APS embraces working from home in a flexible, tech-savvy future

Ian Bushnell 18 March 2021 26
Peter Woolcott

APS Commissioner Peter Woolcott says the APS must work as one enterprise across traditional boundaries and jurisdictions. Photo: APSC.

Public servants can expect to spend less time in the office, be more mobile and require better digital skills as more of their work moves online or they need to work from home or other locations, according to a new Australian Public Service Workforce Strategy released on Thursday (18 March).

The strategy is based on a ‘one-APS’ approach. It envisages a tech-savvy flexible workforce that can move easily between agencies, particularly in times of crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

It says the nature of public servants’ work is changing and it identifies critical skills gaps, particularly in technology.

Australian Public Service Commissioner Peter Woolcott says the APS must work as one enterprise across traditional boundaries and jurisdictions, “taking an outcomes-based approach to delivery, with the Australian people in the centre of all we do”.

“We must equip our workforce to maximise the use and potential of data and technology as we strive towards a world-class digital government,” he says.

“We must also build these capabilities for ourselves – through attracting the skills we need to deliver and through reskilling ourselves in emerging roles we have not yet dreamed of.”


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The strategy says the recent crisis management experiences through the 2019-20 bushfire season and the COVID–19 pandemic have reinforced the need for the APS to be flexible, work as one and respond to the best evidence available.

It acknowledges the benefits and productivity gains from staff working from home and how this flexibility can help attract and retain staff.

“APS agencies embraced technology and quickly adapted to the COVID-19 crisis. Based on lessons learnt from the crisis, agencies intend to make a number of changes to their workforce strategy and/or plan,” it says.

These include facilitating flexible and remote working, increasing the workforce’s mobility and agility, and exploring different approaches to recruitment.

The strategy says that by 2030, APS employees may spend less time on basic cognitive tasks and more time on technological activities and social and emotional tasks.

It says executives have reported growing skills shortages over the past three years – mostly in data, digital and ICT – in an increasingly digital environment.

The strategy proposes major upskilling programs, strategic recruitment and the continuing use of non-APS staff such as consultants to meet the need.

From 1 July, an APS Academy will be established and based at Old Parliament House to transform the way public servants learn and develop work practices.

The strategy says it will operate as a national, networked model in partnership with all APS agencies, connecting with existing APS centres of excellence and extending networks with the Australia and New Zealand School of Government, academic institutions and other specialist providers.


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Its focus will be on building leadership, integrity, governance, policy, delivery and engagement, and emphasising the importance of a broad suite of learning approaches, including experiential learning, on-the-job training, mobility, and secondments as some intensive face-to-face course offerings.

The strategy says the APS needs to be less restricted and siloed and more open and integrated, both across the service and how it interacts with other sectors.

It says the mobilisation during the COVID-19 pandemic, bushfires and significant weather events in 2020 showed the importance of breaking down these barriers so staff can move even more quickly and efficiently to support government services that need their skills the most.

“We are creating an APS Surge Reserve to assist with large-scale responses to unforeseen workloads in the future,” the strategy says.

“We will also continue to share and deploy resources rapidly, reduce duplication and deliver effectively against government priorities.”

The APS Workforce Strategy 2025 can be found on the APS Commission website.


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26 Responses to APS embraces working from home in a flexible, tech-savvy future
Teresa Jane Teresa Jane 10:13 pm 22 Mar 21

Let’s face it , the bloated APSC continue to seek to justify their existence issuing reports. 209 staff with an org structure showing 15 SES staff. And half the budget for salaries is SES. I’ll leave you to do the maths on how many staff they each manage noting 209-15=194 staff.

jorie1 jorie1 12:53 pm 22 Mar 21

It depends on the work that is being done from home. If APS staff are doing generalist policy work, then it seems reasonable that they can work from home. But if they are looking up any client information, any client personal information or details or anything of that nature, they should not be allowed to do that work at home. Anyone else living in the home, or visiting the house, can possibly see their screen (who is not security cleared and does not have a need to know) and it is not safe and a big breach of privacy. There are also far too many gossips in the APS (particularly in Canberra) who cannot be trusted to work from home. Confidential client information should only be able to be accessed, and worked on. in a very secure office environment.

