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COVID-19 has revolutionised managers perceptions towards working from home

Published:19 August 2020

Work and employment researcher Linda Colley found COVID-19 changed negative attitudes that managers held towards employees working from home.

CQUniversity work and employment researcher Linda Colley has found that working from home can be beneficial for individuals, families and organisations in a study undertaken during the COVID pandemic.

The collaborative study - between CQUniversity, Dr Sue Williamson, UNSW Canberra and the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) - surveyed 6000 employees and managers in the Australian Public Service (APS) to understand staff management and employee experiences in relation flexible work arrangements.

According to Associate Professor Colley, the survey highlighted a significant shift in managers mindsets with dramatic reductions in resistance to working from home.

“Our current research reveals that nearly two-thirds of managers intend to be more supportive of working from home in the future,” she said.

“This is a major finding and indicates a revolution in the way managers think about working from home - in comparison our 2018 research found extensive managerial resistance across four state public services.”

“Previously managers expressed concerns about the productivity and underperformance of employees working from home, however, this study found employees actually have more autonomy over their work, are more productive, and have more time with their family.”

She explained that the managers in the study overwhelmingly noted increased team productivity and performance.

“Over a third of managers reported that their teams were more productive working at home.

“Some managers stated that they had changed their management style during the pandemic and engaged in less micro-management but still maintained strong communication and social connection with staff.”

These positive findings suggest the pandemic has broken down negative perceptions in the public sector which traditionally does not have a strong working from home culture.

“Pre-pandemic data from the APS showed fewer than 15 per cent of lower-level employees previously worked from home,” Assoc Prof Colley explained.

“New reports have shown dramatic increases to these figures during the pandemic as 57per cent of APS employees have now worked from home.”

As restrictions ease in some Australian states, Associate Professor Colley believed APS organisations would do well to continue enabling employees to utilise flexible work arrangements.

“Organisations and managers have recognised the need to focus on employee well-being and how successful business goals can be achieved through flexible work arrangements.

“This research will hopefully inform future policy to remain as flexible and productive in a post-pandemic world.”