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By Martin Dineen

“Balance is not something you find, it’s something you create” – Jana Kingsford

Greater resilience and agility across the workplace were two of the most positive things that came out of the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, with employers and employees alike adapting incredibly well to WFH (work from home). 
But now that Australia is learning to live with the virus and lockdowns appear to be off the cards (for now), there’s been greater debate around the benefits of continuing to work from home vs returning to the office. 
There is no ‘one shoe fits all’ solution. While some organisations are expecting some office presence, some have kept it completely at the employee’s choice. More recently, we’ve been seeing organisations move toward a 60/40 split, with three days in the office. 
Each organisation needs to carefully take into account their individual successes and challenges throughout lockdowns and the impact that remote working had on their culture and staff productivity. For example, an IT team may be impacted less from working from home compared to a sales team. 

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The case for remote working

Organisations who have decided to remain fully remote have enjoyed benefits such as decreased costs, which has in turn allowed them to invest more in training, salaries and other employee attraction strategies. 
Within many of these organisations, employers have been pleasantly surprised with just how well employees have responded having greater flexibility. Previously cynical, they are now relishing in the benefits including greater productivity and focus with less distractions. 
The biggest challenge for these organisations is, of course, maintaining a strong culture and connection between their people, and the ‘incidental learning’ that happens in an office environment. Success stories have included a transition from phone calls to all video calls, regular team catch ups to keep that connection peace going.

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The reality of returning to the office full-time

In our experience, those who have directed staff to return to the office full time have found a fair amount of push back, and in many cases have lost staff as a result. Flexibility is now seen as more of a given rather than a benefit and it’s here to stay in many people’s minds. Culture is in turn impacted for those left in the office as it is ‘not the place it used to be’. 
Put very simply, if an employer’s expectation is that an employee comes to the office five days a week, they’ll lose access to the same talent that a more flexible employer will have. 

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The true benefits of hybrid working and why it’s here to stay

Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen the hybrid model become the most popular and most successful of all work setups. The pandemic has catapulted WFH progress forward ten years, finally allowing our working styles to catch up with the technology that was already there to support them. Now that it has been tried and tested, the technology developed, and attitudes changed, they will not be changed back. 
Creating better work/life balance has been a struggle for many individuals and workplaces for decades. The modern mantra is that work is a part of life, not what all life should revolve around, and hybrid working definitely promotes this. 
With a hybrid model, people still get a work vibe and culture, and a chance to build relationships – but they’re doing so on their own terms. Plus, they also get the benefit of walking their dog at lunch time. It’s the perfect balance.
Ultimately we think the best call is to analyse your current workforce, re-confirm your company values and select a working model that fits in with the masses. When you’ve made your decision, stick to it. 

What companies are doing with all the big investments made on office spaces 

Prior to the pandemic, business was busy and many organisations were already bursting at the seams which meant “agile working” became more the norm. In some situations, this hasn’t been a bad thing but rather given some organisations a bit of breathing space. We’ve also seen a multitude of things take place, some organisations subleasing, some reimagining their space or when leases have come to an end, reassessing their options while trying to have a long-term view beyond the current climate. 

About the author: Martin Dineen (pictured above) is the managing director of MJD Executive, a recruitment agency for some of Australia’s most influential CEOs and top-level executives for major firms across the country.This is an opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of this publication.

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