Welcome to our four-part series on workplaces of the future. This Information Age series will examine the positives and negatives of workplace trends in Australia, and how businesses and workers can adapt and thrive.
In Part 1, we looked at how tech roles now exist in practically every business.
Here in Part 2, we examine our changing work patterns and how remote working has become the new normal.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it a revolution in our work patterns.
Remote and hybrid work are now commonplace across a large swathe of the economy, and notions of a four-day work week for the same salary are no longer a pipedream.
These new practices bring huge amounts of positives for workers and employers, and have helped a marked shift towards better work-life balances.
But they also bring about challenges and negatives, with workers left to navigate video and text communications to chat with their co-workers, a situation which is heightened when starting a new job.
Perhaps the most significant workplace change from the pandemic has been the growth of remote working.
Workers that were in the office five days a week before the pandemic are now working either entirely from home or in a hybrid nature, and enjoying all the benefits that this brings.
This has been seen all over the world.
According to Culture Amp data, just 5 per cent of surveyed companies in the UK worked remotely before the pandemic, and just under 70 per cent of employees had never worked from home.
As of September 2020, just under 60 per cent of those surveyed said they had started providing their employees with the tools and resources needed to work from home.
“The pandemic reshaped the workplace in very visible ways – workers know that working from home is possible and have become accustomed to that style of working,” Culture Amp lead people scientist Tony Tran told Information Age.
“We can continue to debate the merits of working from home, but if the majority of the talent out there has the expectation that they should be able to work from home, then organisations will need to embrace that new norm and figure out ways to make this the most effective for the success of their people and organisation.
“Otherwise, their talent pool will be restricted to those who want to be in the office five days per week.”
According to tech recruiter and Lookahead founder Steve Giles, remote working is now often a prerequisite for tech workers looking for a new role.
“A heavy remote component is definitely table stakes for most people,” Giles told Information Age.
The prevalence of part-time work has also increased vastly in the last three years, according to Seek data.
This has accelerated a vast increase in part-time work in Australia across recent decades.
Part-time employment in Australia more than doubled from 1980 to 2022, and has grown to be nearly a third of the entire workforce.
Job advertisements for part-time roles on Seek have doubled in the last 10 years, and now make up 11 per cent of total job ads posted on the platform.
According to Seek data, for 15 per cent of workers, the ability to work part-time is a must have when looking for a job.
On top of this, the pandemic has also helped to accelerate the growing potential of the four-day work week, where employees are paid the same salary to work four days per week instead of five, while maintaining the same productivity.
While this is still far from common, companies that are offering a four-day work week are standing out from the pack.
Giles said that a client of his was recruiting for four developer roles who would be working four days per week remotely. But the listing proved to be so popular that Giles’ recruiting skills were not required.
“The role you’re hiring for is a product you’re selling, and the market really did buy that product,” he said.
But the dominance of remote work has created some difficulties in communicating with co-workers and higher ups at the company, with many left relying on text and video-based tech tools.
“There are no doubt trade-offs between face-to-face versus Slack and Zoom,” Tran said.
“The further you move away from face-to-face, the fewer visual cues you’re able to pick up on. Even on Zoom, you don’t get a sense of the whole-body language of the other individual on the call.
“Anecdotally, I can remember pre-remote working, outside of meetings you could tell by someone’s body language that they might need a bit of support…these are situations that aren’t possible through scheduled meetings.”
But there are also advantages to the use of these tools, particularly around giving employees more time to properly formulate their ideas and feedback, Tran said.
“Communicating over Slack or email does allow people to spend more time crafting their message, so those whose skillset or personality is more suited for asynchronous communication may have a better opportunity to express themselves through that medium,” he said.
“It may level the playing field a little bit.”
Companies need to ensure that their onboarding processes are up to speed for this new working environment, Giles said.
“It’s like the first day of school again,” he said.
“There are avatars and words on a screen with no tone, and you haven’t bonded with these people yet. Any good induction process will have a significant amount of bonding time, and it really should be done in person. That early bonding with the team is super important.”
The workplace revolutions ignited by COVID should be seen as positive in helping people reposition work in their life and prioritise themselves, Giles said.
“I think people are living more balanced lives now,” he said.
“I don’t see it coming at the expense of work either – we see it as a big win-win. That’s assuming they’re engaged in their work – but if they’re not, they wouldn’t be engaged in the office either.”