decisions on flexible work options for staff," the commission said.
Like with pay scales and enterprise bargaining, there will be no real uniformity on the issue from the public service.
And just like wages, working from home will become another bargaining chip for employers competing for good staff. It's clearly in the public service's interests to be open minded on the issue. Private sector employers are waiting to swoop on the best candidates.
The public service commission said as much in its new workforce strategy, released in March, when it identified flexible working as a part of the bureaucracy's "value proposition" in recruiting talent.
As the labour market strengthens and workers have more jobs to choose from, they'll vote with their feet.
UNSW Canberra researcher Sue Williamson points out research showing 40 per cent of employees are considering changing their job in the next 12 months.
Employers who resist working from home could make that decision all the easier for their staff.
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