Since COVID-19 hit, most businesses have trialled working from home. What have you learnt from managing a remote workforce, and working remotely yourself? And how will you take these lessons with you?

Renae Bunster

Bunsters Worldwide founder and former TV journalist

Website  |  LinkedIn  |  Instagram  |  Facebook

At Bunsters, everyone works remotely, and always has. We set the business up like this. It means we can find the best employee for the job, not just the best person who applied in our local area.

COVID-19 has had no effect on our workforce so it was a great decision we made when we started hiring five years ago.

But what COVID has taught us, mainly from talking to friends, is that not everyone has the concentration or life circumstances to work remotely. Everyone has conflicting priorities affecting them that they can’t control at home.

Many also find it hard to concentrate when there is Netflix and booze within arms reach and no managers watching over them.

Some people just don’t have the discipline or can’t handle the isolation from colleagues. It’s not for everyone.

Since COVID, Bunsters has elevated ‘remote working’ to be one of the core values of our business. It enables everyone to have a work-life balance which helps them to really appreciate the money they’re earning, that gives them the time and freedom to enjoy their lives.

In fact, our most recent hire was another digital nomad with the exact industry experience we needed. He and his family were camped right next to us while we were on holiday recently. How is that for serendipity!

If you have trialled remote working and your staff loved it, but you want them back in the office, perhaps consider offering perks to work from home.

Some of them may be open to lesser pay or even job sharing to work from their couch. Give them the option.

Many people have realised the time saved by not dressing or commuting for work is priceless for their lifestyle and happiness.

Andrea Gardiner

Jelix Ventures founder and chief executive officer

Website  |  Facebook  |  LinkedIn  | Twitter

The Jelix team has worked from home since the pandemic hit back in March, and what I have learnt is change can be great!

The pandemic has forced us to learn to work effectively with Zoom meetings, and this is incredibly time-efficient. I thought I would never invest without face-to-face meetings with founders. But we have completed four recent investments where I had not physically met the founders.

I recently read about research demonstrating that multitasking is a myth and that one actually switches from one task to another and that this is horribly time guzzling.

Working from home, we have all had to learn to ignore the laundry and maintain work focus — to strictly ring-fence work to create effective separation from the rest of our lives. In a physical sense, this means creating a pleasant and comfortable physical workspace at home.

But of perhaps greater impact is ring-fencing our time. We have had to learn to be super disciplined time-managers, so that certain hours are for work, to ensure it does not bleed into and pollute other important areas of our lives.

Happily, I now rarely miss my ocean swims and bike rides with friends.

I’ve also learnt managing a remote team is about understanding your team’s needs.

This is not only about ensuring all have the requisite tools to work effectively from home, such as software and comfy chairs and desks. It is also about understanding that working from home can be tough for some.

I merely have to ignore domestic tasks, but some have more serious challenges and can’t ignore very young children. Some parents may need to work less during the day and more at night when kids are asleep.

Others may not have the room at home to provide a comfortable workspace. This can’t be ignored and other workarounds must be found.

Throughout this crisis, team communication has become more of a priority, and we now ensure a regular cadence of team and pipeline meetings and occasional face-to-face, fun get-togethers.

All these learnings will endure beyond the crisis.

Adam Schwab

Luxury Escapes co-founder, angel investor and former corporate lawyer

Website  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn  

We’ve always tried to be as flexible as we can with our team since we started our first e-commerce business in 2010. To a degree, we like to zig when everyone else zags, so when the office was compulsory for almost every business, we were always as flexible as we could be, allowing people to work from not only home, but also different countries, if their role allowed it.

With the onset of COVID-19, there’s been a reversal, with the office being a luxury that many, especially in Melbourne, cannot get back to yet.

Ultimately, in a WFH environment, there needs to be a combination of trust and key results — a degree of trust from management that the team is able to self-motivate and achieve their objectives, while at the same time, an increased relevance on quantitative results that can be measured against clear goals.

We don’t like to split working from home or an office in terms of how we work, because they should largely be interchangeable. Going forward, we’ll all appreciate the benefits of collaboration that we once took for granted, while being equally as keen to adopt maximum flexibility.

