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The push for 5 days onsite work is ‘outdated’

It is no secret that employees value flexibility in the post-COVID-19 era of work. The benefits seemingly outweigh the negatives, so why are so many mandating a return to onsite work?

user iconJack Campbell 16 August 2023 Big Law
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Editor’s note: This story originally appeared on Lawyers Weekly’s sister brand, HR Leader.

Recent research revealed that 87 per cent of organisations in Australia have mandated office days. Businesses are working to get things back to how they were before the pandemic. The question is, why?

Damien Sheehan, country head of Australia and sales vice-president of ANZ at International Workplace Group, believes the back-to-office mandates are a step backward for businesses.

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“It’s so outdated to think that you’d pick up your laptop in the morning, commute into an office, open up work and pack it up and go home at the end of the day when you can combine both,” said Mr Sheehan.

One of the main arguments for people who are in favour of a return to onsite work is that it encourages collaboration. While that is certainly true, hybrid working does not remove these opportunities.

“There could be many reasons. Maybe they don’t have the technology to support people working remotely. They don’t have the HR practices in place. Maybe their business genuinely does perform better when they’ve got people engaging face to face. It drives innovation, discussions, and ideas,” Mr Sheehan said.

“You certainly cannot replace a face-to-face meeting with a colleague, but with the advances of technology, clearly there can be a mix.”

Mr Sheehan argued that the world was already on track to implement remote working before we were forced to during the pandemic. The natural evolution of the workforce could have occurred whether COVID-19 was around or not, so why are employers rushing to go back to how it was?

“The world of hybrid working was growing well before the pandemic, and it was technology that was driving that, whether it be Microsoft Teams, Zoom or Google Meet,” Mr Sheehan explained.

“The pandemic just made everyone pause. It was like there was a collective sigh from tens of millions of workers around the world that suddenly went, ‘I now have a genuine justification not to endure that commute every day’. Some of them are already on that train. Others suddenly realise, ‘I’m getting a better balance in my life. My mental health is better, I’m integrating myself into my local community. My relationship with my children is better.” Both can exist.”

Some of the benefits of maintaining a flexible work model include the reduction of costs, said Mr Sheehan: “Yes, you still need a company headquarters, but it’s going to be used differently. It’s around collaboration, teamwork ideas and generation culture, building culture.”

“Research shows that you can save up to $14,000 per employee by moving to more of a flexible model.”

Another key advantage of flexible working is the reduction of carbon footprint as employees will cut down on travel time. This can help companies to employ better environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies.

Finally, maintaining a flexible working policy can help companies get through talent and skills shortages. With the workforce still being very much a candidate’s market, organisations are looking to bring employees through the door. Offering these sorts of policies can help to attract and retain skilled workers and plug holes in the company.

Organisations can benefit by rethinking their company’s flexibility. Mr Sheehan concluded: “To go back to five days a week is just outdated.”

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