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Now COVID lockdowns are over, do I go back to the office?

A man sits in front of a computer on a video conference call. (Source: Getty)
Improved technology has made working from home a viable option. (Source: Getty) (Alistair Berg via Getty Images)

With lockdowns in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra all being lifted in recent weeks, millions of Australians are now contemplating having to travel to the office again to perform their work duties, rather than working from the comfort of their own home. Or are they?

Many of us have become used to remote working over the past 18 months, and despite the initial teething problems (Zoom calls with children, partners and pets in the background, anyone?), quite a few have enjoyed the experience of being able to balance work and home life more effectively.


Is it really going to be back to the daily commute from now on?

Expectations Have Changed

If you are thinking you’d prefer to work from home at least part of the time, you’re likely not alone. A survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics back in February this year found, “47 per cent of employed Australians expected the amount of work from home to remain the same”.

And that was before the mid-year lockdowns in Sydney and Melbourne came into effect.

Although there is a difference between expecting to work from home and actually wanting to, it’s fair to assume the two are linked. After all, if expectations are that more of your work will be performed in the comfort of your own home, isn’t it likely that some people are going to want that to continue, even when the option to go into an office is back on the agenda?

Close up of a father working on a laptop while helping his son with schoolwork. (Source: Getty)
Working from home has provided a lot more flexibility for parents. (Source: Getty) (Marko Geber via Getty Images)

What do Employers Think?

Some of us may want to spend more time working from home but, ultimately, it’s the employer who will make the decision on whether it’s feasible or not.

The good news is that several large organisations around the world have announced their workforces can log in from home permanently since the onset of the pandemic.

When you look at the list of these companies, they are all big multinationals, with the majority of them (Google, Microsoft, Dropbox, etc) being in the technology sector and based predominantly in the US.

So, is that relevant to the Australian job market?

If you are lucky enough to work for one of these organisations (and the majority do have a presence here), then your working-from-home opportunities are potentially infinite. For the rest of us, it is likely to be something negotiated on an individual basis.

However, it’s worth remembering that if companies such as Microsoft are offering work-from-home options, other companies will follow because they are competing for the same talent in many areas.

Hybrid Model

One option that seems to be coming up in industry conversations on this topic is the hybrid model, where employees spend part of their working week at home and the remainder in the office.

In Brisbane, for example (which hasn’t suffered the extended lockdowns seen in the southern capitals), a recent report from the Property Council of Australia revealed just 60 per cent of CBD-based workers were back in the city in August 2021 compared with pre-COVID levels.

It’s likely this figure reflects workers spending a few days each week in the office rather than 60 per cent being at their desk full time and 40 per cent working permanently from home, which is the anecdotal evidence I’m finding in my hometown.

Mechanic working on a car in a garage. (Source: Getty)
Clearly, not all work can be carried out from home. (Source: Getty) (GEOLEE via Getty Images)

Now that extended lockdowns are hopefully behind them, it’s likely similar patterns will emerge in the southern states, although again this will depend on the nature of the work being carried out.

For example, a retail employee or motor mechanic is much more likely to be asked to return to their place of work than someone who works behind a desk in an office.

Opportunities vary

As we move into 2022, working from home options available to employees are likely to be different depending on a number of factors, such as which industry sector you work in and the nature of the work you do.

What is becoming clearer however, is that a shift has taken place in both companies’ expectations of what can be achieved by working remotely (aided by technology that is now proven), and workers’ desire to spend more of their working week at home.

All of which has created an opportunity for employees to have a discussion with their employers about how their working responsibilities can be structured to achieve a better balance between work and home life.

So, if you are thinking of asking your boss if you can continue working from home at least some of the time, now might be the perfect time.

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