After experiencing the highs and lows of working from home during the pandemic, more employees are seeking flexibility in their working lives and employers are looking for new ways to adapt.

While most businesses are operating again since the Covid-19 shutdowns, it has been far from business-as-usual. Apart from problems with transport disruptions and rising prices, severe staff shortages have been a constant concern.

An Australian Bureau of Statistics survey in mid-2022 found almost a third of businesses were finding it tough to recruit staff.i Most in demand were building trade workers, clerical workers, labourers, sales staff and hospitality workers. Engineering trades and information communications and technology professionals were also hard to find. Meanwhile the dire shortage of teachers, nurses and aged care workers threatens the smooth viability of the health, education and care sectors.

Flexibility is key

With no quick fix in sight and predictions that population growth and increasing demand will make it even more difficult to find staff, business owners need to find ways to adapt to keep their operations afloat with such a shortage of workers.

Pay rises and more flexible working conditions are becoming more common, a trend that translated into the highest annual rate of wages growth in a decade during the September quarter 2022.ii

But salaries are not the only issue.

More than money

In addition to better pay, a survey carried out last year found almost a quarter of Australian workers are also planning to change jobs for three other reasons: to progress their careers, or in the search for greater work-life balance.

These days more people are seeking more balance via flexible working conditions including different starting and finishing times that help parents of school-age children and shorter working weeks that allow staff to pursue other interests or meet family needs.

Working from home during the Covid-19 shutdowns gave many workers and employers an insight into a different and more flexible way of getting the job done.

Before the pandemic, only around 8 per cent of employees worked from home, according to a Productivity Commission research paper. During the shutdowns, a majority of mostly office-based workers were working from home.

Work from home here to stay

Today, many firms are testing their working from home policies to see what works best for them. A recent study by HR research and advisory group, Gartner predicts that nearly half of all employees will work remotely in the future.

What’s more, most employees want to work from home, at least some of the time, according to the Productivity Commission’s research. About three-quarters of workers surveyed believed they were just as productive working from home as from the office.

The biggest plus for employees was avoiding the dreaded commute. On the other hand, workers were concerned about the consequences for their careers in the longer term. It’s about finding the right balance that suits both employer and employee.

Businesses can successfully implement flexible working by providing the right tools for employees to work from home a few days a week, be clear on expectations when working remotely and continue to build team culture even when working remotely.

Weighing up productivity and costs

Some firms surveyed by the Productivity Commission anticipated an increase in co-ordination costs to manage a remote workforce. They also worried that working from home may reduce knowledge sharing and creativity and that workers may slack off.

Yet some business owners also see a silver lining, believing workers may be more productive at home because they have better control over their time. Firms also saw benefits in being able to tap into a bigger pool of labour and in saving office rent.

Flexible working conditions are also important to frontline or customer-facing workers who can’t work from home.

Gartner says its research has found frontline workers want control over their work schedule and paid leave. Frontline workers also want a say in what they work on, who they work with and the amount they work, says Gartner.

Finding new ways to attract staff and then keep them will be on the minds of many employers in 2023. In an uncertain world, one thing is certain – new ways of working will be established as we settle into a post-pandemic world. If you would like to discuss your business plan, reach out to our team here.