Working from home post COVID-19

Can that genie be put back in the bottle?  Should it be?

Workplace flexibility has been something that Australian industry has been trying to accommodate for several years – generally interpreting it as occasional working from home, or flexibility of core work hours to manoeuvre around school pick-up etc. While 70% of Australians did work from home at least one day a week, it was at best, a halfway approach, with many employees either resisting the push outright or insisting on large periods of time still spent in their office.

In March 2020 due to COVID-19, the nation had to turn, with almost no warning, to a working from home model for office-based staff. Smart organisations, such as Telstra, already had in place the infrastructure and systems around a “Future ways of working” model and were able, almost overnight, to tell their office-based people to not come into the office anymore.

Anecdotally, the forced experiment is generally working well for Australian businesses.  People are saving on travel time, they are productive, and some businesses haven’t skipped a beat, embracing technology and innovation to re-structure their business, to still effectively provide goods and services during this shutdown. Managers who previously hadn’t trusted an employee to work from home and get the job done, are now, more often than not, seeing that the work does get done, and that it is a viable alternative. In fact, pre-shut down research showed that “telecommuters” worked on average a day a week more than their office-bound colleagues and this is now far more wide-spread.

But what happens next? European countries are winding back restrictions, as are some Australian states.  But until there is a cure or a vaccine, we are in for an extended period of physical distancing so the working from home model is likely to continue for quite some time.  Maybe time enough for it to become the new norm.

As companies now have the collaboration tools and processes in place for working from home, it’s hard to argue any outcome other than a greatly increased number of people working from home on a regular basis, post COVID-19.

A Gartner survey in the US revealed that 74% of CFO’s say they expect to move previously office-bound employees to remote working post COVID-19, with a quarter of respondents saying they will move at least 20% of their on-site employees to working from home permanently.

Sure, it will need to be carefully managed.  It takes effort to build and keep a cohesive team via Zoom.  There needs to be greater emphasis on sharing information.  People are no longer talking in the kitchen, popping into each other’s offices to share information.  Online meetings need to be more frequent and more structured around information sharing;  because you know something don’t assume the rest of the team does.

There will be benefits too.  You may be able to reduce your commercial leasing costs: look for smaller office space, something that allows an inclusive hot-desk situation rather than a desk for every employee.  Productivity for the nation will increase.  All those hours that people spend driving, in traffic jams or on public transport are freed up for better use – maybe achieving that elusive work/life balance. Less traffic is less pollution.  The three-hour peak hours that have become part of daily city life could be greatly reduced.

Of course, there are many, many roles that require a physical presence, particularly retail and hospitality, but for those business who do have the opportunity to embrace the telecommuting or working from home model, the benefits could be enormous.

If your business looking at embracing remote working post COVID-19?  We’d love to hear your thoughts.