MITCHELL Shire residents who previously commuted to Melbourne for work are among those to find a silver lining in the State Government’s COVID-19 restrictions.
Research from the National Growth Areas Alliance – a peak body representing councils in outer urban growth areas – found people reported many benefits to working from home.
A survey of more than 6000 people in May and June found outer suburbs residents working from home reported doing more exercise, getting more sleep and having better relationships with the people in their home.
The alliance’s executive officer Bronwen Clark said the benefits of working from home were seen most acutely in the outer suburbs.
“The working from home experience has been markedly more positive in the outer suburbs than other areas,” she said.
“People are saving a lot of time and money on their commute and that has translated into them reporting being healthier and happier.
“Two-thirds of the people surveyed said they’d like to continue working from home either full-time or part of the time, where they would go into an office environment for a few days a week and work from home the rest of the week.”
Beveridge resident Kate Large-Houlihan said she had noticed a significant improvement in her mental health since abandoning her commute into the city.
“Pre-COVID [my commute] was about 45 minutes but could be an hour or more if traffic was bad or there was a car accident,” she said.
“I kept working in the city for a while after the restrictions started, but there was a checkpoint on the highway I got stuck in on the way back every day, and my drive back could take up to two hours.
“Having to go through the checkpoint, even though I got through it every time, I was quite anxious.
“I got questioned every time even though I had my letter from work saying I was an essential employee. They would keep asking me why I wasn’t working from home.
“My anxiety has gone completely down now.”
Ms Large-Houlihan said she enjoyed having more time to be productive at home.
“With dinner I can cook a lot better because normally when I’m getting home at 7pm I’m just trying to do something that’s quick and easy,” she said.
“Now I can plan it and do a roast because I’m home, and instead of eating at 8pm we’re eating at 6pm.
“Because I get breaks during the day, I get time to put my washing on or do my floors that I never had time for before unless it was the weekend.
“It’s a lot easier and there’s a lot less stress because I can do things and it’s not piling up as much.”
The study found workers in outer suburban growth areas spent a collective $5.4 billion in transport costs alone each year.
It also found more employees working from home would reduce congestion on roads and crowding on public transport, with more than 1.3 million workers reporting travelling more than 10 kilometres each way to get to work, with the majority travelling by car.
Ms Clark said Mitchell Shire residents were primed to benefit from a change to working from home.
“Our new research shows that on average people in the outer suburbs are spending nearly $8500 a year on transport costs just to get to work,” she said.
“For someone living in Wallan and working in the city, for example, we have calculated that it costs around $60 in running costs, tolls and parking every day they have to drive to the office.
“That is potentially a massive saving if that person continued to work from home even one day per week after COVID-19 restrictions have eased.”
Ms Large-Houlihan said she hoped to continue working from home on a part-time basis after COVID-19 restrictions eased.
“Mostly Tuesdays are my late days. I don’t finish work in the city until 5pm, so I’m not getting home until 7.30pm sometimes,” she said.
“Doing Tuesdays and Fridays from home and having three days in the office and two at home is what I would like.”
Ms Clark said she hoped employers would recognise the benefits of employees working from home more often.
“Nationally, there are more than half a million people in the outer suburbs who do jobs that could be done remotely,” she said.
“If those people are spending more time in their local community, two-thirds of them have said they would definitely be spending more money in local businesses and on local services.
“That’s a potential boom for local economies and small business.
“We hope [employers will consider allowing more people to work from home when the pandemic ends] because this experience has proven that it works.
“We would really like to think that organisations, particularly government organisations, will make sure that this working from home arrangement can be ongoing.”