As well as dismissing the case based on the facts, a Fair Work Commissioner ruled there were “reasonable business grounds” for an employer to order employees to be in the office because of the training, cultural and productivity benefits of face-to-face interactions.
A face-to-face presence would facilitate coaching to improve the adviser’s below-benchmark productivity. And it would more readily allow younger team members to access his experience. Bear in mind that the whole debate about flexible work concerns white-collar workers, and working from home is a privilege not afforded to doctors, nurses, police and factory and blue-collar workers in general. Work by the Commonwealth Bank suggests that working from home for more than a couple of days a week reduces office collaboration by a third.
The irony is that Australia has one of the world’s most rigid, overly regulated and prescriptive industrial relations frameworks, filled with hundreds of award rules and classifications dictating how businesses must run their workday operations including by only deploying labour at fixed times or else incur penalty rates of pay.
Even more ironic is that this framework once discouraged working from home by treating it as an occupational health and safety risk. Some easing of these rigidities is undoubtedly a good thing. But if Australia’s prescriptive workplace regulation now includes the rights of employees to seek a third-party umpire to rule on whether they don’t even have to set foot in the business, then surely it should be recognised that they may simply be worth less to the business and should be remunerated accordingly.