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Will Workplace Flexibility Survive Beyond COVID-19?

COVID-19 became an unprecedented experiment for many organisations questioning ‘Can our company operate successfully if everyone works remotely?’. And the answer for most has been a resounding ‘yes’. So, why are some companies rushing to get everyone back to working in the office, and will workplace flexibility survive beyond the year 2020? Woman works at computer with an infant sitting on her lap

We don’t want to downplay the negative impacts of the stay-at-home orders, particularly for some jobs and industries hardest hit by the pandemic. But, we did see a revolution of sorts for many office-based jobs, as technology allowed for many to be done from home (or remotely).

When did office-based roles become more focused on how many hours were worked in a day, rather than the daily output? There is a big difference there. Office-based workers can spend 8, 10, 12 hours per day in an office, but the output from those hours should be the focus of attention. Flexible working means management needs to focus on tangible outcomes and deliverables, rather than favouring employees who may just stay late to look busy.

We understand that it hasn’t all been easy. Working from home, while trying to manage the children being home schooled and everything in between was not the ideal scenario. So, what happens when the pandemic passes? Will employers allow the good aspects of flexible work to remain? Flexible working hours, days, locations and tasks are all part of the modern workplace, and this pandemic has only highlighted to some people how suitable (or unsuitable) their current workplace is for their lives.

In a way it is unfortunate that many people are conditioned to think that working a nine-to-five (more like 7am-7pm in some situations) job is the only way. These people would also be shocked to hear that others work on performance-based pay – and it is the former that would not survive in this scenario.

We’re starting to see the return to office for some companies. Some are full time; others are transitioning slowly back into the office starting with a few days per week. But is it necessary? Business continued while everyone was working flexibly – and some people and some businesses even thrived that way! Recent research conducted by the University of Sydney Business School showed that more Australians want to work from home an average of two days per week after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many Australian organisations are now responding to that trending interest, reducing office space, setting up hot desks for when the team come in and then allowing their employees to work a couple of days a week from home. Finding that right balance is different for every organisation and employee.

Aerial view of an office desk with open laptop, chocolate, pencils, phone, cup of tea, notepad and succulent plant in potIt may not be for everyone – after all, everyone is different, and companies need to start recognising that. There are a lot of people who work much better flexibly – so, if they choose, it should still be an option for them. The corporate world needs to stop treating every person as if they are the same. Some people will perform better working in an office everyday and some people won’t. To truly get the best outcomes, businesses need to adapt to their employees – and not the other way around.

To us, if work is completed to a high standard then what does it matter where someone is working or for how many hours they work? It’s both a shame and a great outcome that it took a global pandemic for many others to see it this way too.

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