How to make flexible working arrangements work for you


How to make flexible working arrangements work for you

Updated November 2022 | 5 min read
Expert contributors Jane Copeland, entrepreneur and business coach; Jayta Szpitalak, nutritionist and psychologist

Many of us enjoy flexible working arrangements and the autonomy they bring. But how does working from home impact our health and work-life balance?

The benefits of flexible working arrangements, including a shorter commute and greater independence, means more and more employees are breaking free from full-time work in an office space.

In August 2021, the Australia Bureau of Statistics found that 41% of employed Aussies regularly worked from home, up from 32% in 2019. From 2015 to 2019, the most common reason people worked from home was to catch up on work, while in 2021, 22% of Aussies chose to work from home for the flexibility it offered.

Flexible working arrangements have proven to be beneficial for both employees and employers. According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, flexible working has led to:

  • improved employee wellbeing, including a reduction in exhaustion, burnout and fatigue
  • improved organisational productivity and a greater ability to attract and retain employees
  • an increased proportion of women in leadership positions
  • greater gender equality in the workplace and home.

Working from home: Taking charge of your workday

A 2021 global survey of workers by PwC found that only a small percentage (9%) of workers who can work remotely want to go back to the office full time. Most respondents (72%) would prefer a mix of in-person and remote working, while 19% would be happy to not return to an office at all.

Ditching the workday commute is one of the major reasons remote working is so appealing. A survey of Australian office workers released at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic found the greatest advantage of working remotely is making better use of commuting time.

Almost half (49%) of Aussie office workers said they use this time to be more productive, while 38% said they use it to spend more time with their family or on leisure activities. And 36% of office workers said not having to do the daily commute resulted in less stress by being able to avoid traffic jams and overcrowded or delayed trains and buses.

With these benefits in mind, workers are so keen to see their office 9-to-5 routine change that a massive 96% of employees would be willing to give up a percentage of their salary to work from home permanently, according to one survey.

Many employers have also been embracing flexible work practices, reinventing their processes to get the best outcomes from these new ways of working.

The downside of working remotely

As great as the benefits are, there can be downsides to working from home – most stem from working alone or not feeling completely part of a team.

Entrepreneur and business coach Jane Copeland, who ran her digital marketing business from home for many years, says it’s important to know upfront how lonely it can be. “Working from home brings isolation. We can connect with people online but there’s not a lot of human interaction – that’s a big downside,” she says.

To feel part of a team, Jane suggests starting a group to connect with like-minded people. It’s a common cycle, says Jane. “Think about it as a sprint where you’re working hard for a certain period. You put all your energy into it, but then you do really need to recharge.”

Nutritionist and psychologist Jayta Szpitalak agrees: “Bingeing on work, like bingeing on food, can be highly stressful for your body and mind. The need for regular exercise and healthy food is highly important for your body to re-energise, and taking time out for your mind to relax will allow you to concentrate better.”

How to request flexible working arrangements

While flexible working arrangements are becoming more and more common in certain industries and occupations, there are rules for how to request a new working arrangement. The Fair Work Act, which covers most, but not all, employees and employers in Australia, states that employees should:

  • put their request in writing
  • explain what changes are being requested
  • explain the reasons for the request.

Once the employer has received the request, they need to respond in writing within 21 days. Their decision should be based on:

  • the employee's needs
  • any consequences for the employee if the changes aren't implemented
  • the potential impact on the business.

Employers can refuse requests from employees if there are reasonable business grounds to do so. A request could be refused if it:

  • is impractical to accommodate
  • would cost too much to implement
  • would have a negative impact on productivity or customer service.

Preparing for the flexible work conversation with your employer

One thing the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us is that working outside of normal environments and routines doesn't necessarily have a negative impact on productivity. In fact, 70% of Aussie office workers think their productivity at home is the same or even higher at home than in the office.

So, if you don’t work flexibly at the moment but would like to, start the conversation with your employer. Outline how your proposal will not only benefit you but their bottom line too. They'll want to make sure the new arrangements won't have an impact on your ability to maintain business and service requirements or put extra pressure on other team members.

It's also a good idea to:

  • identify potential issues in advance and what you could do to overcome them
  • suggest a trial phase and ideas for how you can measure the success of the new arrangements
  • be flexible and willing to adapt your proposal if need be.

The NSW Public Service Commission has some great resources to help you request flexible working arrangements, including an employee conversation guide and proposal template.

How to master work-life balance when working from home

If you don't have a good routine or structure in place, work can easily creep into your personal life. Here are some tips for mastering work-life balance at home:

  • Get ready for work the same way you’d get ready for a day in the office – this helps you set your intentions for the day ahead.
  • Create your own workday structure and stick to it. Create a routine and rituals for your day – coffee breaks at a certain time and scheduled lunchtime exercise for example, so that wherever you are it feels familiar.
  • Have separate areas designated for work and play, so you can remain focused on the tasks at hand.
  • Factor in regular exercise, even if it’s a quick walk outside. Add it to your diary as you would any other meeting.
  • Schedule mini-holidays or local weekend getaways throughout the year.

Support for your mental wellbeing

Our mental health and wellbeing programs are designed to give eligible members quicker and easier access to the support and treatment that’s right for you, when you need it.

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Learn more about our mental and wellbeing support programs.

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