What will the workforce look like in 2022? A time to focus on attracting and retaining talent

In the last 18 months we’ve realised many of the things we thought were inevitable about working life aren’t actually inevitable. It’s not just because of structural changes that have been forced by the pandemic, it’s to do with changes that have happened in our minds. We’ve learned new ways to live and some of these will stay with us for the rest of our lives.

So as we come out of lockdown in 2022 what changes will we see permanently in the workplace that differ from the pre-Covid world? 

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Can less work equal more output? A conversation with Andrew Barnes, co-founder of the 4 Day Week Global movement

A lot of businesses accept that working longer doesn’t necessarily mean working harder – there’s been a focus on presenteeism for the last 10-20 years – but in this era of flexibility some are going a step further to see whether working less could actually improve staff performance.

A recent report from AON found that employee burnout is most prevalent in the Asia-Pacific region and one of the top five employee wellbeing issues faced globally. From shorter core hours for international teams to 4-day weeks, many large global organisations are considering what they can do. According to job website ZipRecruiter, job listings that mention a four-day working week have tripled in the last 3 years to 62 per 10,000.

With that in mind, I think it’s a good time to share my conversation with Andrew Barnes who has co-founded the 4 Day Week Global movement.

Why did you decide to start the 4-day work week movement?

We implemented the 4-day work week in our company back in 2018. We were trying to answer a simple question, which was ‘Is productivity in my business as good as I think it is?’

We implemented this thing with the idea that we were going to pay people 100% of their pay for 80% of their time, provided we got 100% productivity.

I expected to get an article in The New Zealand Herald talking about this or maybe a little snippet on television. Instead we got a complete firestorm. I’ve been interviewed by people in 96 countries. Companies all over the world reached out to ask us to help them implement a 4-day work week.

So this isn’t about the western world or English speaking world, it’s about an issue of overwork that is impacting the workforce globally.

How does a 4-day working week shape the way people work?

Often businesses are guilty of using time as a surrogate for output. But we focus on output as a measurement, not the amount of time that you spend. As part of the trial, one of the very first things you do is sit down with your staff and say ‘What is it you do in a week and how can we measure that?’

When you have an honest conversation with your staff like this it tells you what the output is and interestingly at the same time your workforce starts to identify what it is they’re doing in a day that isn’t effective – that is busy work or work avoidance.

What do businesses stand to gain from trialling a 4-day work week?

If you look at the companies that have adopted this policy around the world, their productivity has gone up and it’s gone up materially – on average somewhere between 25-50% depending on the company. So you’re getting more overall output out of your workplace.

The next thing you get is loyalty and engagement, because underlying the 4-day work week is trust and understanding. The only people who can tell you how to do a 4-day work week are your staff – so you’re getting a bottom-up process that’s fit for purpose.

At the same time you’ve got people being listened to who are able to articulate new ideas. That improves your empowerment, engagement and enrichment scores. It improves your team building scores and your resilience scores. Essentially what you end up with is a very engaged and loyal workforce.

On top of that is a more efficient workforce that takes less days off. Sick days go down, staff turnover goes down and your ability to attract new employees goes up. This is all about creating an environment that actually makes the workplace better.

What holds businesses back from taking on a 4-day work week?

A chief executive is in that position because they are a leader and a problem solver. The natural reaction of companies is to try and design what the 4-day work week looks like from the top down. If you try and do that it will generally fail. Because this isn’t about changing process, it’s actually about changing behaviour. The people who will change your behaviour are your workforce.

A 4-day work week is also not a silver bullet for poor workforce culture. If you’ve got a poor workforce culture and you decide to do this, your employees will probably view it as a signal you’re going to start cutting jobs. You’ve got to make sure you’ve got the correct level of trust between leaders and employees.

The final issue is that you’ve also got to have leadership that can walk the talk. Your mid-rank executives and leadership will view this with a combination of alarm and scepticism because it’s not how they understand the game is played. They had to work 5 days a week and sacrifice a lot of things to get themselves to the position that they enjoy. There’s a part of them that wants to see their employees go and do that same process. So leadership has to be honest and recognise that they have to overcome those issues if they’re going to be successful.

What are some of the common objections you get?

As a leader you’re having to handover an element of how your business works to your employees and trust them to come up with effective solutions. That is a very confronting thing in my experience.

Some people struggle to comprehend that this doesn’t involve increasing staff by 20%. In some instance there may well be more staff, but provided the output you get from each individual is at least as good as it was before it doesn’t cost you anything.

Also, what we’re talking about is reduced hours working. A lot of companies don’t quite understand this. They say, ‘Well we couldn’t close on a Friday.’ Well we don’t. In our company some people work a 4-day week while others work 5 days but take 2 afternoons off. So we’re talking about working 80% of your normal working time. The beauty of that is it can also apply to part time work.

What’s the future of the movement?

The next thing that’s going to happen is our global campaign launch. We’re asking people all over the world to call for the 4-day working week from companies and governments. We’re encouraging leaders to join with us and say, ‘We’ll at least give it a try to see if it’s going to work.’

With enough companies participating in a 4-day working week trial we will be able to do randomised research, this is what’s been missing up until now. We’ll have the opportunity to look at the broader macro impacts of what it means to not only the company but society by bringing in place a 4-day working week.

