During COVID, most of Rachel Wright’s IT support team worked from home, but she soon ran into logistical challenges.
- Many experts believe that the flexible working regime will remain
- They are seen as an important option for a growing number of employees
- Some companies offer incentives for office workers
“I think we always need to have one or two people in the office … because we have a lot of deliveries coming in, someone always needs to be there to receive them,” she said.
“And employee communication, it’s easier to just talk to the person next to you.”
Now she basically brought everyone back to the office.
But she also wants to give her staff flexibility when she can, so they can still work from home in certain situations, such as school holidays or days when they just need to manage their lives.
As the COVID pandemic recedes, Ms. Wright is among many business owners struggling to find the right balance between meeting organizational needs and giving workers the flexibility they’ve come to expect.
Employees, employers are not always on the same page
Research by the Melbourne Institute, carried out in July this year, found that many workers and employers disagree about what work-from-home arrangements should be.
About 61 percent of workers reported that they have tasks that can be done at home.
But while 88 percent of workers wanted to spend at least a few days at home, only 49 percent said their employers would accept hybrid work.
Melanie Atkinson works at Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) helping to develop projects that reduce carbonisation.
One of the reasons she likes to work from home two days a week is to help reduce the environmental impact of car travel.
But she also appreciates the flexibility that allows her to be more involved with her two young children.
“It’s important to me to be an active part of my kids’ lives and be able to drop them off and pick them up at school and be able to switch between the mental work that needs to be done at home, but then, you know, personal time at meetings,” she said.
“I’ll help them get ready for school, drop them off and then come back here, so I’m only 15 to 20 minutes late,” she said.
“Whereas if I have to go to work after school, I don’t get to work before nine, so I can extend my work day from here instead of missing it at the end of the day. “
She is one of a growing number of workers who won’t settle for anything less than flexible work options.
Employee expectations are changing
FMG’s general manager of leadership and talent, Jackie Oates, believes flexible working is here to stay, with the company seeing a 30 per cent increase in such arrangements.
“We’re definitely seeing in the market that a number of our potential candidates are looking for a flexible working arrangement,” Ms Oates said.
She believes flexible working is important to support workforce diversity.
“We are seeing an increase in the number of women joining the Fortescue team and I have no doubt that flexible working plays a huge part in this.”
But like a number of larger firms, Fortescue also offers office perks, such as a wellness center that offers yoga and meditation classes and an office creche to entice workers to come back at least a few days a week.
“We were really encouraged when the COVID restrictions were lifted, we really found that our team members were really eager to get back to the office,” she said.
“What we’ve seen is a true hybrid work model where people have the ability to work from home, but they also like to come into the office and connect, interact and collaborate with their team members.”
The cost of living plays a role
Organizational expert Scott Fitzgerald said the current economic climate is affecting workers’ willingness to stay at home.
“Particularly during this cost of living crisis, it’s attractive to many people to work from home and avoid the cost of commuting, the cost of parking, etc.,” he said.
And he believed that creating effective workplaces is not as simple as meeting people face to face.
“Organizational culture is based on trust and respect and work-life balance, so if organizations can provide that flexibility, they will provide a much better organizational culture,” he said.
However, after seeing the impact on businesses that depend on urban workers, some governments are pushing for a return to a more traditional way of working.
WA Premier Mark McGowan is encouraging people to return to the city, citing psychological benefits.
“I know I’m old-fashioned, I actually think there are great benefits to be gained from people talking to each other looking each other in the face,” he told ABC Perth recently.
Working at home is a “huge natural experiment”
University of Western Australia psychology lecturer Daria Kragt said while mental health issues had increased during the pandemic, it was not yet known why.
“Was it purely the social isolation of working from home, or was it because there was COVID and the pandemic and it’s raging and people are stressed and anxious?” she said.
“Working at home, we’ve been doing this big natural experiment for the past two years.”
Dr. Kragt said the benefits of working from home include being able to negotiate your time, be closer to family and manage your work-life balance.
But there were also disadvantages, including social isolation.
“Covid has forced work from home, so I think it’s really important to consider autonomy here,” she said.
“We need to give people autonomy of choice.
“What do they want to do, what works best for them, what is the flexible mix and negotiate that [an] individual approach”.