New research shows that while working from home is now entrenched in the Australian Public Service (APS), improvements are needed in how managers support their staff to take full advantage of hybrid work.

The research team, led by UNSW Canberra academic Sue Williamson, has developed a resource for APS managers, including tips to better support employees.

The latest study is based on interviews with more than 80 APS middle managers and senior executives across 37 agencies. It is the third in a series of studies from the research team examining working from home in the APS. The research team consisted of academics from UNSW Canberra, Edith Cowan University and Charles Sturt University.

Associate Professor Williamson said working from home and hybrid working are now fully embedded in the majority of Australian workplaces, including the APS. 

“Hybrid working has transitioned from ‘the new normal’ to ‘business as usual’ and, despite recent pushes from some business groups and property developers to encourage staff back into the office, working from home is here to stay,” Associate Professor Williamson said.

“Hybrid working benefits staff and it can no longer be viewed as a temporary workplace adjustment. In fact, our research shows that directives to return to the office lead to resentment among staff.”

One of the key findings of the study related to productivity. Working from home has been shown to increase productivity and of the managers that specifically referenced productivity in their responses, almost 70 per cent said productivity had increased thanks to hybrid working and the other 30 per cent said it remained the same.

Managers reported switching to a productivity culture rather than an attendance culture, where outcomes were valued above hours of attendance or where the work was completed.

“This is a key shift in focus for managers and their staff, one that empowers employees to have agency over their own work,” Associate Professor Williamson said. 

“Broadly, employees are being treated as responsible adults who are trusted to complete their work.

“A key problem in current APS workplaces is that the way work and outcomes are measured has not adapted to reflect the new way of working.

“One-third of the respondents said there had been no changes to how output was measured and therefore wasn’t being captured holistically. It is crucial this is examined and changed across the APS to better reflect the work public servants are doing.”

The study also found that the APS differs substantially from the private sector in that the type of work undertaken by employees does not change depending on location.

In other workplaces the research indicates that staff will complete tasks requiring deep concentration at home and more routine tasks will be done in the office. The majority of managers surveyed in this study said there had not been a noticeable change in how and where work was completed.

Associate Professor Williamson said APS managers should encourage their staff to experiment with different ways of working to find the most effective approach for them.

“Managers should have meaningful discussions with their staff about the types of work best undertaken at home or in the office,” she said.

“Otherwise, they risk missing opportunities to innovate within their teams and not reach their peak performance.”

In addition to Associate Professor Williamson, the research team consisted of Dr Helen Taylor from Charles Sturt University and Dr Judy Lundy and Dr Uma Jogulu from Edith Cowan University.

The full research report, including all the authors’ recommendations for APS managers, can be accessed here:

The researchers will be hosting a free webinar on April 4 where they will dig further into their findings. Find more details and register for the event here:

UNSW Canberra Associate Professor Sue Williamson