By KATRINA CREER
After more than 100 days of lockdown, Sydney employees are getting ready to ditch the activewear, put on some proper pants, and head back to the office.
But not everyone will return.
The work-from-home-revolution, which has sustained many businesses throughout the pandemic, is expected to remain a legacy of COVID-19.
This includes the real estate industry where many agents will continue to work completely remotely or divide their time between home and the office.
Cassandra Lantry, General Manager at LeahJay and a committee member of the REINSW’s Agency Services Chapter Committee, doesn’t believe things will look the same as they did before the pandemic.
“It is going to take a while to transition out of it and I think our approach is to have a clear plan for staff so they can feel confident in coming back in,” she said.
“What we have learned is that some people love it, for others it is just not for them and then there are those who want a mixture.
“So, once we are back in the office, we will be talking to our team about what kind of arrangement works best for them.”
What are the benefits?
Stay-at-home-orders due to the pandemic forced businesses to experiment with remote work.
According to a research paper by the Federal Government’s Productivity Commission, released last month, staff were able to get their job done just as well from home as in the office. Workers valued the time and money saved by commuting and it added flexibility to their lives.
Census data from 2016 shows approximately 35 percent of jobs are suited to working from home. It is ideal for managers, professionals, clerical and administrative workers who use computers and interact less with the public.
Cameron Nicholls, who chairs the REINSW’s Agency Services Chapter Committee, said lockdown has broadened his horizon on the benefits of remote work.
Cutting out travel time to the office allows people to fit more into their day, while parents have put their hand up for extra work without having the added expense of childcare.
“There are some aspects that are definitely more efficient and some that aren’t,” said Mr Nicholls, principal at Nicholls & Co Estate Agents.
“When you are not in a close working environment it does increase the risk of things falling through the cracks, so we found the need to sharpen up processes to ensure everything is covered.”
Overall, the feedback from staff has been positive with many enjoying the comfort from working from home. It has allowed them to focus on their inbox and complete tasks without interruption.
What are the challenges?
Alison Beveridge, Principal of Breakfast Point Realty and a REINSW member, has always had a flexible approach when it comes to staff and hours.
She believes the length of Sydney’s extended lockdown, however, will make it harder for employers to entice workers back to the office full-time.
“I have always been of the opinion that as long as the work gets done – I don’t mind what time people start or finish – but lockdown has created something of a challenge for employers,” she said.
“It is going to be tough – particularly in NSW and Victoria. I know people who hated working from home for the first six weeks of lockdown but now restrictions have eased they are used to it and unsure if they even want to go back to the office.”
To engage her staff, Ms Beveridge has brought in motivational speakers and organised team building exercises over lockdown, including an online cooking class. With restrictions now easing, staff are being encouraged to return at least two days a week to the office.
“We’ve had a lot of fun online but there are some things that you just can’t replicate from real life,” she said.
“While we came up with some great ideas during lockdown, I don’t think the real estate industry is ready to go fully remote. It is harder to get the creativity and marketing ideas flowing in online meetings. We also need a physical presence in the office for tasks such as handing over keys.”
Why flexibility is important
According to Beyond Blue, flexibility to continue some remote work may off-set any anxiety about returning to the office - even if it is one or two days a week.
The mental health support service is encouraging staff to be honest with their employer and to work through any issues together.
“This is an unprecedented situation for them as well, and they may not be aware of things that are worrying their staff unless they are informed,” a Beyond Blue spokesman said.
Just as in lockdown, self-care should be a focus. Prioritise activities that make you feel ‘centred and happy’ such as exercise, a healthy diet, meditation or simply connecting with friends and family.
Find out the latest updates related to COVID-19 and the NSW property industry on our dedicated COVID-19 page.