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When it comes to the future of work, people are not hybrids

Many Australian workers showed incredible resilience and adaptability during the COVID-19 lockdowns, with many embracing the potential for a quiet home working environment, a more flexible schedule, and the chance to forgo the weekday commute.

However, others may not have found such advantages and could not wait to get back on premises.

The result is that employers are likely to find themselves with employees who either want to be back in the office all the time or none of the time – or some variation in between.

Whereas once employers had little flexibility regarding a person's working location, many are now fearful this will see them lose the productivity uplift that home-based employees delivered – or even lose them as employees altogether.

The standard answer is hybrid working – a concept that sees only part of the workforce on premises at any given time. However, this definition of hybrid work creates a potential problem when planning for the future of work, with too much emphasis placed on the location of the employee and not on the actual work they are trying to do.

A commonly accepted approach to the future of work is needed – one that is human-centric, and that recognises that 'work' is a thing a person does rather than a place they go to – and then aims for the best worker outcome.

Workstyles, not workplaces

A good starting point for planning for the future of work is not to focus on the place where work is done but the style of work a person performs.

Unlike some industries where employees need to be on location to perform a task, such as truck drivers or warehouse workers, when it comes to office work and knowledge workers, the tendency has been to equip everyone with a desk, a computer, and a network connection, and assume that will cater to their needs. This 1970s style of thinking ignores the fact that many workers are doing very different kinds of work, and therefore may have very different needs.

For example, some work is highly collaborative, such as brainstorming and reviewing ideas, and requires frequent group meetings. Other work is best undertaken in a distraction-free environment, such as writing up proposals or critiquing the output of a colleague. How this distinction between collaboration and concentration is catered for in the workplace is likely to have a strong influence on a person's productivity, and when handled poorly, can be a source of ongoing frustration. Some organisations are approaching this by implementing Activity-Based Working (ABW) environments, which provide a combination of open office design spaces with task-orientated, quiet zones.

The nature of modern knowledge work also means that many employees are likely to switch between different workstyles, often multiple times within a day.  A culture that is inclusive and supportive of different work styles can be part of the foundation for designing a future of work that is focused on trust, choice, and outcomes.

Supporting workstyles

Once an employer has a clear understanding of the work a person is tasked to complete and the workstyles they will employ, they can make plans for where that work should be undertaken and for the tools the worker will use.

For example, someone who will be changing working styles frequently may be also moving between remote and on-premises locations on a regular basis. From a technology perspective, this means they are likely to be best served by a highly portable device connected to highspeed mobile broadband.

However, a worker who is primarily working on high-concentration tasks remotely might require a more powerful device connected to a highspeed fixed broadband connection, while an office-based worker could require a similar device but tethered to the local office network.

Should they need to collaborate with workers in other locations, they will require suitable collaboration technology, such as high-quality video and audio solutions. The office worker might also require a separate area away from their desk so as not to be distracted, or to distract others around them.

In these situations, the quality of the broadband connections they use will be critical.

This need for high quality devices and robust highspeed communications is what makes the Optus and Cisco alliance so powerful.

Optus brings close to thirty years' experience in wide- and local-area communications for both voice and data, having worked with some of Australia's most prominent employers to properly equip staff in the various places where they are located – including in some of Australia's most remote locations.

Cisco brings almost 40 years of experience in networking technology, backed by an unrivalled reputation for security and reliability. This includes Webex, an extensive suite of collaboration software and hardware, designed to provide the best possible experiences for people working in any scenario.

By working in partnership Optus and Cisco bring together their respective strengths to create modern work scenarios that are powerful and flexible while also helping to the technology management burden for employers.

Conclusion

The pandemic has shown us that greater workplace flexibility is not only possible, but also has the potential to be highly productive. There is an opportunity to design and deliver a future of work that improves worker outcomes, a fact that many organisations already knew but has now become a more common reality out of necessity.

Employers now have the capabilities to fundamentally redesign the workplace and shift the emphasis on 'place' to 'outcomes'. That means recognising that a diverse workforce can exist harmoniously and that technology strategies need to support this diversity - not as an exception but as a regular consideration going forward.

By taking a human-centric approach to the workplace of the future, employers can make investments today that will deliver a happier and more productive workforce. To learn more, click here

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