It used to be that if you wanted a big-league job, you had to move to a major city to find and keep it.
But the COVID-19 pandemic, and the remote work mandates it has sparked around the world, have changed this mindset.
As we watched the entire world go virtual in 2020, there is a greater expectation for businesses to adopt a flexible and remote working approach in 2021. New research commissioned by Citrix also shows that working location has become less critical to career success and opportunities than ever before.
We recently surveyed 1,000 Australian office workers to understand how their perceptions of working and living in metropolitan areas in Australia have changed in the wake of the pandemic. A highlight was that 44 per cent of Australians have abandoned their city dwellings, or plan to do so because they can work remotely.
But what does this mean for Australian businesses, and how can we create an engaging working experience that allows people to do their best work in the future?
Replacing bricks with clicks
For so long, Aussies have been led to believe that living and working in major capital cities is the ticket to career success, and for obvious reasons. Our capitals are home to central business hubs for some of the world’s largest organisations and where we have expected our professional ambitions can only be achieved.
In the post-pandemic world this somewhat outdated, traditional expectation will likely dissolve with a sliding preference to work from the office – 34 per cent of Australian office workers believe companies will scale back their office space in cities, and a further 18 per cent say company offices will close completely.
It may be that in 2021, we will witness the start of the world’s largest migration of people who desire a tree-change, choosing to reside in our regional townships while continuing to work for big-league ‘city players’.
Unlocking potential and productivity
Despite past misconceptions about employees working from home, the numbers show they have truly embraced the working from home rhythm in 2020 – and managed to remain just as productive and engaged! Nearly half (49 per cent) of Australian office workers surveyed believe their productivity levels are higher when working from home; an increase of 16 per cent compared to March last year.
There are demonstrable improvements in productivity from remote employees, and in some instances lower absenteeism rates – so much so that half (56 per cent) said they would accept a pay cut to work remotely full-time.
Despite the social and economic challenges of 2020, this year has been our greatest workplace experiment. It has shown us that the work-from-home switch was always possible, but the inherent reluctance to change held us back. By shifting our mindset about what work really means, location is no longer a barrier to getting the job done.
One area that does need increased focus is digital wellness, especially when it comes to fatigue and burnout. While we are all finding ways to be as productive as possible from home, when need to ensure we are still getting those natural breaks that normally exist in the office. Walking to a meeting room, going out for lunch, meeting with clients. None of these natural breaks exist and we can find ourselves in a never-ending virtual meeting run. For remote working to work long term, we need to find that balance between productivity expectations and digital wellness.
Forging a new path forward
In light of what we have found, the long-term impact this pandemic will have on our major cities is not clear. We know that Australians are less inclined to choose office work versus home work, and subsequently organisations will need to rethink their workforce strategies to align with employee expectations and capture (or protect) those productivity gains achieved this year.
While some organisations have already announced that full-time remote working is here to stay, many have opted for a hybrid approach balancing office-based work with working from home. Either way, the proposition of not having to commute five days a week, along with the time and cost savings is an attractive benefit for everyone.
One of the most important considerations for any type of flexible working model is a strategic investment in intelligent workspace technology. This will not only bolster employee engagement, but will ensure workers have secure and reliable access to the information and applications they need to stay productive. In addition, an intelligent workspace also ensures that employees have a consistent experience whether they are working from home or in the office instead of having to do things in different ways based on where they are working from.
A consistent, long-term integration of intelligent workspaces also supports business leaders to motivate and empower their employees. It will allow them to sharpen their skills and manage a geographically-dispersed workforce more effectively.
Whatever the outcome, the future of cities hangs in the balance, and the benefits of city living may ultimately be outweighed by flexible work models and the benefits they can deliver.
Safi Obeidullah, Field CTO for Asia Pacific and Japan at Citrix