By James Ostroburski
Australia has often been caught behind other progressive nations when it comes to innovative and flexible working models and despite the many hardships experienced across workplaces, COVID-19 has helped Kooyong Group shine a light on areas for improvement.
Kooyong Group’s flexible working model has enabled us to respond effectively to the challenges of COVID-19 and has ultimately led to an increase in productivity and improved levels of job satisfaction for our staff.
By displacing corporate Australia from an office tower to home office environment, the virus sparked a complete rethink of our technology to keep businesses operating remotely.
In hindsight, it is a wonder why Kooyong hadn’t made this transition already; after all, Australia is a country spread over a massive land mass with some of the most stunning remote sanctuaries in the world – by our very nature, we should be masters of remote working.
At Kooyong Group, we saw the disruption as an opportunity to adapt and embrace the technological advances which have, in turn, led to an abundance of long-term benefits for both employers and employees.
This includes many of our team members increasing their productivity thanks to simplicities such as spending less time commuting – giving them more time for work and more energy to do it.
Other staff have cited improved work/life balance including the ability to spend more time with their families. They found it easier to mould their working week around other responsibilities and commitments.
On balance, our team members seem to appreciate the flexibility the pandemic has brought about and are subsequently reporting high levels of job satisfaction.
As a relatively young business, Kooyong Group was well positioned to pivot quickly when the virus struck: we already had staff working from laptops and connecting remotely.
Other young business founders I speak to agree that the transition has been relatively smooth for future-facing businesses while much of corporate Australia has struggled.
In March, IT teams worked in overdrive to boost VPN capacity at several big banks so the majority of workers could connect at home – a task that took several weeks. The virus forced these companies to undertake a major infrastructure upgrade that might otherwise not have occurred for decades.
When it comes to flexibility, Australia has long lagged behind many other developed economies. Parts of Europe and Scandinavia are far ahead of us in terms of work-from-home arrangements. Meanwhile, in Israel, the working day starts later and finishes later. There is also a higher proportion of sole traders supporting a robust ‘gig economy’.
Here in Australia, flexible conditions for white-collar workers have struggled to take root. Macquarie Bank led the charge in Australia about 10 years ago with the concept of hot-desking, which was widely looked at as purely a cost-saving exercise and was not well-received by the bank’s workforce. There was so much distain for it that it was never fully implemented. Others like the major banks have gradually introduced hot-desking arrangements which by all reports just mean that employees end up feeling siloed in part of the office that has no reflection of their team. There is limited office camaraderie because they are always sitting with people they don’t know.
Hot-desking seems to offer few of the benefits that working from home does, such as flexibility and reduced costs to the business.
Now, with COVID-19, corporate Australia has been forced to catch up to where they should have already been. Slowly but surely, business is reacting. Several large corporates are reportedly already looking to reduce their head office footprints by 30% to 50%, and that will become the new normal.
There will, of course, be winners and losers. The capital-city office sectors have been relatively strong for some time now, since around 2010, but as lockdowns continue that trajectory will likely continue to head downwards and commercial real estate demand could plummet as businesses steer clear of CBDs. This is going to be a major issue for large commercial landlords.
In order for corporate Australia to move with the times we should embrace the opportunity to leverage the technology that already exists to improve our working and living conditions benefiting both employee and employer.
At Kooyong Group, that balance will always be a priority as we help develop a new normal during and post the COVID-19 pandemic.