Lara Hewitt, director of talent at R/GA Australia (pictured) asks, three years on from the pandemic, what working life looks like.
A little over three years have passed since Covid so abruptly impacted our lives and the first “work from home” mandate was introduced. Having been flung into a dystopian vortex, we had to get through as best we could, while wondering when things would return to normal. But the disruption has also offered considerable opportunities for change.
Many people’s working lives have never been the same since and today, through innovation, companies have moved beyond pandemic responsiveness to new and better ways of working.
For businesses, the evolution of the workplace is perpetual. I don’t believe a transformation will take place all at once and shift into an entirely new model. That’s because it’s not just about a change in the physical nature of our workplaces. Like all human systems, the workplace of the future will evolve, with new rules of engagement and performance among diverse teams in uncertain environments. What is clear, is that the pandemic-induced, remote-work “experiment” has proven to be an undisputed success. Innovative and agile organisations have jumped at this inflection point to redefine the future of work with benefits for both companies and their employees. The working world is no longer dictated by the antiquated nine-to-five, sitting in rush hour traffic and negotiating a day to work from home. It’s about flexibility and in some cases working completely remotely. And above all, it’s about trust.
Early on in the pandemic, everything was reactive. We’re lucky at R/GA that we were already set up for a hybrid working world – even if we didn’t realise to what extent at the time. And so we were able to escape the operational growing pains that the first few months of lockdown had on many other businesses. Our structure has always enabled us to operate collaboratively as one connected network. We were used to working with teams in Asia, the UK or the US, and the collaboration and negotiating time zones came naturally. The culture, however, did not. The quizzes, the Zoom cocktails and the baking lessons, which at first were met with enthusiasm, were things that by the end of 2021 were almost dreaded.
Our base culture at R/GA is incredibly strong, but building a strong remote culture is challenging and we’re still working on getting it right. It’s an ever-evolving journey. Putting remote work at the “heart” of the company has to be intrinsically connected to our values, goals and practices. An intentional behaviour we’re instilling in our communication is giving the ‘extra 10 per cent’. This means, whether we are working from home, in the office or collaborating with someone who isn’t in the physical space with us, we are hyper-aware that we need to be connecting in a different way. We call this our ‘uniting difference.’
Our coworkers don’t necessarily need to know every detail of our lives, but sharing certainly helps with engagement. It helps people feel emotionally connected and boosts collaboration and creativity. Collaboration and culture across remote teams is also one of the long-term effects of Covid in the working environment. We now have people across New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and most recently the Capital Territory. For many this distributed and remote work has broken down barriers and meant increased access to opportunity — and, for companies like us, it’s increased our access to talent.
A space designed for the way we work
Figuring out a better way forward and navigating the return to work, while also opening a new space in Sydney, allowed us to truly assess how an office would look and feel, in a world where people would perhaps only be in two to three times a week. Our internal staff surveys showed our people valued the flexibility of remote working, but also wanted the option to head into an office to collaborate and socialise.
We knew that the team wanted and needed a space where they could collaborate, work quietly, be inspired and so this led us to leading with the idea that the office was to ‘become a highlight of the week’. We don’t mandate any days to our team, but typically see the office fit to burst at least three times a week. We’re on the cusp of opening our new Melbourne space, and a year on from opening Sydney, we’ll be taking our learnings with us.
Work from anywhere
Our return to work has been led by an understanding of what our teams now value. It seems every company is using ‘flexibility’ as a currency when hiring talent, so it’s been disappointing to see so many businesses mandate people return to the office, some even full-time, and enforcing conformity to the strict pre-pandemic nine-to-five. What does it actually mean to be fully flexible? For R/GA, flexibility isn’t only about being able to work from home, it’s about being able to “Design your Day” to do what suits you.
Of course, continuing to meet business and client needs is an absolute priority, but ultimately we empower, encourage and trust our team to make the day work for them. By doing this we get the best work from our people. We’ve also continued to support and promote our R/GAnywhere policy, allowing the team to log on from Bali, Thailand, Europe or even the Gold Coast. This allows them the time to be with family, friends or just alone to recalibrate without taking all of their annual leave.
Only ever 80 per cent complete
A level of flexibility, versatility and collaboration provides us with the spark we need to make good on our promise to build a more human future. An attitude of “we are only ever 80 per cent complete” helps to push forward all the teams operating under the R/GA umbrella.
With the future subject to so many moving parts and elements of uncertainty, we’re not going to declare we have the perfect model. Hybrid-remote does undeniably have a ripple effect and we’re still unpacking how we collaborate in the new world. But it’s pushed us to focus on how we create a more human culture that ultimately relies on technology.
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