More Australians than ever before are regularly working from home in their main job, the top reason being the need to catch up on unfinished work.
An analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics data reveals the number of employed people who work from home has dramatically risen from 20 per cent of the entire labour force to 30 per cent in 15 years.
Now, nearly half of the 3.5 million people who often work from home in their primary employment say they do so to “catch up” on their heavy workloads.
The findings add to concerns that the work-life balance of many Australians is getting out of hand. A national study has found employees are donating $110 billion in free labour every year, with full-time staff putting in an extra six hours of unpaid overtime a week, and part-timers working an additional three.
But the results are not all bad news. About 1.3 million people say they choose to work from home to have a rent-free home office, to take advantage of flexible workplace arrangements, for childcare reasons, and to spend more time with family.
Among these is Luke Driver, a manager with worldwide food and grocery company Unilever, and a father to two small boys, aged eight months and two.
The 36-year-old embraces employment flexibility and works much of his week from his home in Sydney’s northern beaches. He says the arrangement means he doesn’t waste valuable time on the long bus journey to and from the CBD, and his work-life balance has never been better.
“It saves me two hours commuting on a daily basis,” Mr Driver said. “That’s time spent with my family, and means I get to be there to help my wife with dinner, baths and bed.”
Mr Driver, who heads up one of Unilever’s ice-cream divisions, said he believed any perceived drawbacks about working from home were unfounded. He encourages his team to make use of the company’s flexible working policy in ways that suit them.
“Some people say ‘out of sight out of mind’, but we’ve got the tech and the tools … we are really geared up for flexible working,” he said.
“I find it’s more productive. I end up logged on longer, but I don’t miss out on those special moments with the kids.”
The ABS figures on the number of Australians working from home are some of the results of its Characteristics of Employment survey, conducted in August 2015, which collected information on weekly earnings, working arrangements and independent contracting.