Going Back To The Office Or Working From Anywhere – Striking The Right Balance by Sharon Williams

In the nineties, one of the brands that used honesty about it’s product to greatest effect has to be Marmite.

“You either love it, or hate it.” is how they described the favourite spread on toast.

Of course as an English girl I am as familiar with Marmite as Australians are about Vegemite. This tag line reminds me of the evolution underway in Australia on the subject of working from home (WFH) or working from anywhere (WFA).

With COVID-19 moving Australians to work from home this past two years, we are now as employers working out a way forward that works for the business, teams and leaders. As the country eases its way into a new normality after the pandemic, it’s clear that working from home or permanently in the office, is not a one size fits all approach and if you look at history, it shows that working from home is not new.

The Productivity Commission, the Australian Government’s independent research and advisory body on a range of economic, social and environmental issues affecting the welfare of Australians, recently looked at the question of working from home.

The Commission points out that before the Industrial Revolution, most people worked from home — in agriculture or as skilled artisans or running a household. The rise of the factory system, and later the office, led the historic shift to the central workplace. It was reinforced by large falls in the cost of transporting people from home to work and back again by bicycle, train, tram, car and bus. This shaped our cities, community and family life.

More recently, technology has gone in a different direction. The cost of commuting has stopped falling, but the cost of communicating (at a distance) has also fallen dramatically. Yet predictions of widespread remote work had failed to materialise — until the COVID-19 pandemic. It is clear talking to my network, that many firms and workers, when forced to work from home, changed their minds — becoming more positive about the feasibility and benefits of remote work.

The Productivity Commission declared that not every firm is a fan of working from home. For example, according to the CEO of J P Morgan Chase, “It doesn’t work for people who want to hustle, doesn’t work for culture, doesn’t work for idea generation.”

Being in the business of PR and Marketing for 27 years, I pride myself on being a leader in this industry and providing innovative solutions and strategic advice to my clients on a daily basis.

So, in my mind, the question of my team working from home has to be managed carefully, taking account of their needs, safety and desires while importantly, keeping the business profitable and at the forefront of innovative thinking.

As the Productivity Commission states, working from home can affect various aspects of wellbeing, including physical and mental health, work–life balance, and family functioning.

It may also open up work opportunities for people who face barriers to labour force participation or full-time employment, such as people with disabilities or caring responsibilities.  Working from home can improve physical and mental health by giving people more time and control over their day — to sleep, exercise and cook nutritious food, for example. But it can also worsen physical and mental health due to decreased incidental exercise, increased isolation, and the elimination of the boundaries between home and work life.

Without question, the level of working from home is likely to remain much higher than it was before the pandemic with workers and firms now embarking on a second wave of experimentation — negotiating, trialling and adjusting — to see what best works for them and find the right balance.

It will take some time before the implications of this process of change are realised but in my own heart, I would love to see CBD’s come alive again with restaurants, shops and offices full of people, as a sign we have triumphed over COVID-19 and life is buzzing again with commercial, social, creative, mentoring and growth.

Sharon Williams

Taurus CEO

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