As we kick off 2023 it does feel a little premature to say we’re in a ‘post-COVID’ world, but it does feels somewhat more normal – having said that, normal doesn’t feel quite right either, so let’s say we are now in a ‘new era’.
We’re all different from where we were 3 years ago, and while large companies may try to return to ‘normal’ (most recently, Disney asked staff to return to office 4 days a week), for most people there is no going back.
Melbourne Institute’s Taking The Pulse of the Nation survey at the end of 2020 found 70% of Australians who had been working from home because of COVID wanted to keep doing so. In August 2021, the ABS reported on this shift, with 41% of people regularly working from home, up from 32% in 2019, which is 6.5x greater growth than the 2 years prior.
What started out as a necessity to work from home has evolved into the concept of hybrid working – which for most companies at the moment is a mix of working remotely & in the office. But, I think we are just at the cusp of understanding what this actually means. As Publicis Groupe ANZ CEO, Mike Rebelo expressed in AdNews, ‘…now more than ever, how we view what matters most in our lives will be the guiding force for all of us, as we move forward to 2023’.
We are finally seeing the work life balance truly become more of a balance. What does this mean? For some people, they can now tackle going to the gym in the morning before work or do the school drop off. For others, they can now do their washing during the week or take the dog for a walk at lunch time. My favourite way I’ve heard it explained is we no longer get those ‘Sunday demons’.
Ask around and you’ll hear that people are happier. But, there is also research for those who like a stat (AKA every media person). A global study of 28,000 full-time workers (including 1,042 Australians) by Cisco in 2022 found that 82% of workers said hybrid & remote working has made them happier. This has translated into people being more motivated in their role; 60% believed productivity had risen and their quality of work had improved.
Spark is well aware of this shift, as our CEO Imogen Hewitt discussed with Media Week, ‘Industry happiness is at an all-time high. Perhaps the challenges of the pandemic, the intensity of the scramble for talent and the looming economic uncertainty has helped to raise the bar for all.’
We have leaned into a hybrid working model at Spark, with teams managing their days in/out of the office depending on what they have on. And we know the value of being face-to-face when it matters, with Spark’s recent annual offsite bringing us all together, to hear the leadership team reflect on the past year and share their perspective for the year ahead. It was a chance for us to have the company goals & values truly defined, enabling us to align our own career goals. Plus, we were able to bond in a way that I’ll admit virtual drinks haven’t quite been able to nail, just yet.
For me, Spark’s open approach to remote working and trust they have for their staff gave me the opportunity to work for one of the top media agencies in Australia, on large national & global brands, from the comfort of my own home in Adelaide, with my cat. An experience that previously I would have needed to move cities for. Spark opened their potential talent pool to be Australia wide, at a time when it has been hard to hire. Since becoming the first Sparkie to live outside of Sydney & Melbourne, there are now 17 of us.
Do I miss the office? Of course. I am lucky enough to be in a role at Spark that includes being able to work from local client offices, and trips to Sydney & Melbourne as needed, which for someone like me who enjoys being in an office & surrounded by other people’s energy, is very appreciated.
But, not everyone does. I think the hardest challenge businesses have going forward is finding the balance to suit all needs. People who do enjoy going to the office, can get deflated when they turn up but no one else has. While making people to go in when they don’t need to can cause unnecessary stress. In the Cisco study we can see this struggle for businesses, with only 1 in 4 employees feeling their organisation is ‘very prepared’ for a hybrid working future.
But, what is a hybrid working future? The reality, and challenge, is that it is ever changing. You’ll get a different answer depending on who you ask, and it has the potential to be shaped in so many ways as people choose to do life first. Google will probably tell me the answer is 42.
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