For all the issues facing the business world, it’s the battle for talent and the precise shape of the modern workplace that’s top of mind. Flexible working arrangements are here to stay; it may not have been part of many five-year plans but it is the employees’ choice, and employees have a lot of options in Australia’s restricted job market. That’s not to say that the benefits of remote work and flexible working arrangements run one way; work-from-anywhere and hybrid models are equally good for employers. And it’s this new world of work that inspired Flexiworks from Officeworks, an innovative platform designed to support both employers and employees – wherever they’re working. This efficient and simple-to-use platform enables employees to shop for essential work supplies and services they need when working outside of the office, while assisting employers with boosting engagement, improving workplace wellbeing and retaining staff.
The Flexiworks’TheFuture of Flexible Work report, commissioned by the recently surveyed employees and senior managers/decision-makers to understand Australians’ attitudes towards flexible work, and the results were conclusive. Of the 1000 employees surveyed, 81% say a company policy allowing for flexible working arrangements will be important to them for future jobs, with 62% saying they wouldn’t consider a new employer that didn’t have a flexible working policy, making it more important than ever for companies to have a seamless solution to help facilitate this. Flexiworks, for instance, allows employers to set up their remote staff for productive and safe hybrid working (including improving the onboarding process for new starters), while also helping enhance existing employee benefits, or reward and recognition programs. And it’s all without the need for corporate credit cards, expense claims or invoices, helping streamline the admin in the process. The desire for more flexible workplaces is also reflected in other research. Swinburne Edge and Deloitte’s Reset, Restore, Reframe: Making Fair Work FlexWorkreport found that, despite low wage growth, 93% of workers rate wellbeing as high as pay in their reason to work, 78% want to continue working from home or in a hybrid work model, and 39% of those who are made to work onsite want that to change.
In addition, the Balancing Act: The New Equation in Hybrid Working report from PwC found workers do want to return to the office – but only partially; 74% want to work from anywhere three days a week. “We think choice equates to happiness, happiness equates to better work and that that phenomena is not going away,” Tim Ryan, the United States chair of PwC, told Fortune magazine.
In their 2021 book Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working From Home, authors Anne Helen Petersen and Charlie Warzel describe the perfect outcome to this cultural redefining of work: “less work, over fewer hours, which makes people happier, more creative, more invested in the work they do and the people they do it for.’’
For Petersen, the crux was when they asked workers how long it would take them to do their job each week if they were working efficiently on the required tasks. “The answer was comparatively little. We’re talking 20 to 30 hours.”
“Because of the pandemic, we went overnight from a traditional way of working to office and knowledge-based workers being able to work from home and find ways to balance that with their personal lives,” says Caitlin Guilfoyle, Future of Work leader at PwC Australia. “That was a pivot based on business continuity – not one necessarily designed – but people value the flexibility and started to question what they need from organisations on a broader scale.”
Those organisations, she says, have the opportunity to intentionally consider which activities are best conducted in-person and which benefit from an environment that encourages deep thinking and concentration. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redesign how we work,” says Guilfoyle.
Although PwC’s Balancing Act surveys were conducted before the impact of recent changes to inflation and cost-of-living increase became apparent, employees nominated “saving money on travel” as the number one benefit to remote working. That’s higher than they rated saving travel time, and this from knowledge and office workers who typically lived close to the city.
Which raises the question: if employees can work from anywhere, why work only for businesses nearby?
Even though the Property Council of Australia says demand for office space has lifted in every capital city in January 2022 to where it was three years earlier, companies including Westpac, Telstra and QBE have sought to downsize real-estate needs. They are instead investing in spaces for collaborative work and meetings, as well as ensuring their remote working staff have access to the products and services they need to feel supported while working away from the office. It’s what Flexiworks was designed to do: enable hybrid working, all while boosting employee engagement and wellbeing. A self-service platform, Flexiworks provides each of your employees with a unique login, to easily shop for work essentials that are delivered straight to their doors to ensure they have everything they need to do their job.
The three most common hybrid work models are: 1) where staff choose the days and hours they come to the office; 2) where employers set the number of days or frequency in the office; and 3) where employers mandate actual days and times. Guilfoyle says there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but cautions that “even smaller mandates are not viewed by employees as being flexible”.
While 73% of respondents in Balancing Act said their wellbeing had benefited from flexible working arrangements, 71% in Flexiworks’ The Future of Flexible Work report said remote work meant they were regularly working longer hours than they would in an office. “People’s workloads have increased. They’re having more meetings,” says Guilfoyle, who’s been a senior human resources advisor in both government and the private sector. She advises designing workweeks with mental health top of mind, and upskilling workers in setting boundaries and leaders in empathy.
Suzi Finkelstein, CEO of Women & Leadership Australia, advises business leaders to consider how the transition to permanent hybrid work arrangements will impact inclusion and to not overlook talent that’s “out of the room”.
“Studies show more women than men will continue to work remotely,” she says. “If women choose a hybrid work arrangement, they’re more likely to spend more days at home than in the office. If we see remote workers as missing out, it will become a gendered issue, as more women are passed over for progression opportunities and become less engaged.” She urges employers to create opportunities for people to network and be visible, both online and in-person. Otherwise, she says, this is also an employee retention issue.
With more employees expecting that workplace flexibility should be part of their employment package, it’s vital for employee retention that an employer’s offering is as enticing as possible if they want to keep high-achieving individuals within the company. Flexiworks can be used to enhance existing employee benefits programs by making it easier for employers to recognise and reward staff for their achievements and service. Credit can be given in the form of an allowance to individual (or bulk) employee accounts, who can then use it to purchase anything from the entire Officeworks range.
And, should they see something that’s priced above and beyond their assigned amount, they can top up their reward themselves.
Finkelstein says leaders and managers need the emotional intelligence to reassure teams that conversations about flexibility are not career-limiting. “There are many biases, both conscious and unconscious, about what flexible work means in terms of leadership and work ethic,” says Finkelstein. “These biases will take time and education to dissolve.” Some companies are appointing directors of engagement and belonging.
Under the National Employment Standards (NES), any employee who’s been with a business consistently over 12 months, including a casual, can request a change of hours (for example, start and finish times), patterns of hours (such as job-sharing or split shifts) or the location of their work. Australian employers don’t have to grant the request for flexible working arrangements but, under the Fair Work Act, they must either accept or refuse it within 21 days, and can only refuse on reasonable grounds.
These could be that the new arrangement would be too costly for the business or it would harm efficiency, productivity or customer service. An employer can also refuse if the other staff members don't have the capacity to accommodate a new arrangement or it’s impractical to get them or new hires to do so. Flexiworks can offer advice and recommendations on products that enable the most productivehybrid work setup, while also safeguarding the health and wellbeing of employees.
It’s important to recognise that only certain employees are eligible to request a new working arrangement under the NES: people who have a disability or caring responsibilities, or who are older than 55 or experiencing domestic violence. However, the wider working population now expects to work at times and locations that enhance the rest of their lives. As a consequence, any employer who ignores the demand for flexible working will be hiring from a smaller talent pool – or perhaps even face employee retention issues in their current set-up.