For many employees, the daily commute to an office is over for good. Flexible working reigns, and hybrid working is fast becoming the new normal. We know the knock-on effects include better work-life balance, employee engagement and higher productivity – and many employees want the shift formalised. According to the 2023 Officeworks Flexiworks Snapshot report, 78 per cent of those surveyed said they wouldn’t work for a company without a flexible working policy, and 45 per cent had rejected recent job offers because of unsatisfactory flexibility arrangements. We spoke to three thought leaders to find out: can you make hybrid working benefit your business and, if so, how?
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Heidi Albertiri, Founder & Director at The Life Style Edit
Post-Covid, small-business owner Heidi Albertiri from digital agency The Life Style Edit embraced a hybrid work model that she says has resulted in far better employee engagement and work-life balance for her team.
“We’re a digital content agency that shoots and manages content for brands. When the pandemic hit, things changed in our business, including our working situation. Obviously, we couldn’t be together as a team during Covid and, afterwards, I had to adapt. I’m pretty old-school and was used to having my staff around me, so moving to a hybrid model challenged my way of thinking. But it had to happen, or I wouldn’t retain my team; after Covid, their expectation was hybrid work or working from home completely.
“We don’t have a formal hybrid working policy. We did have some big conversations as a team though – which I don’t think many businesses would. We talked about what it would look like and how it would work. There are seven of us in the business and we’re all in the office Mondays and Thursdays. The deal outside of that is, you’re a grown-up: you manage your time and your workload – and if you need to go to Pilates in the middle of the day you do it, but work your schedule around it.
“Our team uses Google Suite and the Harvest app for time-tracking, and because we work on a monthly schedule there’s a specific amount of work that needs to be done per client. I can go into our joint working station at any time and check up on anything, but I don’t most of the time – you’ve got to trust your staff to do the right thing. There’s mutual respect there.
“Ultimately, it’s made for a far better working environment. We’re still meeting the same deadlines and doing the same work, but the day-to-day just feels nicer for all of us.”
Ben Hamer, Chief Futurist at CreativeCubes
As chief futurist at CreativeCubes, a flexible and coworking-space company, Ben says hybrid work is here to stay, and there’s plenty for businesses to think about when implementing flexible working arrangements.
“We need to remember that hybrid working actually means the ability to flex across multiple spaces, so you’re doing your best work in the best environment. The office still plays an important role, but that role has fundamentally shifted. It’s no longer about rocking up and getting on your computer; if you’re there, you’re there to connect, collaborate and to build relationships – all of which helps create psychological safety and an innovation culture.
“The studies coming out about this have been interesting. The Flexiworks snapshot surveyed over 1000 Australians who had the ability to work from home, or remote, and one thing I found interesting was the way hybrid and flexible working has moved from a ‘nice-to-have’ to a ‘must-have’. Salary is super important, but tight market conditions mean organisations can’t necessarily fork out more money to meet employee expectations – so work-life balance and flexible working are now mandatory requirements for job-seekers.
“Also significant, is that four in five Australians want to see a formal flexible-working policy, because they’re making significant decisions based on that perceived ability to work from home or work hybrid – like a tree change or sea change, [perhaps in response] to current market conditions like the cost-of-living crisis. And a third of Australian organisations still don’t have a formal flexible working policy.
“It’s also important how you support your employees who do work from home, helping to make sure that they have a productive work-from-home set-up with the right equipment and infrastructure. Flexiworks as a platform enables organisations to provide the catalogue and financial support for people to do this. It’s been a murky area up until now, but the research found 45 per cent of people have experienced a health issue related to working from home – like back or neck pain; given the liability for that sits with the employer, it’s an important one. Otherwise, I can see 2024 shaping up as the year of the worker’s compensation claim!”
Ben Hamer is an ambassador for Flexiworks, an online platform that’s part of Officeworks and helps organisations support their team to work from anywhere.
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Melissa Marsden, Workplace Strategist at COMUNiTI
Melissa Marsden, COMUNiTI workplace strategist and author of The Next Workplace: Designing Dynamic Environments that Inspire Human Potential, works with organisations looking to implement hybrid working in a purposeful, collaborative way. She says companies need to re-evaluate if coming into an office is beneficial or just a habit.
“I’m a huge fan of hybrid working; I’ve been in business for 10 years in architecture and property, which is quite a male-dominated industry. I felt we could lose a lot of senior female talent if part-time roles, flexible hours and hybrid working weren't on offer, so my company has been working that way for a really long time.
“Since Covid, the appetite for workplace flexibility has grown – and businesses considering it need to figure out why they want people in the workplace. Being clear and intentional about it sets the foundation. For example, there might be no point in coming in regularly if a team does a lot of individual, focused work. You also want to make sure your leadership team has the capacity to manage a remote team; in some cases, it requires a culture shift.
“I’ve seen the benefit of hybrid work firsthand while working with [a company] that was going through a significant growth period and needed to stand out as an employer of choice. They moved to hybrid working, implemented a nine-day fortnight and meeting-free Wednesday – and saw an uplift in their productivity. They’ve also been able to recruit far more quickly so it’s absolutely paying off for them.
In setting a hybrid working policy, many employers don’t formalise it but are highly flexible, and it becomes leader-led for teams to work out what works best for them.
“We’ve seen cases where formal policies are weaponised; for example, if the policy says employees can work from home two days, the employee might say, ‘Well, you can’t ask me to come in on those days’, even if they might be required to for some reason. Flexibility should work both ways. Find that middle ground where it works both for the business and the individual.”
Make working from anywhere work for your business
Flexiworks, part of Officeworks, is an online platform helping organisations support their team to work from anywhere. Provide employees with credit and let them shop a tailored Officeworks range.
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