Billions Saved By WFH

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Sydney, May 19: Australia’s most comprehensive report on the impacts of working from home (WFH) – including policy recommendations – has revealed that WFH has unlocked a $5.5 billion reduction in travel time costs compared to pre-COVID days of $10.3 billion.
The report titled 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.

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Its headline recommendations include investing in digital infrastructure and 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, the iMOVE research revealed a savings of close to $5.6 billion for the Greater Sydney Metropolitan Area.
“The $5.579 billion of reduction in travel time costs represents a 54.02 per cent reduction in the pre-COVID-19 total time costs of $10.3 billion, much of which we would suggest can be associated with congestion costs,” the report said.
The report also recommends an uptake in WFH for public servants from all tiers of government “where this offers real gains in productivity.”

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And it said that 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 and 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), the University of South Australia, and the University of WA.
It said the proportion of people working from home increased from about eight per cent in pre-COVID 2019, to about 40 per cent in 2020 before declining slightly to 38 per cent of the Australian labour force in 2021. However, a new WFH normal could see “between 40-50 per cent of the Australian workforce feasibly work from home some days of the work,” the report said.

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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”.
In summary, the report noted the mass adoption of WFH is a “complex phenomenon with diverse economic and social impacts”.
“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.
“With a greater focus on local activity, there may be a need to reprioritise improvements in local public transport, safer pedestrian walkways and precincts, and bicycle lanes, serving short-distance trips throughout the day, with the added benefit of improving first and last-mile connectivity to public transport and (hopefully) contributing to improved health outcomes through greater physical activity.
“Many of the impacts will be, ultimately, translated into changes in the returns to labour, capital and asset prices.
“The transport market will adjust via fares and fees charged and network asset prices, and potentially government revenue and expenditure decisions,” the iMOVE report said.

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