Benchmark your business

Executive Outlook’s survey takes the pulse of business leaders across the region. This week, we explore the popularity and pitfalls of remote work (followed by skill shortages, next week).

Pandemics come and go, but this one taught us how to lean on technology, stay productive and work from home.  This presented opportunities for businesses to combat skill shortages, slash travel expenses and cut costs. A few short years ago, that wouldn’t have been possible.

Hiring remotely from across Australia has caught on as a way to access a wider talent pool, especially for highly technical roles.

In essence, the pandemic drove people out of the office, and unleashed a new type of worker.  Employees like the freedom and independence of this lifestyle, with no rush to return to the office. They get to claim expenses, with no commuting and more family time. What’s not to love?

A recent Productivity Commission report shows in the last 2 years “We’ve gone from less than 8% of Australians working from home to 40%”.  This may drop, but it is inevitable that more people will work from home in the future.

We don’t need cities for this to work.  Regional housing prices have outpaced cities (A net 43,000 Australians moved to regional areas in 2020, the highest on record).

 A recent study by PwC Australia found that 3 in 4 Australians want a mix of remote and in-person work.

Our biggest corporations will still grow their footprint from the CBD. The change is at a workforce level, with a shift to blending remote work with a “go-to hub” for teamwork, training and meetings.

Executive Outlook found 52% of business leaders have adopted a hybrid model. Our interviews showed that:

“We have shifted away from the traditional model, forcing us to be more agile and productive”.

“Staff can work remotely, they are more engaged, travel less and seem happier”.

“Remote work is ideal for deep concentration tasks, such as projects, reports and audits”.

At the same time, our conversations with business leaders exposed the limitations.

“Remote work is hard to manage. It puts more pressure on those in the office to manage phones and distractions”.

“Flexible work is fine for a while, but then productivity falls. You’re left with the same cost and less productivity”.

Some leaders give their staff a choice, but find they prefer the workplace.

“Most said they prefer the office (productivity is higher with greater collaboration)”.

“Our staff value coming back to work – they missed the social interaction”.

Digital fatigue is a by-product of this profound shift in how we live and work. Wellbeing is top of mind for business leaders in our region, and the comments reflected this:

  “We’re more in tune with our staff, and the pressures they are feeling (not just from work, but outside forces too).

“We monitor the temperature of our business by communicating often, social get-togethers and breakfast meetings (and via Zoom in lockdowns)”.

Keeping our teams inspired, productive and healthy has underpinned our conversations. It’s a timely reminder to be crystal clear about expectations and celebrate the successes. That gets us to a place where everyone is grateful, learning and excited with the outcomes.

In summary, hybrid work’s here for the long haul, and gaining traction with workers and employers alike.

Younger workers are more skilled, agile and independent than ever. They’re not worried about security – that’s embedded in their learning agility.  They find work through social and professional networks. They have a lot to offer, and want choices on when and where they work.

Forward-thinking businesses are adapting to these trends, to secure the skills they need.

Our goal is to be in the office, but work from home when sick or as needed, as part of a blended approach.

There’s one more perspective that showed up in our research. It’s been a struggle for CBD businesses, left to grapple with the implications of remote work and how much space they need.  Recovery will take time.

“The decentralisation of CBDs is noticeable by the drop in foot traffic (businesses, shoppers and tourists). This has drawn money and investment away from CBDs into the suburbs”.

Compiled by Jan Gadsden, Founder of Top Office Group Pty Ltd.