Remote working benefits

Doreen resident Damian Toon is among many residents in the City of Whittlesea working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Colin MacGillivray

City of Whittlesea residents who previously commuted to other areas of 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.”

Doreen resident Damian Toon is among those hoping to work from home more often after the pandemic ends.

Mr Toon, who works for a company in Laverton in Melbourne’s south west, said his commute was usually between an hour and a quarter and an hour and a half each trip.

“It’s certainly not fun. On a good day it’s an hour and 15 minutes, but if there’s an accident on the Ring Road it could be two and a half or three hours,” he said.

“They’re long days, and quite often if you were busy you’d end up working from home after you got back to catch up.

“Working from home now, you start an hour later, you finish an hour earlier and you get more done in between. You’re not wasting three hours a day in the car.”

Mr Toon said he had talked to his employer about continuing to work from home two or three days each week after COVID-19 restrictions ease.

“I feel it’d be good to have a balance and maybe work from home three days a week and the office two days a week so you can still deal with issues that require interacting with other staff,” he said.

“I’m not sure what their feelings on it are to be honest, but pre-COVID-19 they were very much against it. I hope their stance might have softened a little bit.”

Ms Clark said she hoped employers would recognise the benefits of employees working from home more often.

She said working from home full time could save employees $8000 a year – money they could then put back into their local economies.

“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.”