Telstra and Deloitte’s latest report reveals an $18-billion opportunity for Australian businesses that acknowledge the traditional 9-5 grind is dead, and embrace the potential from opening up the workforce. Needless to say, employers are taking note, with research showing 90% of global companies are looking to combine remote and onsite working into future business models.
But deciding which work-from-home policy to adopt to maximise staff productivity, potential cost savings, retention and morale is not always straightforward. It pays to do your research, weigh up the pros and cons, and establish policies accordingly.
While employees have enjoyed the benefits of flexible working, many haven’t enjoyed the longer hours and pressure that can arise from putting in the hours remotely – aka, ‘sleeping in the office’. Being always ‘on’ can lead to exhaustion and burnout, made even harder to swallow by lack of recognition from employers.
Microsoft research reveals 40% of the global workforce is considering a job change in the near future as a result of work fatigue; some call it the ‘Great Resignation.’
Lowered productivity and high staff turnover hit your bottom line hard. Yet, immediate and practical solutions are available.
A 2021 study by Pitcher Partners, Bastion Insights and Bastion Reputation Management (BRM) revealed that employees listed isolation as their top challenge when working from home. For employers, staff oversight and productivity management were the biggest concerns.
The solution rests on clear communication, BRM’s CEO Clare Gleghorn told The Age. “It gets back to engaging with staff early, being clear on what you're trying to achieve, getting the input and figuring out ways to communicate,” she said. “The result is a productive and effective hybrid working model.
”McKinsey backs this up, finding that companies promoting ‘small moments of engagement’ during the pandemic – whether through coaching, mentorship or idea sharing – reaped big increases in workplace productivity. Instead of adopting a ‘business as usual’ approach to the workplace shift, these companies prepared for hybrid working by training managers for remote leadership, reimagining processes and actively helping employees thrive.
More frequent communication with employees is vital, the research group found, even if a company’s plans are yet to solidify. But developing and communicating a strategy – and setting expectations – should be the very next priority.
From employees’ perspective, shared detailed guidelines, policies, expectations and approaches while operating a hybrid workspace is vital, says McKinsey. Organisations that have articulated more specific policies and approaches for the future workplace have seen employee wellbeing and productivity rise.
“The challenge for employers is making sure no individual gets left behind or is disadvantaged by the transformations,” Steve Bennetts, who specialises in employee experience for Qualtrics APJ, told the Australian Financial Review. The online survey group found roughly one in five employees believe working remotely will hurt their chances of being promoted. The key, Gleghorn adds, is to collaborate with employees and ensure everyone is made to feel productive and valued.
If you encourage a hybrid workforce and want employees to work efficiently from remote offices, they need the right equipment. A business owner with a mobile workforce should think seriously about its offsite resources, including hardware, software, and on-demand tech support.
Ensuring your remote employees are equipped with a fully-functional workstation – which includes all of the necessary hardware such as dual computer monitors, webcams, ergonomic chairs, the right desk, and a reliable internet network – will enable your remote employees to perform their role comfortably and productively. Also, consider supplying them with a laptop so they can easily transition to and from the office if need be, and the option of a spare mouse and keyboard, in case there are any technical hiccups.
Above and beyond the basic set-up, consider your employees’ wellbeing and ways to avoid burnout, whether through weekly mentoring sessions, one-on-one coaching or morale-boosting activities.
As expected, companies with the greatest success transitioning to a flexible future are those with a completely fresh vision of the workplace.
Google has long been a workplace innovator. And it has set the bar high again through its approach to managing employees during the pandemic. The company’s hybrid approach allows staff to embrace in-person work by making the most of new facilities, including flexible team ‘pods’ that can be reconfigured to meet different needs, and ‘campfire’ seating circles interspersed with vertical digital displays to allow hybrid meetings. At the same time, it also offers employees everything they need if they choose to work remotely.
Investment company Investa has emphasised redesigning office spaces to cater to agile and hybrid needs, creating hubs for employees that have both quiet zones (including one person Zoom rooms) and collaboration spaces.
Insurance giant Suncorp says its new Brisbane site has been specifically designed with future hybrid work in mind. It offers more collaborative spaces to help connect teams, no matter where they’re working, which also means gearing up employees to ensure smooth remote communication.
Pre-empting problems around isolation and loss of workplace culture when the pandemic hit, Australian digital services provider ARQ Group immediately introduced remote team-building experiences such as ‘lunch roulette’ to keep staff connected (this saw workers picked at random to buy and share lunch with each other over zoom) – with the addition of coaching and mentoring to manage performance.
And HR and people-management platform Employment Hero adopted a ‘remote-first’ model, allowing staff to work away from an office, but also permitting asynchronous communication, where everyone doesn’t need to be working or online at the same time. The company retains a physical office for those who prefer to leave the house, and will also gather employees once a year for an IRL get-together. Not only that, it’s even created a position called the head of remote: a role that oversees organising virtual clubs, social events and online education, building company culture and helping teams excel in the process.
Forward-thinking responses such as these set the tone for the flexible – and productive – work environments of the future that will see us all continue to rise and thrive together.