Professor Anne Bardoel
Professor, HRM & Management, Swinburne - Australian Graduate School of Entrepreneurship
James Comer
Head of HR, Australia & New Zealand, Cisco
Merylee Crockett
Director of People & Culture, Interactive Pty Ltd

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Organisations will need to redefine the workplace as a place of human connection and learning opportunities if they are to successfully entice people back to the office in 2021.

That was the message from the first Great Place to Work® webinar of 2021 which asked a panel of experts about the post-pandemic role of the office and considered the future of flexible working. 

Remote working proved itself to be robust and productive for many organisations in 2020. In fact, a survey conducted by  Swinburne University of Technology found 80 per cent of managers expected to run a hybrid workforce of in-office and remote staffing in 2021.

But questions remain about how organisations will operate post-pandemic and how managers can balance people’s desire to have a say in their work practices with the needs of businesses and their customers.

The question why do you want people to come back to the office Merylee Crockett, director of people and culture at Interactive told the webinar.

“And how do you help people find the best place to work?”

There are many reasons organisations are keen to get their people back in the office.

High on the list is ensuring people are given access to learning opportunities especially those informal learning moments when people hear from their peers. Particularly for new starters, this kind of on-the-job education can be crucial to future productivity.

But people also choose to be in the office.

The simple need for human connection calls us to work together face to face and those small moments of celebration and camaraderie – termed “pull moments” by Crockett – are a drawcard.

“Employees are also feeling concerned about career progression,” said Swinburne’s Professor Anne Bardoel.

“It’s got to do with the absence of being present, having those conversations, getting a feel… people are wondering ‘how do I manage my career?’ in this new environment.”

James Comer, head of HR at Cisco’s Australian operations, told the webinar that organisations needed to sell the benefits of being in the office.

“If you want people to come back to the office, you’ve got to market it,” he said

“What is it that they can expect? What’s in it for me as an individual? What’s in it for me as a team?”

Comer said things like location, proximity to leaders, socialising, lifestyle and access to customers were all valid reasons for people to choose to be in the office rather than at home.

“Get clear on what your value proposition is,” he said.

“Then start sharing it and wrapping a community around why your office remains such a great place to work.

The panel also highlighted the experience of the customer as central to decisions about flexible working and getting people back into the office.

It was important to remember that customers have also been through the pandemic and the working from home experience and had rapidly adapted to digital interactions, the panel agreed.

“Whatever we decide to do in 2021 around the ways that we work, it has to work for the customer. If it works for the customer – and we can find a way that it works for individuals – then it works for the business,” said Crockett.

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