Is the future of work here? Aussie founders weigh in as Big Tech embraces remote work

workplace

According to Australian Bureau of Statistics survey data, almost half (46%) of all Australians working over the last month have done so from home, in what has become a natural experiment in what the future of work looks like.

For some companies there’s no going back. Twitter founder Jack Dorsey made headlines last week after announcing his employees would be able to work from home indefinitely, provided their roles allow for it.

Yesterday, Dorsey’s payments company Square followed suit, and it’s not alone. Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Facebook are also reportedly in no rush to usher workers back into the office.

We asked Australian founders how they’re thinking about remote work and the future of the office.

Vinomofo: “I really miss being around my team”

Co-founder: Justin Dry

Industry: E-commerce/retail

Will you be downsizing or cancelling your office lease in the wake of COVID-19?

No, but we are coming up to the end of our current lease term and it has definitely come into our thinking when deciding on our new space and the number of workstations required.

Vinomofo

Vinomofo co-founder and chief Justin Dry. Source: Supplied.

Will you be encouraging more staff to work remotely long-term, in the wake of COVID-19?

We won’t be actively encouraging it because we love having our team together, but at the same time, we certainly won’t be discouraging it. We want our people to have the flexibility to work in a way that suits them and the business best. Some people love it and are super productive at home, others much prefer to be around their team and thrive in the energy of that environment.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed your thinking about the office, remote work and the mix between both of these types of work in your business?

I’ve always been supportive of flexibility for our team in regards to where and when they worked, but it was only ever a small number of people working this way, so this period has proven the concept out at scale.

I have also worked out that I sit somewhere in the middle in terms of personal preference. I’m super productive WFH because there are far fewer distractions and I can get and stay in the zone more easily, but after doing it exclusively for the last few months, I really miss being around my team.

Girl Geek Academy: Return to office will “break a few things”

Founder: Sarah Moran

Industry: IT/education

Will you be downsizing or cancelling your office lease in the wake of COVID-19?
We are very lucky to have received rent relief from our landlord as we signed a lease in a state government-owned building. This has been crucial to the survival of our company, as we didn’t have the runway to pay rent for as long as the COVID-19 recovery period may last, as our lease was based on using the space to generate income. A big thanks to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews for offering that so early.
Girl Geeks Academy Sarah Moran and Tagiilima Neemia

Girl Geeks Academy chief executive Sarah Moran (left) and head of the Samoan branch, Tagiilima Neemia. Image: Alexia Rae.

Will you be encouraging more staff to work remotely long-term, in the wake of COVID-19?

We are long-time champions of remote work, having run our company remotely for the past six years — it’s bloody great! No longer the domain of Silicon Valley startups, but a normal part of how Australians run their businesses.

If there is one positive to come out of this experience it’s the necessary increase in flexible work, which includes location flexibility. It’s been great seeing so many dads spending more time with their kids — and we are physically seeing it too. Everyone is that BBC dad now, where the kids walk in! We need to share the care and that’s been normalised at scale during COVID-19.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed your thinking about the office, remote work and the mix between both of these types of work in your business?

On the plus side, it’s allowed us to do things we’ve wanted to do for a long time! We launched forums for children, remote bootcamps (not on Zoom but on a kick-arse new product that’s actually decent for conferences and workshops), and we’ve scaled our classes to overseas participants.

The downside is yet to come: the best business advice I’ve ever received is to either have offices or be a remote company, because company systems lean one way, never both. A very successful founder tried to do both and it didn’t work. We are all WFH right now, but when we return to our physical offices we will have two systems, which is probably gonna break a few things for most companies.

My favourite work experiences have been where the office is like a co-working space and everyone is remote: it levels the playing field no matter where you are if you run your office virtually.

And if we want to achieve gender equality, then “all roles flex” should be the norm.

