Australia’s hybrid work model will have ‘failed’ if executives put too much emphasis on the reopened office, Slack says

Australia’s hybrid work model will have ‘failed’ if executives put too much emphasis on the reopened office, Slack says
  • Australian executives must balance employee preferences for remote work with a staged return to the office, Slack says.
  • There is a “disconnect” between staff and employers regarding post-pandemic plans, Slack’s Future Forum vice president Sheela Subramanian said.
  • Finding the right mix will be important to keep staff on-side as workers consider their options, she added.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Australian executives must listen to their employees when returning to the office or risk further walk-outs, Slack has warned.

New data from the work messaging platform’s Future Forum Pulse survey shows nearly 60 per cent of Australian knowledge workers would consider taking a new job in the next year.

With the ‘Great Resignation’ in force worldwide, Slack says Australians have identified flexible working arrangements as a key concern.

Businesses could lose talented employees if executives do not facilitate this kind of hybrid work in the long-term, Future Forum vice president Sheela Subramanian said.

“With this desire for flexibility, what we’re seeing from the data is what we’re calling a disconnect between executive policies and employee expectation,” Subramanian told Business Insider Australia.

Slack’s data suggests executives across the globe are three times more likely than other employees to seek a full-time return to the office.

At the same time, less than half of employees believe executives are being ‘very transparent’ about their plans when COVID-19 restrictions fall by the wayside.

“Two thirds [of executives] are not even talking to their employees,” Subramanian said.

“And so if you don’t necessarily know what’s going on, or you don’t feel like you’re part of the process, the trust is inevitably lower with your executive team.”

‘Domino effect’ could harm the workforce, Slack says

After months of harsh lockdown conditions, business across New South Wales, Victoria, and the Australian Capital Territory are now planning their return to the office.

In an attempt to inspire business confidence, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet today fast-tracked the end of mask mandates for offices, saying they won’t be necessary when the state hits an 80% vaccination rate.

Meanwhile, Victoria’s road map states fully vaccinated workers will be permitted to return to the office once an 80% vaccination rate is achieved, which could be as early as 5 November.

Only nine per cent of Australian workers said they do not want to work in the office at all, the Slack data shows.

But executives must take care to integrate the office back into their employees’ working lives without overshadowing the benefits of hybrid work, Subramanian said.

“If an organization is saying, ‘Okay, we’re moving to hybrid, you should come in these two days a week,’ but then the entire executive team comes into the office, and calls meetings where people are in the office, what we’re gonna see is more people will feel pressured to come in,” she said.

“And this whole experiment will have failed in many forms.”

Workplaces could be disrupted if executives place too much emphasis on the office going forward, she added.

“It’s a domino effect if the executives are coming in every day and they’re meeting with one another, and then other people feel like their next directs need to come in to show that they’re committed.”

Empty offices preparing for a staged return

While state governments are paving the way for in-person work to return, new figures from the Property Council of Australia (PCA) indicate office building owners have little confidence in a sudden return to the CBD.

In a Thursday note, the PCA said more than three quarters of all respondents expect to see a “material increase” in CBD office occupancy in the next three months.

Sydney CBD office occupancy was just 4% of pre-COVID levels in September, the PCA said, while Melbourne offices fared little better at 6 per cent.

PCA chief executive Keith Morrison said CBD office owners and managers across Sydney and Melbourne “are working to prepare their assets for the return of vaccinated workers.”

As employees wait to see how the office will be reintroduced to their working lives, Subramanian said employers should use this time away from the traditional workspace to consider their own management habits.

“Traditional management training has been much more about attendance checking, gatekeeping, doing status checks and unblocking obstacles for work,” she said.

“It hasn’t necessarily been about coaching, and empathy and listening. And they’re new skills that leaders need to bring into their their overall skill set in leading the distributed team. Executives need to invest in that.”