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Of the many changes that were brought in by the pandemic, flexible working or remote working has garnered the most attention. But in regions such as Australia where remote working might take a back seat as the pandemic eases and companies start opening up, the experimentation around flexible working takes up new dimensions and forms. It introduces a new set of employees as well, mostly freelancers and young entrepreneurs who envision innovative forms of working and most importantly networking. 'The traditional workplace is behind us. It’s time for business leaders to seize the moment, and consider how they want to evolve their workplace to be fit for the future', says Damien Sheehan, Country Head Australia, IWG.
We have been talking about the different facets of what it means to return to the workplace(s). And what have we learnt? In this interview, Damien uncovers creative ways to think about the office in the context of how the distributed workforce will look.
Here are the excerpts of the interview.
Evolving work: Pre-COVID-19 to the vaccine economy
In the decade before COVID-19, we were already seeing a fundamental shift in the world of work. More than any other factor, the pace of change in technology, the economy, and society is reshaping the future of work. While this was slowly but surely happening pre-COVID, it sharply accelerated once the pandemic hit worldwide in March last year. Overnight, office workers had to completely change the way that they work. Many had to move from the boardroom to the kitchen table with the partner, kids and family dog.
If we consider pre-COVID as ‘normal’, COVID-19 itself, especially at the beginning, was a period of survival. We had to make do and survive in a rapidly changing world which impacted everything in our personal and working lives. Once the dust had settled and we got used to other ways of working, we entered into a period of experimentation – we asked questions like: ‘How do I like to work? What is the best way of working for me personally?’
Now, as we flip-flop out of lockdown, companies of all sizes and millions of employees worldwide are permanently embracing the hybrid model. From one day to the next, Australians can work anywhere – whether that’s at home, in the office, or at a workplace close to home offering better work-life integration and optimising productivity. More and more employers are looking to innovate away from the traditional office space as a result of employee expectations, in favour of fostering a hybrid approach.
Are offices going to disappear?
The future is hybrid – a mixture of working from home, working in an office or working in a shared or flexible office space close to home. The physical office very much still has a place in the future of work and we have seen employees’ appetite for returning in some form to the physical office space. According to recent research by IWG, it was revealed that out of Australian workers surveyed who can work remotely, over eight in ten (84%) would prefer to work at least one day a week in an office, showing that the hybrid working format is here to stay.
Across the working population, we found that most workers won’t want to completely forgo working from home. However, there are plenty of aspects that won’t be missed, including the lack of boundaries between work and home, the lack of technology resources, as well as juggling work and childcare duties and managing remote learning.
In addition, IWG’s research found that nearly six in ten (59%) Australian workers who can work remotely agree that working in an office environment is better for their mental health than working purely remotely. In the office, they feel more connected, safe and supported by others, with one in five (19%) strongly agreeing with this sentiment. This means that employers need to invest in ways to support their workers in whatever way they choose to work. That includes investing in technology, HR resources and office space.
Are coworking spaces the future of the hybrid model?
While most workers would prefer to work outside the home at least one day a week, location plays a significant role in whether a trip to an office headquarters is worthwhile. With office interactions, collaboration and social engagements, a workplace community play an integral role in the health and well-being of Australians. This basic desire for human interaction has been one of the strongest factors driving people back to the office.
With the increased ability to work from anywhere, Australians can now work in physical office space within their own or neighbouring suburb – showcasing the growth of the power of community since COVID-19. While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused us to reduce travel, especially overseas, it has also revived Australians’ love for their local communities. Australians want to live, shop and now work locally. Organisations are listening to what their employees want and are increasingly empowering them to work wherever is most convenient via a hub and spoke model. We have found that this love for community will increase the demand for coworking spaces within regional and suburban areas.
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Making people feel connected
In the era of working remotely, employers or managers need to make sure that their people do not feel isolated or disconnected from their peers. Some of the practices we can adopt include:
Understand your employees, know that each person has individual circumstances, but these won’t dictate how they experience home working. Some may be working with dependents, spouses, or family members around, some alone.
It is important to work with both employees and IT to ensure that technology is up-to-scratch and hardware is readily available for people’s work from home setups.
Communication is also key. Ensure there are consistent top-down communications outlining business continuity plans and celebrating business achievements.
Hybrid is here to stay
COVID-19 has shown that hybrid work is very popular with employees. Employees enjoy a mix of being able to work from home, at an office closer to home and occasionally from a corporate headquarters in the central business district.
Employees have realised that they have been spending hours of their days commuting to an office that they don’t need to be in, while businesses have realised that a hybrid model not only means happier and more engaged employees, but also significant savings for both the company bottom line and employees’ personal savings. Organisations and leaders need to seize the moment rather than just slide back to how things were.