Justine Alter

Transitioning Well director and psychologist

Website  |  LinkedIn

While working from home has many benefits, leading a remote workforce has been shown to be challenging. It requires leading with a greater sense of intent, authenticity and compassion.

It’s really difficult to read behaviour through a screen. The cognitive signals we normally rely on are not there, and therefore, knowing how to ask the right questions to ascertain what’s really going on for someone is so important.

Understanding people’s styles and ways of working is always important. It’s been highlighted even more when working solely remotely. Extroverts and introverts have managed this time differently, and as leaders really knowing your people is key.

Being able to communicate effectively remotely is a skill in which many leaders are still needing to upskill. Staying connected looks different for different people, and structuring the day to meet the various needs of individuals is required.

As we start to think about the transition back to offices, we need to pause and reflect on what has worked and what we want to sustain from this time. With research showing the majority of people wanting a hybrid way of working in the future, leaders are going to have to learn to manage new ways of working.

It’s going to be important to identify the needs of the team and the needs of individuals in terms of how we can continue to innovate and remain productive as individual people and as a collective. This will require much intent and openness to change.

John Batistich

Foodco chairman, and non-executive director at Zip Co, Stellar Group, General Pants Group and Heart Research Institute

LinkedIn  |  Twitter

Working from home has accelerated a structural shift towards a distributed workforce with greater flexibility to help balance life and work choices.

Employees report that they enjoy working safely from home with more flexibility, but are working longer because they are always on. They are replacing their commute and travel time with being on call or on video-conferencing.

While some employees will gladly return to the office seeking connection, others will fight to retain work-from-home options resulting in a range of employee negotiations on flexibility and even some legal challenges.

Widespread working from home will also have its consequences.

For the business, there may be costs to culture, alignment, collaboration and innovation.

Culture is defined as a shared mindset and the way work gets done within the business, while the serendipity of close collaboration is the spark that ignites innovation. This is likely to be tougher with widespread work from home arrangements.

For our cities, businesses will need less commercial office space and the retail and entertainment precincts in these business districts will struggle to return to pre-COVID-19 traffic and revenue as we spend more time and money on e-commerce, entertainment streaming and closer to home.

Lucy Liu

Airwallex co-founder and president

Website  |  LinkedIn  |  Twitter  |  Facebook 

Remote work in Australia is increasing, and smart businesses are looking to take advantage of this paradigm shift.

One of the most exciting aspects of managing a remote workforce is the opportunities that have opened up recruitment-wise. We now have access to a wider, deeper talent pool.

Since offering remote working roles, versus office-based positions, we’ve seen an increase in applications, and from candidates that would have previously been deterred because they weren’t located in Melbourne.

In the first half of 2020 alone, we’ve hired over 140 new talents and are still hiring for 100 open roles across our global offices. 

The flexibility provided by remote work opportunities is particularly attractive for skilled professionals. It demonstrates that they are in control of their schedule to deliver results for your business, not simply as a cog in the machine. 

Opening up employment opportunities to the world at large has been one of the most exciting things to come from remote working.

For a long time, Sydney has been regarded as the tech hub of Australia, when there’s just as much opportunity in Melbourne-based businesses.

We’ll always have an office presence in the cities we base in, but remote working becoming a reality means we have access to talent all across Australia, which can only be a benefit.

Chris Dodds

Icon Agency founder and managing director of digital 

Website  |  LinkedIn 

Icon Agency moved our entire Melbourne team to a work-from-home model during Melbourne’s lockdown.

With an in-house web and digital team we were primed for remote working and had systems and tools already in place to manage projects via the cloud.

Our team has always worked with an ethos of trust, respect and support. This, coupled with regular check-ins and the monitoring of productivity and mental health, has helped our staff and the agency thrive during these very uncertain times.

The experience has reinforced our belief that people can self-manage and remain motivated when trust and permission are given.

Knowing nothing is permanent and change is natural will help you adapt and thrive during times of great disruption.

This pandemic will permanently change the way businesses manage teams. To adapt we’re rolling out a hybrid model and investing in equipment and space to allow our team to move fluidly between on- and off-site work.


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments