One of the key opportunities for improving partner employment is of course the increase in flexible work practices, including remote work/ work from home. Many workplaces switched to working from home during COVID19 as social distancing measures were introduced to stem the spread of the virus and safeguard employees, and technology platforms responded by improving their services. Since the Covid shutdowns began more than half of Australia’s working population have worked from home. This rapid shift to working from home has shown employers and employees what is possible and dismissed many of the arguments for not implementing it. Covid has accelerated our transition to the future of work. Predictions are that levels of remote work won’t return to pre-Covid levels and that working from home is here to stay in one form or another in many organisations. Working from home has benefits for both employees and employers with better work/life balance, decreased commute times, increased productivity and cost-savings amongst the benefits and there are growing resources to enable companies to configure their work practices and mitigate risk.
This is good news for ADF partners. Flexible work arrangements allow ADF partners to better balance their paid and unpaid roles, and remote work provides a greater number and range of job opportunities because work isn’t constrained by geographic location. Remote work is an ideal way for ADF partners to be retained by a company when an ADF member is posted to a new location. This has benefits to employers too because they retain valuable talent that they have invested in and avoids the cost of recruiting and training new staff.
Remote work won’t be a panacea for ADF partner employment. Not all jobs can be done remotely and not all employers and employees have found working from home to be a positive experience. From an employee perspective working from home can present challenges with respect to social isolation, blurred lines between work and home, and lack of available space to work at home (this should be an area of attention for future ADF member housing policy). The Covid work from home scenario has been less than ideal in many cases which may have soured it for some employers and employees. It is important to remember that working from home during COVID19 was an emergency response and not representative of what optimal work from home arrangements look like. But it has brought flexible work to the forefront and has hopefully revolutionised the way many organisations work (including Defence – see below).
Of course, flexible work isn’t just about ADF partners – it is essential that ADF members also work flexibly to enable fairer distribution of domestic workloads in ADF families thus freeing up ADF partners to participate in the labour market more fully should they desire to. As discussed in the post on essential workers CDF directed ADF commanders to support the work of ADF partners in essential roles. And there is flexibility built into the ADF workforce model with flexible work arrangements and the Total Workforce Model. One of the recommendations in my Churchill report was that Defence explore the potential of the Total Workforce Model to address spouse employment challenges. It will be interesting to see whether what we’ve learned from Covid has any impact on Defence flexible work practices. With a spotlight shone on the disproportionate amounts of domestic and caring work done within couples in homes around Australia hopefully this will be the beginning of a shift toward greater encouragement and uptake of flexible work practices and more equitable domestic arrangements within ADF households. With research out of University of Sydney indicating that young men and women view workplace flexibility and shared domestic labour as important to career success it would appear to be in the ADF’s best interest to shift towards practices that better place them as an employer of choice in order to attract the talent they need.
Part One: the labour market
Part Two: career development and career management
Part Four: essential workers
Part Five: domestic and caring work
Part Six: financial security