Prospects of Working From Home $5.5 Billion Saved

Prospects of Working From Home: $5.5 Billion Saved

A comprehensive report to date on the impacts of working from home (WFH) has been released. It revealed WFH has unlocked a $5.5bn reduction in travel time costs (from a pre-Covid $10.3bn).

The report, Prospects for Working from Home: Assessing the Evidence, is an iMOVE Cooperative Research Centre meta-analysis of four of the centre’s research projects conducted over the last two years, involving leading academics from the Universities of Sydney, South Australia, and Western Australia. The comprehensive nature of the report comes from its longitudinal, multi-jurisdictional approach – with multiple data sets gathered at various points during the pandemic.

Its headline recommendations include investing in digital infrastructure as well as physical infrastructure, and due consideration given to the balance of spending when comparing respective benefits. “Any investments in physical transport infrastructure in the future should include an additional sensitivity test to consider the relative merits of alternative, or parallel investments in digital infrastructure,” the report said.

On travel time costs (one of the largest costs of transportation, and often the primary justification for transportation infrastructure improvements), the iMOVE research revealed a savings of close to $5.6bn for the Greater Sydney Metropolitan Area.

“The $5.579bn of reduction in travel time costs represents a 54.02% reduction in the pre-COVID-19 total time costs of $10.3bn, much of which we would suggest can be associated with congestions costs,” the report said.

And it says employers and employees should be supported in bargaining for new WFH terms and conditions, which could include an industry code of conduct covering minimum working hours, terms & conditions, and dress requirements for video conferencing.

“All tiers of government need to carefully review the medium and long-run impacts of working from home and consider whether policy adjustments or major reform is required. This especially relates to industrial relations, transport infrastructure investment, the provision of public transport services, land use planning and cities policy and, more broadly, macroeconomic policy,” iMOVE managing director Ian Christensen said.

The new report draws together the findings of four iMOVE CRC research projects undertaken by the University of Sydney’s Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies (ITLS), University of South Australia, and the University of WA.

It said the proportion of people working from home increased from about 8% in pre-Covid 2019, to about 40% in 2020 before declining slightly to 38% of the Australian labour force in 2021. However, a new WFH normal could see “between 40-50% of the Australian workforce feasibly work from home some days of the work”, the report said.

The report also looks at how employees and employers face up to the new workplace realities of WFH, including negotiating for new employment contracts, and establishing new systems and processes for WFH. It moots a voluntary industry code of conduct “without direct government involvement and without limiting firm-level flexibility”.

The code would establish standard WFH conditions for:

  • Minimum work hours across standard time periods;
  • Dress and appearance standards (for video conferencing);
  • Who pays for capital equipment (laptop, screen, printer etc); and
  • Who pays for home energy consumption (e.g. air-conditioning).

“As these impacts - both positive and negative - play out, there will be potentially many adjustments made to employer-employee agreements and household arrangements, which will in turn affect regional transport and property markets, transport network investment and planning, and government policy," the iMOVE report said.

 

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