Lara Hewitt, director of talent at R/GA Australia (pictured), asks what working life is like three years after the pandemic.
Just over three years have passed since Covid impacted our lives so abruptly and the first “work from home” mandate was introduced. After being flung into a dystopian vortex, we had to get through it as best we could, wondering when things would return to normal. But the disruption also presented significant opportunities for change.
The working lives of many people have never been the same since then and today, through innovation, companies have moved beyond the response to pandemics to new and better ways of working.
For businesses, the evolution of the workplace is perpetual. I don’t believe there will be a transformation all at once and transition 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 across diverse teams in uncertain environments. What is clear is that the pandemic-induced ‘experiment’ with remote working has proved to be an undisputed success. Innovative and agile organizations have jumped at this turning point to redefine the future of work with benefits for both companies and their employees. The working world is no longer dictated by the old-fashioned 9 to 5, sitting in rush hour and negotiating a day of working from home. It’s about flexibility and in some cases working completely remotely. And it’s mostly about trust.
In the beginning of the pandemic, everything was reactive. At R/GA we are fortunate that we were already ready for a hybrid work world – even if we didn’t realize to what extent at the time. And so we were able to escape the operational growing pains that the first few months of the lockdown had for many other companies. Our structure has always enabled us to work together 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, is not. The quizzes, the zoom cocktails, the baking classes, which were initially welcomed with enthusiasm, were things that were almost feared at the end of 2021.
Our core culture at R/GA is incredibly strong, but building a strong remote culture is challenging and we’re still working to get it right. It’s an ever-evolving journey. Putting remote work at the heart of the business must be intrinsically linked to our values, goals and practices. An intentional behavior we introduce into our communications is giving the ‘extra 10%’. This means that whether we’re working from home, in the office, or collaborating with someone who isn’t in the physical space with us, we’re hyper aware that we need to connect in a different way. We call this our ‘unifying difference’.
Our colleagues don’t necessarily need to know every detail of our lives, but sharing definitely helps with engagement. It helps people feel emotionally connected and encourages collaboration and creativity. Collaboration and culture between remote teams is also one of the long-term impacts of Covid on the work environment. We now have people in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and most recently in the Capital Territory. For many, this distributed and remote work has removed barriers and meant greater access to opportunities – and for companies like us, it has increased our access to talent.
A space designed for the way we work
Finding a better way forward and navigating the return to work, while also opening a new space in Sydney, allowed us to really assess what an office would look and feel like, in a world where people might only have two to three would be times a day. week. Our internal employee surveys showed that our people appreciated the flexibility of remote working, but also wanted the option to go to an office to collaborate and socialize.
We knew the team wanted and needed a space where they could collaborate, work quietly, be inspired and this led us to lead with the idea that the office should be ‘a highlight of the week’. We don’t commit days to our team, but we usually see the office packed to capacity at least three times a week. We are about to open our new space in Melbourne and a year after opening in Sydney we are taking our classes with us.
Our return to work was guided by an understanding of what our teams now value. It seems like every company is using “flexibility” as a currency when hiring talent, so it’s disappointing to see so many companies requiring people to return to the office, some even full-time, and enforcing compliance with strict pre-pandemic regulations 9 to 5 What does it really mean to be completely flexible? For R/GA, flexibility isn’t just about working from home, it’s about being able to ‘design your day’ to do what suits you.
Of course, it is an absolute priority to continue to meet the needs of businesses and customers, but at the end of the day, we empower, encourage and trust our team to make the day work for them. This is how we get the best work out of our people. We also continued to support and promote our R/GAnywhere policy, which allows the team to log in from Bali, Thailand, Europe or even the Gold Coast. This gives them time to be with family, friends or just alone to recalibrate without taking up all their annual leave.
Only 80% complete
A degree of flexibility, versatility and collaboration gives us the spark we need to deliver on our promise to build a more humane future. An attitude of “we are always only 80% complete” helps to advance all 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 claim we have the perfect model. Hybrid-remote has an undeniable ripple effect, and we’re still unpacking how we’ll work together in the new world. But it has pushed us to focus on how we create a more human culture that ultimately relies on technology.