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Leadership

Since this pandemic began, more and more businesses have been pushed to find other “work place” avenues in order to not only avoid clashing with health regulations, but to provide employees with peace of mind. Working from home is now a viable option for a large number of businesses.

So, this far in, what do we think? Work vs. Home? Let’s talk…

Jason Toshack, General Manager ANZ, Oracle NetSuite

I think I’m still somewhat traditional, so I still prefer the camaraderie of the physical office. As culture is very important to us at Oracle NetSuite, I enjoy in-person interaction with my team. The office is great for impromptu chats, sparking collaboration or giving new starters a chance to learn from their peers.

At the same time, the past year has taught us that remote working is indeed a viable option. Thanks to cloud-based technology tools, people can work from wherever makes sense for them – that could be home or the office, but it might also be from a restaurant or construction site if that’s your line of business. As businesses look to move towards hybrid models, I believe the key to managing teams is setting clear goals and communication. While I might prefer the office, it appears that younger workers are more than capable of staying productive at home. Leaders should aim to align teams on goals that will keep everyone focused and working collaboratively. 

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Working from home offers flexibility, can promote a healthier work/life balance, and reduces time spent in traffic. Ultimately, the key is to ensure your team feels supported and identify tactics to keep them motivated.

Lara Owen, Director of Global Workplace Experience, GitHub

The pandemic has compelled organisations to think about remote operations and flexible work arrangements in ways that they weren’t a year ago. Whatever the chosen operational path, from hybrid to digital by design, clarity on core cultural priorities and business needs before making tactical changes and investments, is crucial. 

Our decade of experience with a distributed workforce tells us that offices are not going away. We will see a rise in hot-desking and a reduction in office footprints. Offices will be designed for collaboration: team deep-dives, customer and community events, celebrations, planning and design work. Successfully building a distributed team demands deliberate changes in the way people work. That requires a shift in the way companies train, empower and support people to work in new ways. 

Companies with a clear mission and purpose, an invested leadership team, and a willingness to let go of parts of the past which do not serve them, will truly thrive and usher in the new future of work. In every crisis there is opportunity – and this is a huge opportunity to embrace a better way of working for the future.

Amy Burton, Managing Lawyer at Everyday Justice, John Monash Scholar

I’m a big believer in flexibility. I personally love having a physical office. I’m a mum of a 1 year-old, so travelling into work is my opportunity to dress up, escape my messy house and spend the day having adult conversations and drinking quality coffee. At the same time though, I love that my legal practice has embraced phone and video-conferencing tech to provide free legal advice to those with disabilities or people in more remote areas who can’t travel to a physical office. 

I also think it’s important for more businesses to offer remote internships now, as we do. I’ve developed great working relationships with my interstate interns over video-conference and they’re getting the opportunity to develop their practical legal skills without needing to be in the same physical office as me.

Anton Schiavello, General Manager, Nura Space

For most of us, our work is fundamental to our identity and sense of self. A core part of this notion is the ‘place’ known as the office, that physically houses and cultivates the organisational culture, relationships, and functional performance outcomes such as collaboration.
 
The pandemic has shown us that the digital environment is able to support connections between people, but merely as an extension of the physical environment and interaction. In my opinion, the physical office can never be replaced entirely by digital tools, as it’s a place where teams come together and build essential relationships – which benefits both morale and productivity.

As a result of the global pandemic, we now know that the remote working model is here to stay. Workers are empowered to work with more choice and greater flexibility. This means that coming into the physical office will be right for some people, but not for others.

Alex Hattingh, Chief People Office, Employment Hero

Our Remote Working Survey last year found that workers loved remote work and preferred avoiding the daily commute. At the same time, employees missed the social aspect of office life and found it harder to switch off at home.

This is reflective of how increasingly sought-after the hybrid working model and flexible working conditions are becoming. Society’s rapid shift to remote work has revealed the benefits of telecommuting, but has also highlighted the advantages of being in a physical workplace — particularly for mental health, culture, and creativity.

For companies providing on-site facilities, the cultural benefits are endless — being amongst your colleagues or in the midst of a co-working space will certainly help to boost creativity and collaboration, nurture and develop your company’s culture and vision, and have a positive effect on staff’s mental health.

