Across Australia, hundreds of thousands of people have stopped their bustling commute into the business districts of the major cities and been forced to work remotely instead. Many people are even suggesting that remote working in Australia might become the new normal.
For some, working remotely has been a welcome relief from the daily grind. For others, especially those who live in small apartments, it’s an ordeal. Yet many agree that Covid-19 has caused an irreversible cultural shift towards working from home.
In fact, Julian Bolleter, co-director of the Australian Urban Design Research Centre, said in an article on ABC news: “I think we won’t be the same again and people will adapt to this new way of working.”
In a recent “Future of Work” online conference broadcast for Australian audiences the futurist, Gerd Leonhard, whose clients include big companies like Google, Sony and Visa, called this period “the great transformation”. He said: “We’re going to live in a world where connecting virtually and remotely becomes the new normal.”
With this in mind, we sat down with James Dellow, from the Digital Workplace Company based in Australia, to discuss whether he thinks the Aussies will adopt remote work as their new normal, or post-lock down will they rush back to their offices with their coffee in-hand?
How are Australians adapting to remote working?
James: In Australia, the idea of remote working or telework was less prevalent before Covid-19. As we’ve got such a low population density, and because we’re based around our main cities, the need for remote working has never been as high here. So, there’s a bit of a lag in terms of digital transformation, which meant many organizations weren’t prepared.
We did some research and found that those who had adopted and invested in digital tools, such as their intranet, have reaped the rewards [of remote working], but others [who did not] have been scrambling on the basic VPNs and have found it harder to adapt.
Those companies who had adopted and invested in digital tools, such as their intranet, have reaped the rewards of remote working.
Forecasters suggest we’ll continue to work remotely long after the lock-down restrictions have been lifted. Do you agree?
James: For Australians, adopting wholesale remote working would require a massive shift in how we work. What we’re expecting to see is a hybrid working environment emerge, where some of the working time will be done in the home and some in the office.
But there’ll always be people that don’t have optimal homeworking conditions that’ll be really keen to get out. Plus, we’ve got a big coffee culture here. People like to come into work and get a good coffee and catch up.
The big winners will be people wanting flexible working, but not so much home remote working. Even so, I think there will be a desire to get back to the office, but it’s going to be very different from how it used to be.
We’re expecting to see a hybrid working environment emerge, where some of the working time will be done in the home and some in the office.
Do you think we’ll see an increase in companies adopting distributed working or creating localized working hubs?
James: There was an article from an Australian farming magazine I read the other day that said with a growing acceptance of remote working, maybe they won’t lose so many people from rural areas who feel the need to go and move to a more urban or city environment for their career.
There was also a really good story up in Queensland of call center workers who work from home, but their company set up a hub in a shopping centre, where they could go into if they felt like it or for meetings, and they would come together as a group.
What was really interesting was that this group of workers had a really strong social support model. At the time, it was just running on Facebook. So, through a public social network, they were a very social group, even though they worked from home most of the time. I think there’s certainly room for those models.
Sounds like employee engagement would be at the heart of any new remote working model?
James: We’re now seeing or hearing of companies realizing that employee engagement is very important. Until now, many got away with traditional trickle-down communication methods such as email, posters stuck on walls, all those sorts of things. Clearly, that’s not going to work in a digital environment. So, they’ve had to really step up and find new ways of engaging.
Are companies using their intranet to engage employees during this period?
James: Typically, we’ve found those organizations that do have intranets have been using them to post key information such as their organizational response to Covid-19, what the rules are, what the policies are, and explaining what the new tools are on there. The intranets have been used for task management orchestration and getting on with work and less about collaboration and new ways of working.
Is there an education piece to be had there?
i.e. do they know that their intranets can do so much more for them like enhance collaboration, promote ideation, etc?
James: I do agree that many Australian organizations have a very traditional view of intranets as just content management systems that we need to get beyond. There’s a lot to do in that space, particularly at the user-experience level.
You know, when you actually are sitting at a desk with a laptop looking at your intranet, how that homepage works and how it integrates with other tools or gets you to those other tools is really important. That’s a worthwhile issue to engage with, and to talk about solutions, like Valo’s and how they can help.
Actually, I was just talking to someone today about using digital solutions to help connect people with each other, to deal with social isolation in the workplace because they’re working remotely.
Another issue is how businesses, particularly those with a global footprint, use their intranet to coordinate their response to local conditions. I think is going to be really challenging as we move forward. So, there’s definitely a role for using intranets to address the nuance of communicating.
Join Valo’s Partner Manager & Product Evangelist APAC Knut Relbe-Moe, along with James Dellow, Shane Hazim and Kelly Fisk for an online discussion about how to effectively communicate and collaborate in a remote workforce.
Date & time:
1 PM UTC +8 (Singapore)
3 PM AEST, UTC+11 (Melbourne, Sydney)
8 AM EEST, UTC+2 (Helsinki, Tallinn, Riga)
1 AM EDT, UTC -5 (Montreal, New York)
Header image: Knowman CC BY-NC-SA 2.0