The COVID-19 pandemic prompted a massive shift in the global workforce, with many employees transitioning to remote work. In Australia, this shift has led to significant changes in work patterns and attitudes towards remote work compared to working in an office.
Before the pandemic, a Melbourne property surveyor employed 180 staff who worked in the office every day at 9 a.m. Now, employees work from home, allowing for more flexible schedules. For instance, drone operator Nicholas Coomber can start his fieldwork as early as 7:30 a.m., affording him more family time and the ability to pick up his children from daycare earlier.
While corporate leaders such as Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase and Elon Musk of Tesla and Twitter call for a return to in-office work, Australian unions are pushing for remote work (WFH) to become the norm. Unions have taken legal action against Australia’s largest bank and are working with the government to advocate for continued remote work opportunities.
Australia has a history of embracing labor market changes during crises, often setting precedents for other English-speaking countries. For example, Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) faced a challenge from its staff who took the bank to an industrial tribunal to contest a directive requiring office work half the time. Similarly, National Australia Bank (NAB) reached an agreement with a union allowing employees to request WFH, while Canada’s federal workers lacked similar protections.
In the European Union, lawmakers are updating telework protections to align with the post-lockdown economy. However, the demand for WFH remains strong globally. A survey found that employees with WFH experience prefer two days of remote work per week, twice as much as what bosses prefer.
Despite the benefits for employees, there’s a potential for conflict between workers and employers over remote work arrangements. The Australia Institute’s Jim Stanford noted that rising unemployment could shift bargaining power toward employers, potentially leading to a “historic confrontation.”
This shift to remote work has already impacted office landlords, with a notable decrease in demand for office space. Around one-sixth of Australian capital city office space currently stands vacant due to reduced in-person attendance.
Overall, the article highlights the evolving dynamics of remote work in Australia, showcasing the contrast between employee preferences and employer expectations, and the potential for long-term changes in work patterns and labor market dynamics.
Source: Byron Kaye