At Home on the Job

Employers will need to be on top of their home-based work policies and protocols if trends in the area continue the way recently published statistics suggest. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has published data indicating a third of employed people in Australia now regularly do some of their work from home.

A considerable portion of this number is effectively self-employed which gives them more autonomy, however the data indicates that close to three million direct hired employees are working some or all of their normal working hours from the comfort of their own homes.

This approach has been around a long time, and issues such as worker’s compensation and costs associated with working from home have been worked out. In the past, because the numbers were low, the management of home working tended to be ad hoc and largely based on the particularities of the relative handful of employees affected.

But the changing demographics of our society and the rapid increase in the capacity to communicate from just about anywhere, along with the huge increase in service industries overall, has contributed to the size of this home-based workforce growing.

One of the new challenges employers face is how to manage older workers. There is a trend developing where older workers want more flexibility, partly at least, as they adopt more hands-on roles with their grandchildren. The rising costs of child care for young families means more are turning to traditional support. At the same time, older Australians are staying at work longer, either because they have to, or want to, with life expectancy having risen so much over the last 50 years or so.  To balance these competing aims, workers are looking for flexibilities including opportunities to work from home.

Another issue for many employers is not just how to manage home workers, but the impact on other aspects of the business. This is especially relevant where businesses have to make long term commitments to premises and decisions about where to locate themselves. The traditional work space is becoming harder to justify in many situations, especially having ‘head office’ in expensive CBD locations.

The profile of the workforce, and hence the workplace, is changing and employers’ policies and practices need to keep up. ABS research data such as this catalogue can assist firms make decisions about their future needs and behaviours.

Characteristics of Employment, ABS, August 2015