Millions of Australians missed out on the remote work revolution. Now there’s a push for more ‘flexibility’

The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in a ‘working from home’ revolution, but what about frontline workers who are unable to work remotely?
An estimated nine million Australians workers – approximately 70 per cent of the Australian workforce – are unable to work remotely due to the frontline nature of their roles.
Now, a coalition of business and community leaders is pushing for more flexible working arrangements for employees with frontline roles in a bid to improve gender equality as well as business outcomes.
The Champions of Change Coalition’s report ‘Shifting Expectations: Flexibility for frontline, shift, and site-based roles’, released on Tuesday, examines work practices in frontline workplace environments such as energy, mining, construction, transport, manufacturing, telecommunications and logistics.

It is now “incumbent on leaders” to enable “flexible work opportunities, other than remote work, for 70 per cent of the Australian workforce”, the report says.


Champions of Change was established in 2010, with a mission to “step up beside women to help achieve gender equality and a significant and sustainable increase in the representation of women in leadership”. The coalition includes CEOs, secretaries of government departments, non-executive directors and community leaders who believe gender equality is a major business, economic, societal and human rights issue.

Flexible working arrangements have “immediate benefits” for frontline workers, are crucial for advancing gender equality, and should be a long-term strategy for workforce sustainability, the report says.

“Secure flexible work has always been a cornerstone strategy for advancing gender equality; a way to enable more people to participate in work while managing responsibilities and interests outside of paid work,” the report says.
By “challenging traditional ways of working and sharing our experiences in relation to flexibility for frontline and site-based roles across industries we are creating the environment to deliver not only gender diversity but significant social and mental benefits for employees and communities,” Champions of Change member and Australian and New Zealand president of engineering company Worley, Gillian Cagney, said.
Champions of Change convenor and chair of Manufacturing Australia, James Fazzino, said improving frontline flexibility is “not only about increasing the representation of women in the workforce”.

“To advance gender equality flexible practices need to be designed to be relevant to all genders,” he said.


What does flexibility for frontline workers look like?

Flexible work arrangements are now “vital for business continuity and growth”, the report says.
According to the report, flexible working demonstrated positive impacts on workforce engagement, with benefits including attraction and retention of talent, faster recruitment, safety improvements, increases in women’s representation and better utilisation of assets.
“In a tight labour market there are huge first-mover advantages to those who can crack the code for flexible ways of working in frontline environments,“ said Mr Fazzino.
“Flexible options open up untapped labour and expand the diversity of your talent pool.”
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, workplace flexibility has become increasingly common, which Champions for Change says enables more people to participate in paid work while managing their other responsibilities and interests and advances gender equality.

With this in mind, Champions of Change says it is incumbent on leaders to offer flexible opportunities other than remote work for frontline workers, including options for flexible rosters, shift swapping, job shares, compressed work weeks, split shifts and multi-skilling.


The report said analysis in some organisations also identified opportunities for tasks traditionally performed on-site to be done remotely through technology.
“Flexible work never means employment conditions falling below the safety net,” said Greg Smith AM, Former Deputy President of the Fair Work Commission.

“Not all types of flexibility are ideal for every role but greater flexibility is nearly always achievable.”

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