Coronavirus: Small businesses say remote working has the potential to ‘change the world’

More and more employers are telling workers to stay at home.

More and more employers are telling workers to stay at home. Photo: Getty

The Australian government has yet to shut down society in the same way as Italy and China, but more and more companies are telling staff to work from home.

Telstra was the latest big corporate to publicly announce it had introduced “full work-from-home arrangements” in a bid to contain the coronavirus.

Its announcement on Friday came after Westpac, Vodafone, software provider Atlassian, and professional services firm EY had flagged full or partial closures, too.

More will follow suit. Which begs the question: Are we ready for a surge in remote working?

For while working from home is far from a novel idea, it’s fair to say the majority of Australian companies have yet to fully embrace it.

Even though workers wished they would.

According to the Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey – which has tracked a nationally-representative sample of 5000 households on various socio-economic measures since 2001 – the proportion of Australians who regularly work from home has remained unchanged at roughly a quarter of the workforce.

But studies by research firm McCrindle and Swinburne University suggest plenty more would like the option to work from home.

In 2013, McCrindle found that 78 per cent of the 586 workers surveyed wanted to work from home at least some of the time.

And, in 2019, Swinburne University found that 83 per cent of city workers who already enjoyed work-from-home arrangements either “liked” or “loved” these entitlements.

Less wasted time

Such results will come as no surprise to Jake, 25, who works in project design and strategy for software development company Appello.

As with the rest of Appello’s workforce, Jake works from home every day of the week.

He told The New Daily the best parts of the arrangement was not having to commute to an office.

“In the morning, I find I’m personally quite productive, so if I can work remotely, I can get out of bed and go to my desk in my house and that’s one minute[‘s commute] versus one hour,” he said.

“I can spend that time to improve my quality of life – and, if I was going into the city, I’d be spending money on buses.

“In Australia, it’s easy to rack up $50 a week in public transport expenses, and, for a lot of people, that’s not a trivial amount of money – and it’s definitely not a trivial amount of time, either.”

He added that the greater flexibility and feel-good factor of remote working was a “huge multiplier” on his creativity.

Appello founder Cameron Woodford believes the switch to remote working will “change the world”.

Jake’s boss, Cameron Woodford, 26, said employers also had plenty to gain from the arrangement.

He told The New Daily it made it easier to attract top talent, as more and more workers now expect these entitlements and companies without a physical office can hire workers from further afield.

And he said it cut operating costs and led to a happier, more productive, and more easily managed workforce, too.

So much so that his company of 47 full-time employees slashed the time it takes to deliver projects to clients by 70 per cent after embracing remote working across the board. 

Describing the coronavirus outbreak as a major catalyst for change, Mr Woodford said a longer-term switch to more remote working was inevitable and would “change the world”.

The flexibility, the increased life quality, there’s nothing that’s happened like this before,’’ Mr Woodford said.

“So I believe that companies that don’t adopt this model and don’t have processes in place will fall behind companies that do.”

Remote working has the added benefit of reducing childcare costs. Photo: Getty

Communication is key

Car Next Door chief executive Will Davies, 41, is equally as enthusiastic about remote working.

For the past three years, 80 per cent of the company’s roughly 60 Australian workers has worked from home on a full or part-time basis.

Mr Davies said he introduced the policy as a way of attracting more talented web developers.

“That was probably what got it started for us,” he told The New Daily.

But it’s also because a lot of our team find it much more productive to spend a part of their time working from home – because they just get more done, cut down on travel, and there are fewer distractions because there’s no noise and racket around them.’’

Mr Davies said his major fear before introducing the policy was that “people might be down at the beach when you’re expecting them to be working”.

He imagined other employers would feel the same, but said it was an irrational fear if you hired the right people and set clear goals and objectives.

Those considering making the switch should invest in a reliable video conferencing system such as Zoom, he said, as this makes up for the lack of face-to-face meetings and allows workers to share screens with one another whilst talking.

And he also recommended Slack, for instant messaging, Google Docs, for allowing several people to simultaneously work on the same document, and Asana, for helping employees create to-do lists, delegate work and track progress across various projects.

“We also made a decision about a year ago that if anyone is on a teleconference … then we’re all on the teleconference,” Mr Davies said.

“So we will actually have five people all on a computer even if they’re sitting next to each other, because otherwise the communication gets really difficult when one person is on teleconference and everyone is in the room together.

“It’s hard for the person on teleconference to keep up otherwise.”

Three things to make working at home successful

Mr Davies and Mr Woodford said it was important for managers to schedule regular video conferences, so that employees felt included and knew where they stood on a certain project.

Bond University associate professor of organisational behaviour Libby Sander offered the following tips to individual workers:

  1. “The first thing is set up a designated working space. Try and set up a desk somewhere. Don’t try and work at the kitchen table [because] if you have visual reminders in your home of working when you’re ‘off’ it is completely draining. Set up a space that’s not visually reminding you of work. If you can close a door and leave it, that’s great
  2. “Make sure you have the technology you need – laptop, tablet, phone. Make sure you schedule in regular meetings (via Skype etc) with your workplace. We have to be almost over-vigilant with connecting so we’re not getting distracted. Set your head to be, ‘I’m at work now’. Don’t just think, I’ll go do some washing
  3. “Have strong boundaries, because 48 per cent of people who work from home work longer hours. Make sure that you switch off when you finish work. Talk with your employer about what you have to achieve by a certain time and work to that. Switch off your work emails on your phone.”
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