ANZSOG funds research into how the public sector can support flexible working

Image of people working on beanbags
  • Published Date: 13 September 2021

ANZSOG will support research into the future of flexible work in public services through a research project funded by ANZSOG in partnership with the ACT Public Service (ACTPS) and with commissioned input from the University of New South Wales’s Public Service Research Group (PRSG) based in Canberra, to examine the ACTPS’s Future of Work strategy.

The research will examine the impact of flexible working on productivity, wellbeing and effectiveness of ACTPS workers and examine factors that can lead to more effective flexible working including the built environment, and managerial and organisational support.

How public services use flexible work will be a key issue as they adapt to a post-pandemic world and the research project has been chosen as one which will have relevance to other jurisdictions in Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand. ANZSOG will provide $100K funding for the project.

The research team will gather evidence about how ACT public servants are interacting and engaging with technology and collaborating with each other across multiple locations and will explore how the changing nature of work has impacted physical workforces and examine options for reshaping and redefining the role of physical spaces.

The ACTPS, headed by ANZSOG Board member Kathy Leigh, says the research will help it to frame the ongoing debate about how they organise their work and workplaces into the future, and that they “anticipate uncovering patterns in the evidence that will help us to prepare for both transformation and disruption”.

ANZSOG Dean and CEO, Professor Ken Smith said that the research would bring practitioners and academics together for a project that would help public services work more effectively.

“This project will help public services to adapt to the ‘new normal’ as we move into the recovery phase of Australia’s approach to COVID-19,” Professor Smith said.

“Remote and flexible working has huge potential to make public services more effective and as a way of meeting the diverse needs of public sector staff.

“This project allows ANZSOG to use its experience to manage a project that will be of practical assistance not just to the ACTPS but to other jurisdictions.”

About the project

The UNSW team includes Professors Deborah Blackman, Helen Dickinson, Massimiliano Tani and Dr Fiona Buick and Dr Sue Williamson.

Recognising the diversity of the ACTPS, fundamental to the project is the expectation that support needs will differ between the range of occupations and demographic groups.

The research will examine what technological, location, access, timing and communication choices have employees been taking to support their flexible working practices, and how these choices vary across occupations and demographic groups.

The PSRG will adopt a strengths-based co-production and collaboration approach to the research design, development and delivery, recognising the value of combining theory and practice. There will be an emphasis on regular stakeholder dialogue to create shared understandings the impact and outcomes required from flexible working as the strategy matures.

Due to the ACT Government’s investment in new buildings and technologies to enable greater flexibility, the focus of this project will initially be on workers in the Civic and Dickson offices.

The project will consist of three phases, an orientation phase, a qualitative research phase and a research socialisation phase. The orientation phase will work to clearly establish research governance and working arrangements and establish a common purpose for research to establish clear and shared goals. The research will use both quantitative and qualitative analysis, including focus groups of public servants.

The final report to the ACTPS will include recommendations for practice, with shorter publications also written to communicate broader lessons learnt. In consultation with the ACTPS, ANZSOG will disseminate research findings to other governments, academic and practitioner forums.

ANZSOG's Research Strategy takes a demand-led, practice-driven and collaborative approach to research based on our unique ability to connect academics and practitioners. This is one of two demonstration research projects examining major issues of interest across the public sector in Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand.

ANZSOG has a unique ability to connect academics and practitioners to produce research that examines major issues of interest across the public sector in Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand.