Aussie businesses are scrapping their offices for good: Here’s how to manage the shift

offices

Hareta McMullin, people consultant at Third Space. Source: supplied.

Australian businesses are giving up their office premises for good, and making a permanent move to remote work. But, while it will lead to reduced rent bills, there are other things to consider.

Speaking to SmartCompany, Deanna Nott, owner of Gold Coast-based Wings PR, says she was looking for a new office space just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Now her work-life balance is improved, she and her team are being more productive, and even her family dynamics have changed for the better.

She relishes not having to deal with a landlord, she explains, and her business’ carbon footprint has been reduced.

Importantly, her team is feeling the benefits too.

“They love the flexibility and the autonomy that we’re now giving them,” Nott says.

“As long as they meet the requirements that we set for them, that’s fine by us … there’s no office politics either,” she adds.

“There hasn’t really been any drawbacks.”

Nott is not the only business owner to have made this call.

Earlier this week, Thryv Australia, previously Sensis, announced that it was scrapping its office permanently, moving all 500 employees to remote work.

Health insurer NIB is doing the same. However, it will also pay employees $1,200 per year, in recognition that it is essentially turning their homes into its office space.

How to manage a permanent shift from offices to WFH

Speaking to SmartCompany, people coach and founder of Third Space People Hareta McMullin says for any business considering scrapping their physical office, the key consideration is around maintaining a sense of culture, and keeping employees engaged.

“Part of the employee experience is getting together as a social network — having the water cooler chitchat and the Friday drinks and cups of coffee,” she says.

That said, she does see more businesses moving to a remote-work only. So, it comes down to change management, and facilitating those social interactions in a different way.

For some businesses, this could mean going hybrid, and sharing office space with another business. Others could opt for desks at a co-working space, or small location-specific hubs to cater to employees in a specific area.

For others, it could simply mean a regular employee meet-up at a park or coffee shop, or catch-ups for particular teams when collaboration work is required.

Either way McMullin stresses that it’s important to bring employees along on the journey, rather than making decisions for them.

“It’s having conversations with your people asking them what they think, and what they need to do their job really well, and then seeing where that leads.”

How to maintain social connection

McMullin believes there are some connections that can’t be forged over a video call. For her, it’s important for employees to get together face-to-face once in a while.

“There’s a dynamic you can’t get over zoom that you can get in person,” she says.

“You don’t need meet every day … but you just get the banter, you get the social cues and nonverbal language, all of that stuff.”

Nott says Wings PR has managed to keep the team culture alive through regular Zoom catch-ups — not only for talking about work — and things like 2pm chocolate breaks.

She’s been very focused on inclusivity, and making sure she catches up with staff members on a personal level, trying to stay in tune with how they’re feeling and what they might need.

While there is a social element to office work that can’t quite be replicated, for her, the flexibility and autonomy working from home affords makes up for it.

“At the end of the day, you got to do the right thing by your people, otherwise they leave,” she says.

That’s especially true in the current environment, where talent is especially tricky to find.

“Give them flexibility. Give them autonomy. Empower them,” Nott says.

“Give them the right to make decisions for their own lives, and help them make decisions.”

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