Limited functionality available
When COVID-19 struck, Australians were suddenly forced to work from home wherever possible. Now, given the choice, with low virus numbers and loosened restrictions in most parts of the country, many employees have come back to the workplace, although there still remains a substantial gap from pre-COVID levels.
New data released yesterday from the ABS Household Impacts Survey indicates that 31% of Australians with a job are currently working from home on most days, compared to around 12% prior to COVID.
While Victorians continue to be required to work from home where possible, many New South Wales employees are staying home too, at least some of the time. Indeed, 52% of people with a job in Victoria, and 50% in New South Wales, reported working from home at some point in the last four weeks.
Even in the rest of Australia, where restrictions are looser and virus fears are lower, 39% reported working from home in the last month. The trend back towards normal movement to workplaces is shown in the chart below, with an interruption to that trend more recently in NSW and WA, likely linked to more people taking overdue breaks during the recent school holidays.
Chart 1: Change in workplace mobility, % change from baseline
Source: Google Mobility Data, Deloitte Access Economics
Another factor is that many workers also have little choice, even in states where workplace attendance is allowed, because of at home carer responsibilities.
In households with children who stayed home in the last month due to COVID, 39% of employees reported working from home to care for them. Similarly, 35% reduced or changed their hours, while 20% took leave, because of school, preschool and childcare closures, or child sickness.
Women were more likely to be the carer in these households, reinforcing the unbalanced gender impact of Australia’s COVID-19 recession. Indeed, 58% of women reported looking after children full-time, compared to just 13% of men, while 66% of men and 28% of women shared responsibilities with someone else in the household.
On another note, demand for public transport remains low, with just 2% of Victorians reporting using public transport in the last month, compared to 28% of people in New South Wales and 17% in the rest of Australia. Reluctance to use public transport in a COVID world is likely a key factor limiting the number of employees returning to their CBD workplaces in those states which are open.
David is a macro economist with extensive experience in applied economic and quantitative analysis of the Australian economy, along with considerable experience in labor market analysis. David is a regular commentator on macroeconomic trends, and prepares a weekly economic briefing newsletter.
William is a Graduate Economist working in Deloitte Access Economics’ Macroeconomic Policy & Forecasting team. Prior to joining Deloitte, William completed a Bachelor of Commerce Honours at the University of Melbourne majoring in Economics and Finance.