Melbourne SMEs can welcome 25% of staff back to the office from November 30 — but must be mindful of employee preferences

back to the office

Melbourne businesses can welcome 25% of their staff back to the office from November 30, and for many employers navigating this transition, it will demand a significantly flexible approach.

Premier Daniel Andrews announced the further easing of restrictions on Sunday after the state recorded 23 days of zero COVID-19 cases.

While a quarter of private-sector workers can return to the office, those in the public sector must continue working from home to help increase the capacity of larger businesses in central Melbourne.

It is a move that Andrews said would be “welcome news” to businesses, as well as “all those who service that workforce”, such as restaurants, cafes and bars.

Employment Hero chief Ben Thompson says workplaces should adopt a flexible approach when transitioning teams from remote to on-site work and allow staff to work from home where possible.

During Australia’s first lockdown, 92% of remote workers said they wanted to continue working from on a regular basis if given the opportunity, according to research by Employment Hero.

“What we have seen since March is a paradigm shift in the attitude towards working from home.”

“And if managers make it mandatory then they need to realise that 92% of their employees are not going to be happy about going back to the office,” Thompson says.

Thompson suggests businesses that are organising the return of staff to the office should:

  • Recognise many people want to continue working from home;
  • Recognise some people may need to return to the office and they should be given priority; and
  • Understand there is a huge benefit in retaining remote work to access a much larger talent pool.

Thompson says managers leading blended workforces will have to carefully manage communication to avoid preferencing on-site staff over remote staff and ensure no one misses out on receiving important information.

“If one person is dialling into a meeting then everyone should dial into that meeting. Otherwise, people who are left out will miss side conversations and things that are only shared within that room,” Thompson says.

On announcing the ease of restrictions on Sunday, Andrews made it clear that it would “be up to the employer” to make sure no more than a quarter of staff are working on site.

Employers must also ensure there is one staff member per 4 square metres and all the necessary cleaning protocols are in place.

The Premier flagged that businesses will be able to increase the number of staff in offices over time, but he was not able to confirm when the next increase will occur.

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