South Australia records nation’s lowest working from home rate

Transport experts believe South Australia may have largely missed the “real-time experiment” sparked by COVID lockdowns, with new data showing employees here are spending fewer days working from home than their interstate counterparts.

Apr 05, 2023, updated Apr 05, 2023
South Australians are working from home for fewer days than other Australians. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

South Australians are working from home for fewer days than other Australians. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

A higher proportion of South Australian workers are now back in their offices than the rest of Australia following COVID lockdowns, with only 16.9 per cent of employees working from home for some of their time, compared to a national average of 27 per cent.

SA workers were spending 1.42 days working from home over the surveyed fortnight compared to the NSW average of 2.53 days and Victoria’s 2.3 days, according to the latest Transport Opinion Survey conducted by the University of Sydney’s Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies.

Across Australia, workers spent an average of 2.13 days working from home over a fortnight.

“The last three years has been a real-world experiment,” institute director Professor David Hensher said.

“Many employers would never have supported working from home prior to COVID but they realised productivity did not fall and actually increased.”

Many employers also realised they could save money on office space and, particularly in the government sector, were now more likely to pitch flexible working arrangements to recruit new staff.

Hensher believed SA’s higher office returns reflected the state’s lower impacts from COVID where it “did not experience lockdowns to the same extent and had little opportunity to test this like other employers”.

Survey results were published this week with data calculated across full and part-time employees.

Source: Transport Opinion Survey conducted in September 2022 by the University of Sydney’s Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies.

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From March to September 2022, the survey found Australians were increasingly going back to the office.

Overall the working from home proportion dropped from 43.1 per cent to 26.3 per cent over this time, with South Australia leading the way in this trend. The most significant reduction in working from home days was in SA – a 53 per cent drop from March to September.

Hensher was confident the survey results reflected the new norm in hours spent working from home – the national survey is conducted twice a year for the past 10 years.

“We’ve been tracking this for the past three years and we always thought some time in 2023 it might get to a point for planners and those working in infrastructure designing footpaths and cycleways, where we’ve reached a stage where these are the numbers we can expect going forward,” Hensher said.

The results also showed workers were now more likely to make shorter trips closer to home and the overall impact of this would be reduced transport emissions.

The length of commutes also could have led to higher numbers of South Australians being back working in their offices, Hensher said, adding that the commute distance is generally shorter for workers in this state compared to the eastern seaboard.

“We’ve actually done some work to show the extent of people’s happiness with the new mix of working from home and commuting…. (For) those particularly with longer commutes, they were much happier with the mix,” Hensher said.

Data also showed the trend toward online grocery shopping was continuing after COVID lockdowns led to more consumers testing the service.

However, SA recorded similar results to the rest of the nation where there has been a return to in-store shopping in some areas with companies saying people “like to feel and touch products”, Hensher said.

Australians undertook an average of 8.09 days of paid work during the two survey weeks, with most working hours spent at the main workplace, 62 per cent on weekdays and seven per cent recorded on weekends.

People undertook about four per cent of working hours outside the main workplace and home, at an alternative workplace such as a satellite office, cafe, or library close to home.

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