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Is #WFH our future?

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With home offices, less commuting and more flexible working hours, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work—and a recent survey shows employees want it to stay that way.

The online survey of 730 Australians, run by flexible work platform Beam Australia and Circle In, revealed 97 per cent of people want to retain the freedom to work flexibly post-COVID.

The survey also showed 84 per cent of people want to keep a mix of working from home and in the workplace, while 59 per cent want to keep spending more time with family, with less commuting.

So could working remotely—for good—be our future?

Certainly in the United States, Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey has announced employees can work from home “forever”, while Forbes reports that other big companies, including JPMorgan, Facebook, Capital One, Amazon, Microsoft, Zillow, and others, are also extending their work-from-home policies.

Beam co-founder Stephanie Reuss says COVID-19 has rapidly changed people’s expectations around flexible work, with employees wanting to define where they work, when they work and the ability to reduce their working hours if needed.

“COVID-19 has taken flexibility mainstream, not just for working mums—people don’t want to go back to business as usual,” she says.

Likewise, the switch has arguably been a win for employers, with recent data showing more than two-thirds of workers are more productive working at home than in an office.

But the light speed move to flexible working environments has seen some companies under considerable pressure to keep up.

Fifty-four per cent of people in the survey said their managers weren’t fully equipped to lead a flexible team, while only 32 per cent of people said they work in companies where flexibility is consistently provided and supported.

Beam Co-founder Victoria Stuart says most employers and managers simply “aren’t ready” to lead flexible workforces.

“Managers are critical to making flexibility work but many aren’t equipped to manage flexible teams to outcomes. Optimising work requires a new mindset and skillset, and businesses need responsive systems to concertina their workforce and design jobs for different forms of flexible work,” she says.

“Employers looking to increase productivity, and/or support, engage and attract employees, will need to upskill on flexibility, including managers—and fast.”

While there are numerous benefits to flexible working environments—a more engaged workforce, reduced costs, increased productivity, less pollution, greater employee wellbeing—there are also concerns about the lines between home and work becoming blurred.

Beam Government Relations Specialist Veronica Freeman says if companies are going to move to more flexible working environments, it should be done in a way that doesn’t see employees “burnt out” in a 24/7 working cycle.

“The biggest risk of remote work isn’t a lack of productivity—in fact studies show that goes up—but loneliness and mental health issues related to isolation, and feeling like you should always be ‘on’,” she says.

“Companies will need to put in place ways to ensure work and home don’t merge in an unhealthy way, and there’s a clear transition from your workday. Likewise, employees will need to be intentional about looking after themselves.”

Beam’s tips for working from home successfully

Set up your office space as a clearly demarcated area

Whether you’re in a share house or an apartment or have your own office, set up a workspace that’s as quiet and clutter-free as possible. Consider noise-cancelling headphones if your home environment is busy.

Create clear transitions in your day to mimic the office routine

It’s easy for the lines between home and work to become blurred. Be thoughtful about how you create these boundaries for yourself.

Rituals matter. Have clear work and non-work times, mark the transition to and from work in ways that make sense for you (e.g. dress for the workday), make a cuppa to kick things off, take a walk once you’re finished to leave the workday behind you.

Stay on top of your health

With community anxiety all around us at the moment, it’s important we take extra care of ourselves, our team members, our leaders and our external stakeholders as well. Community is important, even more so as we’re socially distancing.

Be intentional about looking after yourself—and if you think you might struggle, let your manager know or pair up with someone who can prompt you.

Consider building breaks and exercise into your calendar. If you’re an extrovert who needs lots of social interaction, plan for virtual or in-person catch-ups.

Communicate

When everyone is in an office, you can pick up on how they’re feeling or how busy they are without them having to say anything. This is much harder to do when you’re all remote.

If you’re concerned about something or need assistance from a team member, be clear about what’s going on. Overcommunicating is definitely better than under communicating right now.

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