Employees in Australia have become increasingly connected thanks to technology, helping erode the four walls of a typical physical workplace.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses have had flexible and agile work forced upon their normal operations. This has meant the evolution of flexible work has shifted from one of slow mainstreaming to that of a new necessary.

During a recent Hall & Wilcox webinar, in partnership with Michael Page and Diversity Council Australia, the topic of “Flexible work as the new normal” was examined in the current context of enforced lockdowns and the resulting work from home (WFH) arrangements.

According to a recent OnePoll survey of 1000 self-isolated office workers, 80 per cent of respondents believe WFH will be more common once social distancing measures are lifted.

Fay Calderone, Partner at Hall & Wilcox shared that despite the known benefits of flexible work and inclusive workplaces, there continues to be a fear of the negative impacts on productivity and culture.

“These are still the biggest concerns for many employers,” Calderone revealed during the webinar.

“A lot of these fears are embedded in a lack of trust and concerns about control.

“But working from home has become the new necessary and it’s been accelerated through the forced trial run for businesses that are privileged to WFH, have some business continuity and have safety for our employees via best practice social distancing.”

She underscored that trust must be the very foundation of working from home, particularly during times of disruption.

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Further, she said that employees who are WFH are still working within the parameters of the business’s core values and will continue to embrace them regardless of where they are and how they are working.

“Fundamentally, some employers are fearful of change but if we focus on the core values and what’s consistent, effectively, all that has changed is the how and where – it’s not the outcome, it’s not the business purpose or values,” she explained.

“So that builds a trust and an acceptance for a better working relationship all round. Mindset is everything during the crisis and beyond – that flexwork for everyone is possible.”

Employer duty of care

Workplace health and safety (WHS) and workers’ compensation all apply in the current climate, and WFH checklists should be completed by all workers working from home, Calderone noted.

“You have a duty of care to your employees even if they are working from home. You need to establish that they have a safe workspace – you can’t assume that’s the case,” she warned.

“We have a feasible compliance checklist that covers all the provisions you need to check and considerations when you are setting up your WFH policies and practices for the future. You need to ensure you’re operating within these legal parameters.

“For example, we have awards that create a span of hours and if employees work outside of those hours we still need to pay them overtime, and we need to keep time and attendance records for our employees.”

Calderone offered three key action points:

  • Actively encourage and role model the uptake of flexible work arrangements
  • Create the right culture and support employee priorities of career progression
  • Tackle “flexism”: have clear policies around promotion and compensation when working flexibly

Collaboration and staying connected

Diversity Council Australia has an extensive body of research that demonstrates the business benefits of flexible working, yet flexible work and careers are not necessarily mainstreamed in most Australian workplaces.

In the face of globalisation, technology advancements and demographic shifts – and more recently with the Coronavirus outbreak – organisations that do not have flexibility embedded as part of their culture will really feel the impact in more ways than one.

“Working from home does not mean replicating everything exactly how things were when we in the office – you do need to set boundaries with your family and anyone else at home,” Mariam Veiszadeh, Members and Advisory Director at Diversity Council Australia said during her webinar presentation.

“When we talk about boundaries, we need to make sure that staff availability is made visible to ensure collaboration continues to happen. This is linked to staying connected but at the same time, don’t overdo it.

“It’s also about rethinking how we can work together as teams to work flexibly, rather taking an individualistic approach.”

Clare Johnson, Director at Page Personnel said businesses that embraced flexible working and agile working a while ago are now reaping the benefits of business continuity and workforce stability in the face of the current climate.

“The global pandemic has brought the importance of flexible work to a new level. In particular, the enforced work from home arrangements many of us are going through has thrown up new challenges that businesses will need to adjust to as quickly as possible,” Johnson said.

“Preparing, planning, implementing and then readjusting as the circumstances change means businesses have an opportunity to discover new ways of working and innovation.

“Michael Page is pleased to provide this timely webinar with Hall & Wilcox and Diversity Council Australia for businesses to help them reach their potential during these difficult and unprecedented times.”

Fay Calderone is Partner at Hall & Wilcox and Mariam Veiszadeh is Members and Advisory Director at Diversity Council Australia.

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