A New Way of Working

Jillian Woolmer
City of Cockburn

On March 13 2020 I attended the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia (IPWEA) Conference in Fremantle. The Conference was titled "Vision 2020 Opportunity 2030" and this was quite prophetic as Infrastructure is one of the areas where there is now a lot of growth - building bridges, roads, bike lanes and bike paths to create jobs and enable more people to get around more easily. 2020 also led to a new way of working online for many people, using methods previously not believed possible, at the beginning of the year. The next training session I attended was online - learning about webex online teams and online meetings.

March 13 was one of the last days I attended a workplace conference in person or went into my workplace for several months. The conference was not cancelled at the last moment, but many people were on edge as more information about the virus was in the media every day. At the conference, the MC announced that Covid 19 was spreading around the world fast, restrictions were being put in place everywhere and events were being cancelled. I took a couple of photos on the train on the way home, as it was the quietest I had ever seen the Fremantle train line. There were people in the other carriages, but I made my way to a completely empty carriage. I wondered then how public transport would be affected and took photos to remember this trip.

By the end of the month, many of the City of Cockburn staff were no longer driving to and from work, but business is continuing as usual by working from home. Lots of great work stations were being set up in spare rooms and various parts of the house using computers from work or personal computers. Some staff like me, had already been working from home occasionally, but we were able to improve using various online applications and connecting with one another via webex teams and meetings. We even had a workplace competition where staff sent in photos of their home desk and you had to guess who it belonged to.

Over the past six months public transport is not so popular since it is more difficult for social distancing. The workplace Smartriders were seldom used as people have been attending meetings online or driving instead of using public transport. Public transport usage dropped. Free car parking has been introduced at train stations, to try and lure people back onto trains.

The upside is many people have changed the way that they work, with more meetings conducted online than in person, eliminating the need to travel. I have noticed that when I do have to drive to work, my trip is taking less time than previously as I am not stuck in such long traffic queues. This is partly because I am being more flexible about my start and finish times, plus partly because some people are working from home. I am currently saving between 1 to 2 hours travel time per work day compared to earlier this year (pre the Covid 19 shutdown in WA) and I am enjoying this extra time.

Out of this crazy situation, we have had some positive permanent changes in our workplace. In June I attended the online Your Move Forum on Working From Home. I forwarded information to the Senior Management Team and it was also of interest to the Covid response team as well as the transport team. It was very timely as the Senior Management Team were holding a meeting with the CEO and Directors to look at the whole issue of working from home.

Working From Home has many transport implications including:

  • less vehicles on the road when people are working from home, helping to reduce the peak traffic levels
  • less traffic on the roads with people meeting online using Webex/MS Teams/Zoom rather than travelling to meetings
  • less traffic on the road or need for parking, as people attend webinars rather than travel to conferences, seminars or forums.

Management held a survey about working from home and of the 239 staff who responded, 19.8% advised that they are interested in working from home one to two days per week on a regular basis. Not all staff are able to work from home and some that could, prefer not to, especially if they have children to care for.

Many staff like me have found that there are many benefits from working from home as commute time is reduced to zero, time is available for walking before, they are more productive working from home with less interruptions and enjoy a better work life balance.

City of Cockburn Management updated the Working From Home Agreement and Procedures, acknowledging that introducing further opportunity to work from home will enhance our productivity and flexible work arrangements, as well as contribute to a few less vehicles on the road.

While the proposition is not extensive, because as a local government we remain a service industry where internally and externally person-to-person contact is still highly desirable in many cases, working from home has its place. It is noted that working from home is not an entitlement, nor a right and will not be suitable for certain roles or individuals. Each case is considered by the employees manager/supervisor. Quite a few staff are working from home more often now, if they are able to.

Sydney Morning Herald published an article in September 2020 "When to stop working from home? How about never workers say." https://www.smh.com.au/business/workplace/when-to-stop-working-from-home-how-about-never-workers-say-20200917-p55wfp.htm

For more information from the Your Move Forum, see the links, and for a copy of the City of Cockburn Working From Home Agreement and Procedures, see the attachment.

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James (Your Move)

Thanks for sharing your very enjoyable reflection on COVID induced changes, Jillian. The photo of the empty train is definitely worth 1000 words! Great to hear Cockburn staff embraced working from home. I must say that I'm surprised that only 20% are interested to continue working from home. Excellent that management have taken the opportunity to update the Working From Home policy - that has earned you 60 points. I have also given you 10 points for giving us a good read and another 10 for your level of reflection.

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RAC said that 31% worked from home in April and many would like to work from home in future. If people worked from home 2 days per week, it could be equivalent to taking more than 65,000 commuter car trips off the road each day. Page 13 https://issuu.com/rac-wa/docs/17510_-_content_horizons_octnov_2020_ebook?fr=sMTk5ZTE4ODk1NjM

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Thanks for adding the new City of Cockburn Working From Home Agreement and Procedures attachment at the link above.

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