Hybrid work is here to stay

Early adopters will unlock top talent

hybrid work

Australians are obsessed with lifestyle. This national motivation has driven innovation at home, producing great life hacks to get from A to B, feed the family, and to get things done.

COVID-19 has challenged assumptions about life and work, including the true drivers of productivity and value creation. When it comes to work, the inefficient daily commute to a central workplace was on borrowed time before 2020. Lost hours and rising traffic, with its increased stress and carbon emissions, have taken their toll on three generations of Australian workers.

There had to be a better way, and indeed there was. But it took a pandemic to prove to employees and their bosses that a new model could work.

More than 13 million Aussie workers took part in the great Work From Home (WFH) experiment, triggering the biggest social shift in the nature of work since World War II. And while we initially saw the home office as temporary, it didn’t take long to realise we were on the cusp of a work revolution and monumental shift to hybrid working.

According to demographer Bernard Salt: “Whatever side of the fence you sit on, hybrid work is here to stay: Australians simply will not let it go.”

As Australian businesses reconfigure and redefine what “workplace” means in 2021 and beyond, changes to the fundamental structure and flow of work have appeared.

13M

Australians who worked from home during the pandemic

ServiceNow commissioned Salt and his company, The Demographics Group, to analyse changing work patterns in Australia. Salt argues that reduced commuting to a centralised workplace could in turn lead to the dissolution of traditional workplace hierarchies. He predicts that the adoption of new collaboration technologies—technologies that walk and talk across physical and virtual silos—will help solve the emerging disconnect between CBD office workers and colleagues who work remotely.

Salt’s analysis also identified four factors that will reinforce Australian’s position at the pointy end of this global hybrid work trajectory. C-suite leaders, take note:

1. Using WFH to bridge the skills gap

The WFH movement allows business to tap into talent otherwise unavailable, such as parents with primary care responsibilities or those living beyond a daily commutable distance. It also moves the resourcing conversations toward accessing critical skills, regardless of location.

WFH for two days a week and in the office three days a week could be the perfect formula for productivity and employee engagement, according to research by Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom. Bloom’s research shows that employees value that flexibility at roughly 8% of their current pay—on par with health care benefits.

Flexibility is vital ammunition in the skills war.

This suggests that leaders may need to pay an 8% premium to keep workers in the office full time. And that’s before considering talent retention strategies during a labour shortage. Australia’s growing skills crunch, exacerbated by limited immigration and a housing market, is pushing workers further away from commercial centres.

According to McKinsey research, 70% of companies think remote work will allow them to increase diversity in their hiring, open up more opportunities for existing employees, and decrease their carbon footprint. For early hybrid work adopters, this creates opportunity to unlock access to top talent.

Ultimately, no company can succeed without investing in its people and growing its talent pool, no matter where or how they work. Flexibility is vital ammunition in the skills war, and policies need to serve people by giving them more control over schedules, work patterns, and working environments.

2. Creating collaborative experiences

In the new world of work, companies need to enable autonomous work while mitigating WFH isolation. This is driving demand for new communication tools and methods of collaboration. Equipping distributed teams with tech that helps them feel connected to their peers and the wider organisation is vital. The surge in uptake of collaboration tools like Slack, Teams, and Zoom that we saw during the pandemic is only the beginning.

Managers must remain open to new ways of working and be willing to embrace whatever works best for their people. Gone are the days of IT departments pushing a universal tool out to a broad employee population. Instead, IT leaders should embrace fluidity. If different teams work best with different tools, that’s OK.

Digital workflows remove barriers to collaboration. When office-based employees are delayed by approvals, they’ll often use that time to engage with their team or tap on their boss’s door to move things along. At home, a process block can feel like radio silence or an intentional stop. Automation helps to improve engagement, eliminate instruction wait time from bosses, and reduce confusion across departments. The smallest changes in work design unlocks engagement and creates an additional profit of approximately $46 million for the average Australian enterprise, according to Deloitte Access Economics.

ServiceNow’s 15,000-plus employees have all been working remotely since March 2020, growing revenues 31% last year, in one of the most challenging business climates ever. This success was possible because we run our business on a digital platform that enables work to flow, wherever and however people choose.

3. Adopting digital platforms

Australia’s response to the health crisis was predicated on two things: near-universal access to fast internet and business adoption of platforms that connect people, systems, and processes.

For example, HR teams can now screen, onboard, and train new employees in a completely virtual environment.

ServiceNow has used digital onboarding solutions to welcome more than 3,000 new employees into the company over the past year. Our hiring managers hadn’t met most of these hirees in person, and new employees hadn’t met their extended teammates.

Thanks to digital workflows running on the Now Platform, new employees were able to join ServiceNow, get acquainted with their colleagues (local and global), and ramp to full productivity without missing a beat.

4. Enabling productivity and wellbeing

One of the least surprising revelations from the WFH experiment is the boost in productivity and well-being that occurs when employees have greater control over where and how they get work done.

The most successful work-from-anywhere workplaces prioritise a consistent level of technological seamlessness and secure access across all levels. To support its rapid growth, the Australian fintech company Afterpay created a dedicated Slack channel for hundreds of new hires to access additional IT or HR support, according to an IT News article. The decision to connect the channel to ServiceNow to automatically generate IT tickets is “the ultimate outcome” in resolving employee problems faster, Afterpay’s director of enterprise technology said.

The right tools can help unlock greater productivity and well-being by providing deep visibility into how work flows across the organisation. Armed with real-time insights, managers can pre-empt behaviours that would lead to burnout and take steps to lighten employee workloads or redistribute work.

While executives need to define their own version of WFH, the benefits to business, society, the economy, and the Aussie way of life more broadly, are clear. Work-life has never been as close to real life as it is today—and the payoff is too good to go back.

Forecasting Australia’s work-from-anywhere, hybrid future:

Four ways digital workflows will shape the next decade

1). New workplace, new policies: Government and business will work together to protect employees, introducing workplace legislation for a work-from-anywhere world. In the same way employers embedded OH&S compliance throughout the 2000s, the next decade will include controls like mandated switch-off time, along with tax breaks and incentives to help city centres evolve into leisure precincts and collaborative hubs.

2). Best-practice employers will be hybrid: The flexibility policies that Australia’s ASX50 adopted in the 2010s won’t work for the 2020s. Employees expect much more than an early mark to see their doctor or pick up the kids from school. As a result, we can expect best-practice guidelines for hybrid work to emerge. New tech tools will help coordinate teams and schedules. Next-gen employee collaboration experiences will replace designer office fit-outs for top-tier employers.

3). Productivity puzzle: Task automation will help drive the next wave of productivity growth. Employers will look for ways to automate monotonous, low-value tasks, such as approvals, compliance, routing, and logging, and endless email chains, so that employees can be more productive and fulfilled at work.

4). Skills boost: As employees take back more time in their week for higher-value work, the acquisition of new technical skills and refinement of soft skills—like empathy, creativity, and relationship building—will increase.