Covid-19 has accelerated the changes many businesses were going through and meant other businesses are willing to try things they may never have considered. If you would like a confidential discussion about which solutions are working well for employers, contact Phil Davis, Managing Director, Q Consulting Group on 0404 803 609 or at phil.davis@qconsultinggroup.com.au

Figuring out how ‘work from anywhere’ will work: a conversation with Ross Chippendale, Head of Workplace Technology at Atlassian

A few weeks ago Atlassian announced it would only be asking employees to go into the office four times a year. It’s their latest step in pushing the philosophy of flexible working forward and seems like a good point to share my recent conversation with Ross Chippendale, who is Head of Workplace Technology at Atlassian.

Ross talks about the changes he’s seen in the last 12 months, as well as some of the practical questions that are emerging for the companies leading the charge with flexible working.

What’s the last year been like for you as Head of Workplace Technology at Atlassian?

Obviously everyone’s world has changed, it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in it’s probably been turned on its head. For me, working from home has been a big change in my life. Even though I’m a bit of an introvert, when it comes to work, the office is all I’ve known. Work has always been work and home has been home, I’ve kept the two largely separate.

Prior to working at Atlassian I worked for Macquarie Bank and I always enjoyed the corridor conversations. I used to joke that the busiest meeting rooms were the stairways. That’s all gone away and I definitely feel like my loose network affiliations have broken down slightly in this remote world. Those first, second and third level contacts that I used to be able to recall straightaway, I have to reach a little bit harder for their names and what they do these days.

But working within a very dynamic and tech driven company is obviously an advantage. Before Covid-19, we already had a 20% remote workforce which meant we had a lot of infrastructure in place and it was really a matter of, in the simplest terms, turning it up so 100% of staff can be remote. We’re 99% cloud-based tech so it was fairly simple from a technology perspective, but it had never been tested before.

Then you’ve got other things like hiring. Since Covid-19 began we’ve hired over 1,000 people in all kinds of far-flung places across the world and they need to get laptops just like the next person, get up to speed with their managers and get set up as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The importance of employee wellbeing has grown more significant. Atlassian have always been renowned for that, but I think we’re even more aware of the value you can get back from taking the time to find out how your employees are, what they need and then providing it.

All of these challenges have been fascinating. They’ve created new opportunities, partnerships and many new technologies are emerging.

Atlassian have made headlines with the ‘work from anywhere’ policy. Can you tell us how it’s changing the organisation?

The work from anywhere approach is just starting to be realised. Now we’re looking at how we do it, we’re discovering some new questions and thinking about the practicalities.

For example, in a world where video conferencing has replaced face-to-face meetings, the need for new ways of doing things has become clear. If one person is working in Melbourne and the rest are in Sydney, to ensure everyone is on equal footing the work from anywhere mandate requires that if one person dials in all must dial in. This means if you’re in the office you take a meeting at your desk or you find a meeting room and dial into it. Most of our offices, and most of the offices of other companies I talk to, aren’t set up for this. We’ve been used to a very different style of working and now we have to pivot fairly quickly so that spaces are set up appropriately.

We also went through a phase of looking at where people can work legally. There are a whole bunch of considerations from a taxation and salary point of view. If you’re employed in one country and working in another, that has major tax implications. And what do you pay someone who works out of one place versus another person working out of another? If I was to hire someone in Adelaide I would probably pay them less than I’d be paying them in Sydney. That’s driven by things like cost of living, but at the same time the upside of that is I can now hire someone in Adelaide and fly them over a few times a year to meet people. Whereas before that wasn’t an option, so it’s opened up a massive pool of talent globally that we probably didn’t have access to before.

It’s bold during a time of forced experimentation to say this is how we’re going to do it forever. I’m very interested in what’s next.

What trends do you see continuing as more companies take on working from anywhere?

Security and collaboration are already big trends, but they’ll be more accelerated.

There’s also a question of identity for office spaces – we’re seeing a clear delineation between people who want to go back to the office and those who’ve never been happier working from home. Somewhere in the middle is the happy place that the office needs to cater for.

But there’s no offical workplace anymore, there are just places you happen to work. With this in mind, a lot of tech will focus on video conferencing and improving the ability to collaborate. People will want to feel a lot more involved without actually being in an office.

From a security point of view, it’s about tackling the challenges of being remote. I can’t control someone’s Wi-Fi network, but I can control their endpoint. So I have to be able to manage the content and access that people have to work with, then I don’t have to worry about the fact they’re at a café and the café could hacked – because that endpoint is protected.

Lastly, working remotely means there can be a temptation to stay permanently logged on. So it’s important to shift the focus from productivity to effectiveness. It starts with asking how we can do things that actually matter. It’s one thing to be busy, but what’s important is to be effective with our time.

We are witnessing many different variations of ‘working from anywhere’ as companies try out new ways of working and creating new and innovative workplace solutions. Employers that want to attract and retain the highest quality employees need to demonstrate flexibility like never before.

If you would like a confidential discussion about which solutions are working well for employers, as well as which are not, contact Phil Davis, Managing Director, Q Consulting Group on 0404 803 609 or at phil.davis@qconsultinggroup.com.au