The coronavirus crisis may have changed the way Australians work permanently. After working remotely for over nine months, new research suggests many now prefer a ‘hybrid’ format (mixing remote and in-office working), and believe it increases their productivity. As organisations across every industry rapidly adapted to this new normal, online collaboration tools like video conference software have been critical to facilitating this trend.
In a year when Work From Home (WFH) days almost tripled, a University of Sydney Business School study found three in four workers believe their employer is more likely to support WFH now than before the pandemic began.
To better understand the implications of this changing work environment, we asked over 400 Australian employees about their working practices since the start of the pandemic. Covering their experiences working remotely and in-office, the survey revealed some useful insights for employers that could help them smooth the transition to more hybrid ways of working (full methodology is available at the bottom of the article).
35% of staff prefer to work remotely two to three times a week
‘Work from home if you can’ has been the message from state and federal governments attempting to curb the spread of the coronavirus. While companies worldwide were initially forced to adopt home working, most Aussie employees have since concluded the ability to work outside of the office, at least some of the time, helps them to perform better and are now making it part of their regular routine.
Our survey shows that 49% have been working remotely in a full-time capacity since the pandemic began. But as society has emerged from the height of the COVID-19 restrictions, organisations are now welcoming employees back into physical office spaces. Today, 35% of staff prefer to work remotely two to three times a week, with the rest of the time spent with colleagues in the office.
Allowing employees to choose their preferred way of working promises to have a positive impact on operational performance in the longer term, as our sample had a diverse range of opinions when it came to where they do their best work.
83% of Aussies are satisfied with their work-life balance when working remotely
The rapid nature of the COVID-19 crisis and shift to remote working meant new practices and technologies had to be introduced at both speed and scale. Despite the accelerated nature of the transition, Aussie businesses and their employers appear to have taken to this new way of working.
Our survey results show a correlation between remote working and high levels of employee satisfaction. 83% of employees reported being satisfied with their work-life balance when working remotely.
Similarly, the majority of remote working employees are satisfied (‘Moderately satisfied’ or ‘Completely satisfied’) with their own productivity (86%), quality of work (88%), team productivity (83%) and team morale (77%)
Another important factor for maintaining high levels of productivity and organisational profits is to ensure high levels of employee engagement.
A 2019 research report from Harvard Business Review “Peak Performance: How Combining Employee Engagement and Performance Management Fuels Organizational Success” suggests that improving employee engagement doesn’t just improve their personal performance, it can impact wider organisational performance too. Indeed, 90% of business leaders believe it is critical to their company’s success.
Worker engagement is also critical to how effectively businesses can respond to a crisis, while increasing productivity and delivering the innovation needed to thrive in the current business scenario.
The results of the survey show that engagement is high among Aussie firms, as employees are quite satisfied with communication among their teams. Almost a third (32%) were completely satisfied with the level of team communication in their organisation, while just under half (48%) were moderately satisfied.
Over a third of Aussie employees struggle to establish work-life boundaries
While most employees see the positives in remote working, they do encounter challenges too. The majority may have indicated satisfaction with their work-life balance, but a significant minority report encountering difficulties in this area.
Over a third (34%) state that they have struggled to establish healthy work-life boundaries with their family members or housemates. Further, when working remotely, almost eight in 10 people (79%) feel pressure to put in more hours than they would if working from the office.
There are a range of factors that could responsible for this trend. Some of these revealed themselves when our respondents were asked what other challenges they regularly face when remote working:
Difficulty establishing regular work hours or a dedicated workspace appear to be particularly challenging for around a third of remote workers.
Aside the issue of maintaining healthy work-life balance, many employees feel they lack the support and infrastructure needed to run an effective home office. In fact, over half (52%) of those surveyed struggles with poor internet connectivity when working from home.
Despite these issues, it seems most workers are not interested in going back to office-based life. Indeed, over half (52%) are now considering moving further away from the office, even if this means they have a longer commute when they do have to go in.
Future of work in the new normal
While COVID-19 may not eliminate the physical office culture completely, employees and employers alike are seeing the value hybrid ways of work can create when it comes to productivity and job satisfaction. However, success implementing a hybrid model will depend on businesses finding new ways to bring together the desirable features of both office and remote working models.
This new way of working is forcing workers to learn and adapt to the reality of virtual communication and collaboration and placing increased demands on their employers’ physical and digital infrastructure. Businesses should look to invest early in the training, software and hardware they need to optimise hybrid processes to ensure they are setup to succeed in this new world of work.
Data for this study was collected in November 2020 from an online survey of 416 respondents that live in Australia.
To participate in the survey, respondents had to be:
- Employed full-time or part-time, or self-employed
- Working for a company with at least two people
- Working remotely sometimes or all the time since COVID-19.