Leadership Advisory, Executive Mentor, HR Strategist, Culture Change, Wellness 

Virtually accelerating the future of work


With Melbourne now in another lock down and working remotely continuing for the foreseeable future, we’re all having to get more comfortable and creative with technology. At the same time that we’re feeling like we can’t do one more Zoom call, we’re being asked to embrace it even further as we grapple with how to keep our people engaged and motivated for yet another extended period at home.

Prior to Covid, video conferencing was a way of life and a way of connecting our team members in other locations, but still a poor cousin to actually being in the room with others. Technical issues were common and a source of ongoing frustration. As a Brisbane resident, working for a national company and then consulting nationally, I was accustomed to often being the only person on the video conference or phone whilst everyone else was together in the room. It required intense concentration to read the room and catch all the dialogue and nuances, and skills in expertly interjecting to get my point across. As a leader, I was also used to having to dial people in on the phone or VC, and it required a focus on ensuring they were included to the same extent as everyone else as it was so easy to forget they were there.

Last week, the AFR reported that the CEO of Square, Jack Dorsey has told his staff at Square and Twitter that they can keep working from home forever[1]. He stated “what we’ve come to realise over time was that being flexible in how and where people work gives you a much more productive and more creative workforce. What we were hoping to do in three to five years, happened over three to five days.” In Square’s model, employees have the freedom to work and live wherever in the world they want. Square only employs 115 people in Australia so perhaps this policy is easier to implement than in one of Australia’s large employers, but regardless, it’s a bellwether for the new way of working.

This has been a flagged global workforce trend for many years now but harder to implement in reality, until Covid. For my Corona-cation YouTube series I interviewed Jo Palmer, CEO of Pointer Remote roles. Jo lives in Wagga Wagga on a property and is a national contributor to the conversation about working remotely from a regional town. Just to be clear, she does not consider Newcastle, Wollongong, Mornington, Byron Bay or Noosa a regional centre so when the media reports that millennial’s are relocating to regional centres in droves, she rolls her eyes to the ceiling. Jo’s vision is for people from true regional Australia to be able to return home after university and progress their careers in any field from the land. And to date, that’s been a pipe dream. But then along came a global pandemic.

Jo says, that to make flexible and remote working really successful, if just one person is on technology, then everyone should be on technology, otherwise it’s not equal. My experiences would support that. The relationships aren’t equal when one group sits in a room together every day and another is always dialled in from somewhere else, having to work harder on the relationships and the conversations.

It does appear that we might be working like this for the rest of this year and potentially beyond. The challenge is how to make virtual working fun and inclusive, and in the process, acclimatise all of us to this way of working so that we truly can access the best talent going forward from anywhere, and give our next generation of kids a chance to get jobs in this uncertain economy.

One of the more creative approaches to engaging virtually has come from a Young Australian of the Year finalist (2019), Brisbane based, Astrid Jorgenson. In just 2 years, she created a global phenomenon with ‘Pub Choir’. Driven by the belief that singing belonged to everyone, Astrid decided to revolutionise the concept of the choir. The aim was to create a choir that was trendier than the average and one that would appeal to everyone, young and old and from all walks of life. When Covid hit, cramming people into a pub was no longer viable so Astrid and her team created ‘Couch Choir’. People sent in their recordings of their singing in line with her instructions and then she mixed it all together. The results were remarkable, but so too were the videos. Families and friends, pets and babies, linked arm in arm, singing their hearts out in absolute joy. A panacea to the confusion and chaos of the Covid environment.

What Covid has done, is make us fall in love again with our lives outside of work – cooking, parenting, music, exercise, experiencing the community of our suburbs – and most people I talk to don’t want it to go back to the way it was. This means that regardless of what happens, virtual working is here to stay and we need to leverage it to make our workforces of the future even more productive and engaged. As leaders, this means leading with purpose, to drive a new future of work, and being mindful of using technology equitably to drive relationships and conversations with depth and meaning regardless of the location.

So as a leader:

  • Are you using technology to its most creative potential to engage and inspire your people?
  • Are you confident in how to build trust and maximise productivity when working virtually?
  • Are you considering how to use virtual working to access the best talent regardless of location?
  • Are you altering your leadership style, bringing your own humanity to the table, to drive success in a virtual environment?
  • Are you setting clear boundaries that drive the new way of doing teamwork (such as, if one person is on technology, then everyone is on technology)?

[1] Boddy, N. (2020, July 6). Why Square’s staff never have to go back to the office. Australian Financial Review.