“Let us just get on with it”: Hybrid working in the Australian Public Sector

Renee Leon

Image from Canva stock

Hybrid working is no longer the ‘the new normal’, but is an embedded, business as usual practice. Managers should continue to provide flexibility and autonomy, Dr Uma Jogulu and Dr Judy Lundy from Edith Cowan University, Professor Sue Williamson from UNSW, and Dr Helen Taylor from Charles Sturt University write.

Working from home continues to be popular, with over half of employees reporting they worked from home or away from the office in 2023.

Based on findings from 20 focus groups and small group interviews with over 80 APS senior executives, middle managers and supervisors in 37 agencies, there is growing clarity around the benefits and challenges of hybrid working.

With opportunities to change how teams work together, managers in the APS should focus on providing high levels of flexibility and having open conversations about what trust and autonomy should look like.

Putting performance over productivity

Managers are increasingly focusing on performance, rather than purely on productivity. While they still want teams to be productive, the focus has moved to how teams perform to produce quality outcomes.

Being less concerned with rigid working hours or location of work, one manager told us during our research that they aimed to foster “a productivity culture versus an attendance culture”. This sentiment was reflected across our conversations with managers.

Managing for more autonomy

Staff also enjoy increased autonomy, which enables them to deliver outcomes. In our research, one stated: “let us just get on with it”. There is a small number of managers who believe they had more control over employees pre-pandemic, but are positive about the role of autonomy in leading hybrid teams.

For example, one told us their team had “greater ownership over the work, it’s giving them their agency back”. When discussing employees working autonomously at home, managers are clear that this is not about doing less to manage teams, but about managing differently, and enabling teams to have more autonomy.

Balancing monitoring and trust

Despite the positivity, lack of trust still affects how managers look after a hybrid team.

Growing autonomy is often offset by increased monitoring – our research shows 28% of managers mentioning monitoring staff working from home in some capacity. For instance, a manager identified: “things are a lot more trackable than when people were in the office”. Generally, however, levels of surveillance are low.

Changing the way work gets done

How work is undertaken in the APS appears to be different to other sectors. The majority of managers say that there has not been a marked change in how and where tasks were completed, largely due to the tools enabling virtual working. They also say that their teams “adapted easily”, and that it was “completely irrelevant” where staff worked from.

This is surprising, as other research shows that knowledge workers who work from home or in hybrid settings tend to do different tasks depending on location.

Collaborative and team-building tasks are done in the office, and deep-thinking work is done at home. However, in the APS, tasks are done regardless of location suggesting that the public service is flexible and has adapted to hybrid working. This also opens opportunities to experiment with different ways of working which are not being fully utilised yet.

Bringing together flexibility, autonomy, and trust

APS managers should provide teams with high levels of flexibility and autonomy, and discuss openly what autonomy and trust look like in a hybrid working environment. We also suggest that senior managers role model hybrid working.

Agencies should actively promote examples showing not only that it is possible to hold a senior executive position while working flexibly or part-time, but demonstrate how senior executive roles can be attained following a part-time or flexible career path.

The importance of senior managers role modelling flexible working cannot be underestimated. This sends a message to staff that working in a hybrid model is acceptable, and can benefit organisations, teams and individuals.

Hybrid working offers possibilities to change how teams work together, how individuals maximise being in the office, or at home, how workflows are managed and how performance is measured. APS agencies are reviewing lessons from the past few years and are innovating and looking to the future of work. Further experimenting with ways of working may continue to yield positive results.


Access the authors’ new report on hybrid working on the Australian Journal of Public Administration. For more information about this research, email sue.williamson@unsw.edu.au.