Most Australian workers want to return to their physical office after coronavirus restrictions loosen, a study has found.
But instead of commuting every day, they would be happier to be in the office for only two or three days of a five-day working week.
“I think what we’re seeing is that people are going to be more thoughtful with when, where and how they choose to spend their time — with good reason: to be most effective in their role,” said Chris Mattey, a partner at Boston Consulting Group.
For those who can work from home, between 41 and 60 per cent surveyed revealed a preference that sees them doing two or three days a week from home.
Respondents aged over 60 most favoured working remotely, pegging their preference at between 81 to 100 per cent of the time.
The survey, commissioned by the consulting firm, covered more than 1,000 workers, half of whom had incorporated some degree of remote working into their routines before COVID-19.
“People have very different situations,” said Mr Mattey, who pinpointed three key reasons workers responding to the survey want to return to the office in a semi-permanent fashion:
- Informal social interaction: catching up with colleagues, conversations at the “water cooler” and staff kitchen
- Formal collaboration: working more effectively in tight groups on specific tasks
- Set-up: many offices have better technology and a more distraction-free environment than home offices, particularly the ones cobbled together in the initial panic of the pandemic
Different staff have divergent reasons for their responses.
But when you consider the top three reasons, it leads to substantial questions about what the office of the near future looks like.
“Substantially: what is your office space there for and what need does it meet? And how might I set it up to meet that need?” Mr Mattey said.
“We may end up having more small offices set up around the [large capital] cities … say, ‘collaboration hubs’, with less commuting time, that still meet those social and collaboration needs, while providing a distraction-free environment.”
Changing world of work
Working models have been adjusting to reflect societal changes around caring responsibilities, long commutes and to lure and retain employees.
Sydney and regional New South Wales-based recruitment firm Beaumont People instituted a four-day working week experiment before coronavirus: paying staff the same amount but rostering them off on a different day each week.
Running a team of seven people, manager Adam Hart harnessed the experience of mothers who had returned to careers to navigate doing more work in less time.
“They work out great ways to be really productive and really effective with their time management.”
The survey found that, on average, workers’ productivity and engagement with their job had gone up, as had people’s perceptions of their level of achievement and success in their careers.
Mr Mattey said the data from the research showed there was a desire by employees to take the control over their work-life — an unexpected upside for some, amid the turmoil of the pandemic — and run with it.
“The key thing coming out of this for me is around flexibility, around time,” he said.
“Not even about 80 per cent [working four days a week], but about time of the day, like so I can pick up the kids — which, by the way, I need to do in about half an hour — and flexibility around location”.
Men want to go back to the office
The survey threw up interesting results about how different demographics broadly responded to the rapid work-from-home directives brought in to stop the spread of the virus.
- Workers aged 50 and over responded that they “achieved less and experienced far fewer positive impacts,” the report found, as well as “comparatively smaller increases in productivity and success”
- Parents and carers of children reported being significantly “more productive, engaged and successful” working from home, but found fewer positive impacts in their new way of working
- Men were more enthusiastic about returning to offices than their female counterparts (62 per cent compared to 53 per cent), due to “having most missed the distraction-free work environment and in-person formal collaboration with team mates”
- Younger employees were ready to get back to the office, with 66 per cent of 18 to 30-year-olds feeling “enthusiastic” about returning versus only 47 per cent of 51 to 60-year-olds
In jobs that allow people to work outside of a physical location, there is a “war for talent” as companies attempt to lure skilled workers, according to Mr Mattey.
“We saw it already a bit with the tech sector.
“Those that don’t invest in making flexible work really ‘work’, are going to struggle over time… to be an employer of choice.”
By business reporter Daniel Ziffer
First published here