If the last eight months have taught us anything, it’s that change is a constant.

Worldwide, workplace structures and processes that we don’t normally pay attention to have been fundamentally impacted as a result of COVID-19 – the biggest catalyst for workplace change and ultimately expediting the shift to remote work. The change across the world from physical offices and worksites to remote work and online interaction, has altered the world of work and workforces like no other period of disruption before it.

Businesses previously had the option of remote work as a consideration for its staff but with the pandemic requiring physical distancing, and therefore work from home, it became a necessity almost overnight. 

More than three in four Australians agree that working from home will become the new normal and would stay longer with their employer if they were offered more remote working or flexible working options.

Workplaces have and will continue to be permanently impacted: the introduction of improved flexible working policies, the management of remote teams and work from home arrangements, digital transformation and investment, along with greater empathetic leadership have all come to the fore, as part of the global future of work dialogue.

The new normal supports work from home

With the new normal shifting most employees to work from home, flexible work plans have sprung up the world over as organisations and businesses of all sizes adapt to continued change during 2020.

A McCrindle report found that “more than three in four Australians agree that working from home will become the new normal (78%) and would stay longer with their employer if they were offered more remote working or flexible working options (76%)”.

A Microsoft study found that in Teams, people are working more frequently in the morning and evening hours, but also on the weekends.

While remote working has its upsides, the extent of the flexible nature of work is being questioned, addressed and implemented. Leading organisations like Google, Microsoft and Twitter, which are adjusting their remote work policies, are attempting to better accommodate much longer term plans and processes.

Reinventing the office space

A global study, COVID-19 and the Workplace: Implications, Issues, and Insights for Future Research and Action, examined the changes and implications of COVID-19, along with the processes and procedures that were adopted and those still to come.

The concept of the workplace as a physical area of general work to now a distanced, online, more focused and collaborative norm is a transformation that’s happening the world over.

Building culture, community and meaningful collaboration means the "workplace" can still remain a hub of activity and teamwork. However, remote work and the flexibility around this must be properly supported and invested in by organisations if the trend is to be leveraged as a core driver of improved and positive workplace changes.

Technological drivers, changes and processes 

As remote work and remote jobs are now the new normal, so has the need to adopt and embrace new technology to ensure virtual collaboration and regular communication can occur. Entire workforces and teams across most industries, markets and professions have had to find their rhythm and routine for virtual work. The sudden reliance on technology to this greater extent meant that organisations and businesses quickly found that their digital systems either allowed a smooth transition, or that minimal investment in technology resulted in a difficult period of change.

A recent Michael Page technology survey found that organisations were prioritising digital readiness as part of their plans in order to have a competitive edge in the market. 

Flexibility and agility for all workers 

With the rise of remote work, technological adoption and uptick in use of online video call and messaging tools including Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Slack to communicate, encouraging teams to embrace and utilise such digital tools as part of their work processes and output remains highly important. 

The factors impacting flexibility and agility in the way teams are able to work together – remotely, partly remote and a combination of remote/in-office teams – are key.

A Microsoft study found that in Teams, people are working more frequently in the morning and evening hours, but also on the weekends. “Teams chats outside of the typical workday, from 8am to 9am and 6pm to 8pm, have increased more than any other time during the day – between 15% and 23%. Weekend work is spiking as well – Teams chats on and Saturday and Sunday have increased by over 200%”.

Setting up flexible work hours and the option to come into the office in rotating shifts (if it’s safe to do so) are currently the latest challenges for employers and employees alike. Accommodating the balance and blend of face-to-face and remote work will significantly impact employee satisfaction, retention and talent attraction. 

Remote jobs in Australia and hiring remotely

The Michael Page sentiment survey also found Australian workplaces are beginning to become open-minded to hiring staff remotely, since the pandemic and lockdown periods have proven that a physical workplace isn’t necessarily needed for certain types of work and industries.

Once roles in the technology and digital space lead by example and demonstrate success, hiring remote staff – based either in another state or even country – will have greater appeal to more and more industries. We are already seeing jobs being advertised that are purely a remote work arrangement, as some businesses keep their physical offices closed for the time being. The preference for businesses to outsource to contractors and temporary workers has also been highlighted as a trend to watch alongside the remote work trend.

The ongoing challenge for workplaces in Australia will be to ensure that technology is continued to be invested in to allow for efficient and productive remote working, as well as staying on top of future changes and the shifting preferences of their workforce.

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