How flexible work will reshape the Australian workforce

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Flexibile work can give you the space to do what you love. Photo: Shutterstock

Workplace flexibility comes in a number of guises. It can mean more options in terms of place, time or patterns of work – e.g. longer hours in exchange for fewer workdays. It can also mean new approaches to work, like job sharing or new kinds of workspaces and business structure.

Technological advances have helped create a trend towards more flexibility in the workplace. The cloud and better mobile devices have been integral to enabling it all, for example. But there has also been a cultural shift, it has become more acceptable to request flexible work arrangements. Depending on circumstance, employees may even have a right to request some kind of flexible work.

The benefits of more workplace flexibility accrue to both sides. Employees are happier because they forgo less opportunities with their family or things that interest them. But companies also enjoy workers that are more energised and motivated, and less prone to absenteeism and to leave entirely.

But an environment more accepting of workplace flexibility will likely look very different to that found today. Here are a few ways more flexibility will reshape the Australian workforce.

Lower barriers to entry

Rigid business hours can be a barrier to entry for many people – stopping them joining the workforce, restricting the hours they can participate, and limiting extracurricular options. Parent’s are a classic example – many need to engage services to look after or transport their children to and from school. This can leave them worse off in two ways – monetarily, and in the relationship with their kids. And this is where such services are available, a lack of daycare places has been linked to a million Japanese women being excluded from the workforce for example.

Work arrangements that allow for greater work-life balance, on the other hand, can negate much of this problem. A parent that wants to pick their kids up from school, for example, could work from home during the afternoon. Someone who wants to go back to school could start work earlier in the day, leaving the afternoon and evening as a block for lectures and study. More careers and jobs will become an option for more people.

More choice at the office

Despite the myriad choice we get outside of the office – in ambience, sound and experience etc., most workspaces are homogenous. Music, light, climate, and space are all shared, irrespective of the preferences or work being done by the individual. That different people work best in difference conditions is being recognised in a new wave of office design, allowing for flexibility within the workspace.

Companies like Mirvac are designing new officespaces with myriad different spaces contained within – quiet spaces for individual work, open spaces for teams, standing spaces for those who prefer that, plenty of nooks and crannies for everything in between. Employees and teams can choose a space that best accomodate what they are doing, and this could mean many different spaces throughout the day.

More distributed teams

One of the bigger, quieter, trends that has accompanied the latest tech boom has been distributed teams. Companies from Automattic to Buffer have created companies without offices – enabling them to not only save the cost of an office, but recruit the best and brightest irrespective of geography. Buffer has a team dotted around the globe – perfect for conducting customer service across timezones and in many languages.

Envato, a Melbourne-based company that last year announced a program to let employees work from anywhere, at any time, justifies it with the argument that labor is being globalised. This means Australian companies can hire the best from anywhere, but it also means that they are competing with foreign companies for the best Australian talent – foreign companies who are happy to allow them work in their pyjamas or at the local coffee shop.

“The globalisation of work is coming, and it’s transformative. We want to stay competitive, attract the best, and get ahead of that,” said Envato HR director James Law.

Workspaces designed around collaboration

With all of this change, the question remains what function an office an serve, and what the workplace of the future will look like. The answer is most probably a space for collaboration, in whatever form. New offices like Mirvac’s new building in Sydney, or Apple’s new headquarters, are designed around fostering collaboration. They create spaces that force interaction – shared mezzanines or hallways, or foster it when required – designated spaces for meetings and brainstorms.

The tech companies that champion distributed teams have their own systems for fostering collaboration. As workers at these companies often work at staggered hours – as many workers will want to do in the future, they have created processes and tools designed to create time-shifted collaboration and dialogue.

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