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A SURVEY OF AUSTRALIA’S 50 BIGGEST COMPANIES REVEALS THAT THE ERA OF 5 DAYS A WEEK IN THE OFFICE IS OVER

Business Insider; 13/07/21

  • A survey conducted by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald of 50 of the nation’s largest companies reveals a majority expect to continue hybrid work arrangements.
  • 42 of the companies surveyed explicitly confirmed the permanent adoption of hybrid working policies for office-based employees.
  • “On balance, I think there’s good grounds to be optimistic when it comes to the overall impact,” the Productivity Commission’s chair, Michael Brennan, said.

The era of working five days per week in the office looks to be all but over in Australia, with the nation’s biggest employers saying hybrid work models will be entrenched even after the danger of the coronavirus pandemic has passed.

A survey conducted by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald of 50 of the nation’s largest companies, which between them employ more than 1 million staff in Australia and overseas, reveals an overwhelming majority expect to continue allowing employees to work at least part of the week from home once the pandemic ends.

And the chair of Australia’s Productivity Commission and leading economists say it might make us more productive.

“On balance, I think there’s good grounds to be optimistic when it comes to the overall impact,” the Productivity Commission’s chair, Michael Brennan, told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. University of Michigan economics professor, Justin Wolfers, who is currently working from home in Australia, said: “Everyone is better off – no question. Total output has gone up”.

Forty-two of the companies surveyed by the mastheads explicitly confirmed the permanent adoption of hybrid working policies for office-based employees. Another six, Dexus, Woodside, Amcor, Qantas, Ramsay Health Care, and Scentre Group, plan to have many staff onsite – a majority of the time due to operational reasons – though they also have flexible working policies where appropriate.

Two companies, retailer Harvey Norman and employment website Seek, declined to comment or said they had not finalised their policies yet.

Of the businesses that do plan to adopt hybrid work, only seven explicitly stated a minimum number of days they expect staff to be in the office. CSL, Brambles, Tabcorp and Optus said they expected their office-based staff to be in for three days a week, and Afterpay, Westpac and Domino’s put a floor of two days per week on attendance.

The flexible work revolution is set to be one of the most enduring legacies of the coronavirus pandemic, with the potential to reshape Australia’s workplaces. The Age and Herald will this week use a series of stories to examine this phenomenon and the implications it will have for cities, regional areas, careers and broader society.

‘A philosophical switch’

Last month Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was time to get back to the office and urged corporate Australia to get staff back to their desks because it would be good for jobs and “the beating heart of our cities”.

But the big businesses surveyed say they are happy to work with staff to strike a balance between remote and in-office work.

The most extreme proponent of flexible working is tech giant Atlassian, which earlier this year declared its employees could work from any location with an internet connection and only requires staff to travel to their nearest office around four times a year.

“Essentially, we’re leaving it up to our employees to decide for themselves. We believe giving them the choice will help them self-select what’s right for them and will improve their overall employee experience,” an Atlassian spokesperson said.

Other major Australian corporates that are enthusiastically embracing flexible work are telecoms giant Telstra, which says the move to remote work is a “philosophical shift” in how teams work. “There’s an opportunity for employers to look forward and create a completely different vision of the workplace,” Telstra’s group executive of transformation, communications and people Alex Badenoch said.

At the other end of the spectrum, some operators believe that face-to-face communication is critical for business growth.

Real estate group Dexus said its strong preference was for workers to come back to the office “most days each week”.

“We certainly move faster when we come together in the office,” executive general manager Kevin George said.

Telco Optus, which employs more than 7000 nationally, has adopted a minimalist hybrid model where most staff spend three to four days a week in the office and the balance at home. “Optus believes co-location fosters collaboration and innovation; you can’t just ‘dial-in’ culture,” said vice- president of human resources, Kate Aitkin.

The boom in remote work that has stemmed from the COVID-19 pandemic has led commercial landlords and city planners to warn of the demise of central business districts, but a majority of companies surveyed still see significant value in their CBD headquarters.

The internal shape of offices might also change. Many are building new head offices that will do away with traditional cubicles and instead focus on the social side of working life.

Insurance giant Suncorp says its new Brisbane site, set to open early next year, has been specifically designed with future hybrid work in mind. It will have more collaborative spaces and is designed to help connect teams no matter where they’re working.

Group executive at property investment giant Investa, Michael Cook, said designers are already responding to the new demands tenants are placing on what an office should look like.

“A greater emphasis on ‘hub and home’ means that the hubs must do more to compete with homes. Meeting spaces are now the new focus, be it one person Zoom-rooms or flexible multi-purpose meeting spaces,” he said.

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