Jimmy Stewart Jimmy Stewart 9:35 am 21 Mar 21

Because it’s such an efficient organisation this initiative should really increase capability 🤦‍♂️

Tara Ritchie Tara Ritchie 10:29 pm 20 Mar 21

Andrea George here is the article I was talking about.

Samantha Babic Samantha Babic 7:46 pm 20 Mar 21

Alexandra Holland this is an interesting takes on it 😂

    Alexandra Holland Alexandra Holland 8:14 pm 20 Mar 21

    Samantha Babic well well well, I might start quoting this

    Samantha Babic Samantha Babic 9:23 pm 20 Mar 21

    Alexandra Holland I think you should

Mario Mikola Mario Mikola 7:55 am 20 Mar 21

Whats new they spend more time in the coffee shops then in the office have a shot at me after 40years working with in organisation

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 7:37 pm 19 Mar 21

Sounds like they’d rather just outsource the whole show to Amazon, Facebook and Google, with a bit of local input from Service NSW.

Michelle Henderson Michelle Henderson 4:57 pm 19 Mar 21

It's hard enough to get consistency across one Department, with some areas allowing staff to continue working from home while others require staff on the office full time- how are they going to implement something across the entire APS...

Daniel Daniel 11:34 am 19 Mar 21

I wonder if the Parks and Rec fellas would somehow be able to mow lawns from home.

Shane Westmore Shane Westmore 9:42 am 19 Mar 21

is this article dated March 2021, or March 2020? is this implying APS was not offering WFH a year ago in line with the majority of private companies in Australia?

Emily Cassandra Emily Cassandra 9:40 pm 18 Mar 21

Sally Wegener WFH forever!

Gabriel Spacca Gabriel Spacca 8:57 pm 18 Mar 21

It’ll be interesting to see if this policy survives the first data breach due to an officer’s unsecured laptop.

Amy Hemsworth Amy Hemsworth 8:39 pm 18 Mar 21

We've been forced back to full time in office for months and are still insisting that we are to "hot desk".... the APS is NOT consistent by any means

Rosalind Turner Rosalind Turner 8:33 pm 18 Mar 21

Encouraging remote working = moving your staff to a new work location where 8 half-size desks are allocated to 10 people on a space-per-person basis rather than consideration for the type of work conducted. My desk at home is bigger than what they are offering.

Bernadette Oakes Bernadette Oakes 8:31 pm 18 Mar 21

All I got from that article was they don’t like how the public service works, and are going to hire more consultants (at a higher price than APS employees) to do the same work.

Nicole McGuire Nicole McGuire 8:16 pm 18 Mar 21

Really? Why the APSC directive to return to offices last year? As a scribe for public service recruitment I can confirm that the majority of Canberra based interviews are being conducted in person. No need. Can all be done via video conferencing.

Cassie Hodnik Cassie Hodnik 8:00 pm 18 Mar 21

Emma Owenson have we missed something?

    Emma Owenson Emma Owenson 9:40 pm 18 Mar 21

    Cassie Hodnik LOL!!! We won’t count. We’ll be classed as some sort of “different” agency that this doesn’t apply to!

Tim Cole Tim Cole 7:32 pm 18 Mar 21

Someone might want to let the other department heads know...

    Jay Kay Jay Kay 8:00 pm 18 Mar 21

    Tim Cole I know of one Dept. Head that started ordering people back to work only a few weeks ago based off direction from their minister.

Steve Ulr Steve Ulr 7:16 pm 18 Mar 21

Lol. So how are the commercial property investors going to cope with the reduced footprint? I think not.

Craig Dingwall Craig Dingwall 7:14 pm 18 Mar 21

Pay parity?

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