Flexibility better than a pay rise: study

Telstra CEO Andy Penn: successful companies will offer people the most flexible way of working.
Telstra CEO Andy Penn: successful companies will offer people the most flexible way of working.

Telstra CEO Andy Penn admits he's missing head office.

"I'm looking forward to getting back into the office; this spell I haven't been back in, I think, three or four months," he told an online forum this week.

But his employees may not be feeling the same, with the release of a report showing Australian workers want a mix of flexible home and office-based work, known as hybrid work.

More than half the 1250 employees surveyed for the report said hybrid work is more important to them than a five per cent pay rise.

The study, commissioned by Telstra, also shows hybrid work could create 42,000 extra full time jobs over the next decade and add $18 billion to the Australian economy.

It showed businesses that allow hybrid working are 22 per cent more likely to have higher productivity and, on average, have six per cent more income.

"The companies that are going to be successful in the future will offer people the most flexible way of working," Mr Penn said.

Telstra's 25,000 workers were some of the first to move to home-based work when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the company recently revealed it would continue to let workers choose to work from home.

But Mr Penn cautioned that an ongoing hybrid model was not the same as being forced to work from home during the pandemic.

The research, by Deloitte Access Economics, showed 23 per cent of women considered leaving the workforce during 2020, while 24 per cent said they were less likely to return to the office than their spouse.

"Hybrid working does have this significant possibility of increasing participation in the workforce for women," Clare Harding from Deloitte said.

But she said normalising hybrid work for men was also important and corporations allowing flexible work need to be careful their offices don't become male dominated environments.

The Commonwealth Bank's group executive for human resources Sian Lewis told the online forum corporations still need to work out how to measure the productivity of people working from home.

"I'm not sure we're that great at measuring the productivity of knowledge workers ... all businesses and organisations are going to have to get better at measuring output," she said.

She also questioned whether the productivity improvements mentioned in the report are the result of real efficiency gains or because work and home life have recently merged in a way that's unsustainable.

"I think there's a whole new set of protocols that we have to think about to make sure that the productivity uplift is both real and sustainable."

The research was conducted by Deloitte Access Economics and the Australian National University using ABS data and a survey of 1250 workers.

Telstra has recently cut a third of its employees but Mr Penn told the company's recent AGM further job cuts are off the table.

Australian Associated Press