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A new survey of Australian office workers has found we like working from home – but distractions and maintaining team culture are big concerns

James Hennessy
  • A new report from productivity consultancy Building20 has found most office workers believe they are either as productive or more productive working from home through the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Many workers want more flexibility when it comes to remote work when they inevitably move back to the office.
  • But there are challenges – some find working from home distracting, and there are concerns about maintaining team culture without face-to-face interactions.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia's homepage for more stories.

The remote work revolution has been promised for years now, and it only took a global pandemic for Australia to find out if it was actually ready to make the leap.

As coronavirus restrictions sent the majority of white-collar workers in Australia to their home offices – and kitchen tables – many have wondered whether this new arrangement might constitute a new normal. It's clear many workers are capable of doing most (if not all) of their jobs out of the office with little disruption, giving executives some daring ideas on slashing costly real estate expenses within their enterprises.

A new report from productivity consultancy Building20, based on a survey of 423 Australian office workers between May 12 and May 22, has found most workers believe they are either more productive working from home or have maintained similar levels of productivity to when they were in the office.

According to the report, 45% of respondents think they’re more productive working remotely, while 32% think their productivity is about the same, and only 22% think their productivity has dropped. Overall, 51% of respondents said they preferred remote working, as compared to 23% who prefer working in the office and 26% with no preference between the two.

Most respondents wanted to at least spend more time working remotely after the coronavirus pandemic than they did previously. On average, those surveyed wanted to work remotely about half of the time, indicating that increased flexibility in working arrangements could be the norm rather than a truly radical change.

Interestingly, it is managers who are most eager to continue remote work arrangements, with 57% showing a preference for working from home, as compared to 45% among general employees. This rift suggests remote management may be slightly more preferable for those who are actually doing the managing.

The most popular reason for enjoying remote work was getting rid of the commute, followed by flexibility and saving money. Around a third of respondents also said it enhanced work-life balance for them, or allowed them to spend more time with family.

The challenges of remote work going forward

The discussion about how vigorously Australians can commit to remote work after COVID-19 is obviously a complex one which is not entirely in the hands of individual companies.

As John L.Swinburne from the Swinburne University of Technology writes in The Conversation, there are broader questions of urban planning at play – including, for example, how capable our internet infrastructure is.

For the average worker, the concerns are more immediate. 32% of respondents to the Building20 survey said distractions were a major challenge while working from home, with kids, noise and phone calls being tipped as particularly bothersome. Of course, as restriction on schools and daycares are further lifted, some of these concerns will be less severe.

But some problems are more pernicious. As many organisations are finding, work drinks over Zoom are not a full substitute for a robust team culture. About half of respondents to the survey said it was the biggest concern about remote work – ahead of technology, the second-biggest concern.

"Without face-to-face interactions, employees worry that workplace culture will slip," the report reads.

The office as a space for in-person collaboration is one of the few areas remote work struggles to replace. Unispace global design director Simon Pole told Business Insider Australia the social, collaborative quality of offices would ensure workplaces never go entirely remote.

“Many clients have reported that the social isolation is having its toll on their teams," Poole said. "Having Friday drinks on a chat is not the same, the office banter has stopped, the cultural reinforcement is left to fortnightly emails from the CEO, and the ad hoc knowledge sharing and problem-solving is not happening,” he said.

But the survey reinforces something which seems increasingly obvious as we navigate COVID-19 restrictions: workers don't want to go back to the inflexible working arrangements of before.