As majority of Australia returns to ‘the new normal’ we look at what impact the ‘great remote shift’ has had – and will have – on Australian businesses.
COVID-19 has undoubtedly changed the business landscape in Australian and globally. Whilst shifts in economic factors such as employment security, consumer sentiment and business investments continue to vary across industries and countries, the mass global shift to remote operations has impacted the majority in one way or another. This has been in three key areas: remote working, remote purchasing, and remote services. The physical shift to a remote way of living (aka social distancing) was required as a rapid response to reduce the spread of COVID-19. But now, as the risk of contagion reduces across majority of Australia, what happens to the millions of Aussies who have had a taste of the remote lifestyle and want more?
Research shows between 2-4 million Australians shifted from the office to the kitchen table during March-June 2020. Whilst the exact figure is still being determined, here is what we know currently:
From NEVER remote to FOREVER remote?
Prior to March 2020, working from home was considered a privilege for a select number of Australian workers; one that some employees and employers thought impossible for many due to the nature of the job.
However, COVID-19 has forced the hand of many workplaces and now both employees and employers are seeing that with the right IT infrastructure, working from home may become the new normal.
Further, many industries – such as retail and real estate – are ramping up e-commerce and digital solutions to address COVID-19 restrictions. Ben Franzi, General Manager, Parcel & Express Services at Australia Post says that there has been a massive uptake in online shopping with Australia post experiencing a growth rate of 60-80% comparing April 2020 to April 2019. Further, he says “organisations like Kmart, Target, Myer have seen massive growth upwards of 200 to 400 per cent, so they have really had to accelerate their capacity in this area.”
This highlights the shift is not just workplace driven, but also consumer driven with more households demanding remote purchasing options.
Beyond purchasing, remote services (i.e. health and education) are being offered at a rapid rate. Telehealth has seen a dramatic rise with a report showing a 10-fold increase in March 2020 alone.[i] And universities, as well as other education institutes, have adapted to completely online learning environments.
With the combined trends in remote working, remote purchasing, and remote services, what does this mean for business owners post COVID-19.
The 2020 Remote-Hybrid Solution
A commonly shared prediction is Australia will shift to a hybrid remote solution.[ii] This means:
- Giving employees more remote working and flexible working opportunities, whilst still having traditional office spaces.
- Offering consumers remote purchasing and delivery options, whilst maintaining physical outlets.
- Streamlining remote services to maximise service delivery efficiency, resulting in an increase in convenience as well as accessibility for those who need it.
So, what does this means for the business community?
Ultimately, the hybrid solution will require both engagement and investment from business owners to ensure a swift shift. Benchmarking Group CEO Markus Hugenschmidt states there will be three key areas business owners will need to navigate:
- Managing the physical workplace: the current research suggests that most businesses will maintain a physical premise, but many will reduce capacity size to less than 1 desk per employee resulting in hot-desking arrangements. This has the possibility to reduce rental costs, as well as make it easier for businesses to abide by new social-distancing requirements. Business owners will need clear policies and procedures in place to ensure this set up is efficient and beneficial for employees and managers.
- Investing in the digital workplace: the greatest shift we are forecasting is the investment in digital technologies as companies establish systems to enable for flexible working. However, the great remote shift has also brought with it a huge increase in cyber-attacks as criminals seek to leverage vulnerable workplaces.[iii] Thus, digital investment needs to include cybersecurity management systems to protect both employees and the business. Further, digital use policies, procedures and incident management plans will all need to be addressed to drive best digital practice and cybersafe habits.
- Determining/Measuring employee productivity: a historic argument for traditional workplaces is managers wanting to be close to their employees to monitor their work and collaborate with the team. Whilst collaboration is now easily addressed with online solutions such as Zoom and MS Teams, management/business owners may need to determine new success parameters shifting from hours worked to output produced. This may mean changes to employee KPI’s, investment in employee time management applications and determining what the new version of success looks like.
A successful experiment?
As COVID-19 stubbornly persists, the world continues to seek an ongoing solution to the world’s largest work-from-home experiment.[iv][v] Whilst we may not have all the answers right now, it is clear the great remote shift has given many Australian businesses the opportunity to emerge from the crisis with reinvigorated workplaces. An opportunity to invest in a direction which prioritises work-life balance at the same time as optimal employee productivity. And, an opportunity to review what has been the status-quo and shape what will become the new normal.
Or as put by Dave Hollis: ‘In the rush to return to normal, (we can) use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.’
[iii] https://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/[email protected]/Previousproducts/4940.0Main%20Features229%20Apr%20-%204%20May%202020?opendocument&tabname=Summary&prodno=4940.0&issue=29%20Apr%20-%204%20May%202020&num=&view=