StudioHawk: “Difficult to foster fun” remotely

Founder: Harry Sanders

Industry: SEO

Will you be downsizing or cancelling your office lease in the wake of COVID-19?
Unlikely. While it has been great to be able to work from home, it lacks a certain feeling of connectivity. I miss the ability to go over and tap on someone’s shoulder for something, or even a simple, ‘hey, look at my screen for a sec’, when training people or doing things. Also, it depends on peoples’ office culture, but we have found it more difficult to foster fun, and even with weekly drinks and games throughout the week, it just isn’t the same.
SEO

StudioHawk founder Harry Sanders.

Will you be encouraging more staff to work remotely long-term, in the wake of COVID-19?

People that are established in their jobs (i.e. don’t need as much training) I am more flexible with working from home when needed, and open to the idea of making Wednesdays an optional work from home day, but WFH is a very all or nothing situation in my mind.

When everyone works from home you are aware you will need to get on Discord or call them, whereas if just some people are, it makes it easier to just go to the people in the office. I think it’s going to take some time and some testing to see what mix works and what people enjoy.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed your thinking about the office, remote work and the mix between both of these types of work in your business?

For some people, it’s allowed them to see surges in productivity and test out what a flexible working environment would look like. For others, it has shown their desire and need to be in a dedicated space.

As a business, it is and always has been, our job to help people work in the way best for them, so it may mean compromising on how we do that moving forward.

Some functions we have developed, work better digital, like the StudioHawk learn training platform which we have developed, but my preference will still be on having people onsite where possible and suitable.

Flora & Fauna: “It’s important we have space as a team”

Founder: Julie Mathers

Industry: E-commerce/retail

Will you be downsizing or cancelling your office lease in the wake of COVID-19?

No, we’ll be keeping it as is. We’re still growing and it’s important we have space as a team. Plus, it’s linked to our warehouse which we very much need. If anything we need a bigger space!

suppliers

Flora & Fauna founder Julie Mathers and COO Tom Abraham.

Will you be encouraging more staff to work remotely long-term, in the wake of COVID-19?
Absolutely. We encourage people to work how they want to work; it’s about output, not input. It’s important we recognise people are different; some people want to be in an office, some people prefer to work at home and some like a mix. At F&F, we work with people as individuals. It’s important that we come together as a team but we embrace thee benefits of remote working. Tools like Slack make it a lot easier.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed your thinking about the office, remote work and the mix between both of these types of work in your business?

It forces you to think and behave differently. It forces you to get out of your comfort zone and that can only be a good thing.

Mcdonald Murholme: “The pandemic has completely changed our offices”

Founding partner: Alan McDonald

Industry: Law

Will you be downsizing or cancelling your office lease in the wake of COVID-19?

The firm will not be downsizing or cancelling office lease. The firm is making use of our office space despite the pandemic.

For example, while we are not able to meet clients face-to-face, employees who are still working in the office are using our conference rooms with better views as their work stations, enabling them to safely social distance. We are implementing greater partitioning in areas and provisions for more private space with larger working areas.

Will you be encouraging more staff to work remotely long-term, in the wake of COVID-19?

We would have loved to have had employees working from home in the past, this has been made much easier now. The pandemic has completely changed our offices and the role of management has had to change. There is a far greater emphasis on our practice management system, which enables employees to work from home more effectively than before. Through training in the form of compulsory webinars, the avoidance of mistakes is greater, making working from home a more viable option.

Employees see many benefits in working from home, including the ability to claim on home office expenses, as well as reduced mortgage repayments. Employees are also seeing the benefits in shared parenting responsibilities made easier by spending more time at home.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed your thinking about the office, remote work and the mix between both of these types of work in your business?

The pandemic has forced us to examine all our processes, whether that be working from home or working in the office.

One key thing about working from home is that employees are less well supervised — this reduces the need for as much management. Individual employees are therefore required to step up and think about how the work they are doing will positively affects the firm. A result of this is that they may need to develop their own new processes and change the way they work when no longer physically in the office.

A total working-from-home model wouldn’t work at McDonald Murholme because as a firm we still really value face-to-face interactions, not only with clients but between employees. We would not wish to communicate entirely via email and text, so for us there will always be a need to be working in the office in order to maintain those interactions and relationships.

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