The shift to working from home caused by the pandemic is one of the biggest changes to the way we work in the last 50 years.
This is according to a report released yesterday by the Productivity Commission, which investigates how the move to working from home may impact Australia's economy generally and individuals' income, employment opportunities and health and wellbeing.
"In less than two years we have gone from less than eight per cent of Australians working from home to 40 per cent," chair of the Productivity Commission Michael Brennan said.
"While this percentage may not always remain so high, it is inevitable that more Australians will work from home."
But there's one businessman who hopes the changes aren't here to stay.
Steve Horton is the chair of the Southern Highlands Chamber of Commerce, and the owner of a retail store in Berrima, and he feels that the working from home movement is being "overstated".
"People are forced to do it now because of COVID," he said.
"And of course lots of CBD district businesses are closed, so a lot of people wouldn't bother going into town.
"But once retail reopens, even people working from home have to go into town.
"And even though we have Zoom, most of the time, when people are doing office work they need to feed off each other and that's harder to do on Zoom.
"Online meetings are just not the same - it's so awkward."
Online meetings are just not the same - it's so awkward.Steve Horton
He predicts that most of those working from home will eventually want to be back in the centre of things, at least some of the time.
"We've tried this in the past, but we needed one-on-one time," he said, referring to various flexible working arrangements he's encountered in his working life.
"There will be some impact on landlords if people don't go back to the office, but I reckon most people don't want to work at home."
He also warned that regional internet and phone coverage and speed will leave some with no alternative but to head back into the CBD.
But he admitted the current lack of foot traffic in the town centres is worrying some members of the business chamber.
"I'm not sure what it will look like, and as a chamber we're struggling to visualise what all this will be like," he said.
"If it continues to be the way it is now, it will affect landlords and property prices.
"And then who's going to want to build anything in that huge hole in Bowral?"
Whatever happens, he said the chamber will have to think carefully about how to move on from here.
"The issue of COVID, and vaccinations, will require careful working though regarding re-opening," he said.
Tips to stay healthy (and sane) while working from home
While working from home can improve the lives of many Australians, the report points out that some people have concerns about possible downsides, including loneliness, negative mental and physical health effects and a blurring of the boundaries between work and home.
Bettina Schmidt, occupational therapist at LifePsychles Allied Health Centres in Bowral and Goulburn, warns that it's important to have a routine when working from home.
Here are some of her suggestions:
- Prepare meals such as healthy sandwiches and healthy snacks before starting work in the morning.
- Take scheduled breaks to stand and stretch every hour. Have a walk at lunchtime.
- Set up the home office well - check the desk arrangement, keyboard and monitor heights are not too high or low; check chair heights, have items used frequently within reach.
- Limit distractions - lock up pets, prepare a schedule for the children.
- List goals for the day and tick them off.
- Make time to communicate with work colleagues
- Don't work over-time or longer than needed.
Meanwhile, the Productivity Commission report suggest we should get out of the way of this evolution of work practices.
"On balance working from home can unlock significant gains in terms of flexibility and time for employees and could even increase the nation's productivity," Mr Brennan said.
"Risks can be managed but we should keep an eye on them and be ready to intervene if necessary."
The Commission's report says that at this stage governments should support the work from home transition and don't need to take any immediate direct action.
The report on working from home looks at how the phenomenon could affect cities, our well-being and concerns for employers and regulators. It can be found at: www.pc.gov.au