Rising Tide of Remote Work: Public Service Leads the Way

February 23 2024

In a transformative shift, the number of Australian federal public servants working from home has more than doubled since the pre-pandemic era, with nearly 40% of the 180,000 APS staff now opting for remote work two to three days a week.

The APSC census, published late 2023, showcases the broad increase since 2019, with 57% of staff taking advantage of remote work—up from 22%. And flexible work is a key part of most organisations’ Employee Value Proposition (EVP) now – six out of every ten new employees say that access to flexible work played a substantial role in attracting them to their roles.

And this is in the context of rapid growth in scale for the APS – since 2020, the Australian public service has more than doubled in size, a staggering increase that is bringing with it equally remarkable changes in work culture.

New Public Sector agreement

This surge is backed by the new sector-wide enterprise agreement that eliminates caps on WFH. The recent Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) finalisation of an APS Statement of Common Conditions sets up breakthrough arrangements in enterprise bargaining across the APS. This Statement establishes common pay and employment terms for APS employees across all agencies, and encompasses 59 “common conditions” that will be consistently included in enterprise agreements across all APS agencies. Notable among these conditions is an APS-wide pay rise of 11.2% over three years, accompanied by a one-off payment equivalent to 0.92% of employees’ salaries. Another key common condition introduces a new procedure for APS employees to request flexible work arrangements.

Changing dynamics a long term trend now

While the shift aligns with the changing dynamics of work, it sets the public service at odds with private sector giants, like banks, aiming to bring employees back to the office. However, the move to remote work is not just a trend, but also a catalyst for other big changes. The reduced need for office space is contributing to a shrinking tenancy footprint and lower rental bills for the federal public service.

Despite concerns raised by opposition figures, the data indicates a strategic approach to flexible work policies. Analysis of work practices at 25 agencies reveals that around 27% of staff work from home two days a week, and an additional 13% spend three days a week away from the office. Notably, agencies with staff possessing high-demand skills offer greater flexibility.

The shift is not confined to lower-level positions; top-tier talent is also being enticed with flexible working conditions. The recent appointments of Danielle Wood to lead the Productivity Commission and Carly Kind as Privacy Commissioner seen to exemplify the appeal of flexible work arrangements in high-profile roles.

Flexible workplaces still need face-to-face

While acknowledging the benefits of remote work, including flexibility for executive women with young families, Productivity Commissioner Danielle Wood emphasises the importance of face-to-face interactions for effective teamwork and creativity. As the public service charts this new course, it remains to be seen how this paradigm shift will influence broader workforce trends and office space dynamics in coming times.