However, organisations that are continuing down the path of full-time remote work, a plethora of tech tools and innovative software exists, which can help to nurture the important social aspects of being in an office. These might include tools for social reward and recognition, team collaboration, and mental health support, that will help to increase employee engagement, regardless of where your staff is working from.

Billy Tucker, CEO, Oneflare

Our team, like many, delivered brilliantly during the crazy period of lockdown last year. However, I’m a big proponent of the need for a physical office and believe that cracks will start to show if it’s completely taken away. 

One argument for not having a physical office is the money businesses will save on rent, but for our business, the numbers simply don’t stack up. The majority of our employees are based in a Sydney office, single-level with water views, with the usual trappings such as a ping pong table and free breakfast. Rent is equivalent to just under 7% of our total labour cost. Add another couple of points for utilities, free food and some office management, and you’re still well under 10%.

Rounding the costs up to one-tenth of our total labour cost means that losing just 4 hours of weekly productivity from each employee as a result of virtual working will leave us worse off. That’s before accounting for a loss of valuable collaboration and other hard-to-measure factors, such as employee churn from those who don’t enjoy working from home. 

May Samali, Professional Coach, Venture Partner & John Monash Scholar

The past year has taught us that face-to-face interaction is critical to our mental and emotional wellbeing. The benefit of a physical office is that it fosters human connections that are almost impossible to replicate online.

It is also a work environment equaliser.

The same cannot be said for remote work — for some, it translates to working from a large home office or holiday home in Byron Bay, and for others it means taking Zoom calls from a closet in a small noisy apartment filled with children.

The ideal is to provide people with a mix of options including a physical office and remote work. There is no one-size-fits-all.

Ultimately, work should not be seen as somewhere we go, but something we do. It is a verb, not a noun. This perspective encourages work-life integration and allows people to “work” whenever, wherever and however is best for their circumstances.

Robert Coorey, Co-Founder, Archistar

If there’s one thing that 2020 has taught us, it’s that we don’t always need a physical office space to be productive and get our jobs done. I think it’s important, however, that employees are given the option. Our office is now a complete hybrid environment – our team can come in on the days that they like, and work from home on the others.  

On the pros of working from home, flexibility is the first thing that comes to mind. Pre-COVID, I hardly ever picked up my kids from school. I was often flat out and would feel guilty leaving the office in the middle of the day. Now, I can occasionally take out 30 minutes to pick up my kids and not miss anything important.

On the flip side, it can be hard when school finishes! During a recent client video call I had to excuse myself temporarily as my 7-year-old son was crying. When I came back into the room my son was on the camera making funny faces to the client! I have now learned to always lock my computer when I leave the room.

Laura Corbett, Office Manager, JobAdder

As many businesses slowly emerge from lockdowns and return back to the physical office, some leaders are still torn about whether to enforce an ‘office-only rule’ or adapt to a flexible, hybrid model. 

If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that the modern workforce can successfully and seamlessly work from home, and adapt to a more remote, digitally-connected world, whilst still remaining productive. Businesses reaped the benefits while working remotely, by reducing overheads on physical spaces, including maintenance, insurance, furniture, utilities, storage space, and equipment costs. Other benefits include the streamlining of recruitment, and the ability to hire and grow, without the restraints of office space or desk availability. 

In saying this, there are also many benefits that come with physical space, from better team collaboration and engagement, to be being able to mold and nurture the company’s culture. Although digital work offers a number of conveniences, it’s clear to see the social element of working suffers when the only face-to-face engagement teams receive is via Zoom calls. 

If considering a return-to-office approach, it’s important to look at what value a physical office space offers your company, and most importantly, ensure the decision reflects the values of the business and the needs of workers.

Dionne Niven, Chief People Officer, SiteMinder

Blanket rules for team culture are no longer effective, and the same goes for the workspaces that employees work in and the values that drive how those workspaces are designed and managed. There is no point in enforcing blanket rules where all people need to work remotely, go to a physical office space, or adopt rigid hybrid models. Everyone’s needs and circumstances are different, and this has proven to be worth particularly considering since the pandemic, as research highlights it has impacted each person, family, and community differently.

We have adopted an approach we call Open Working, whereby our teams are given the autonomy to determine the best ways of working for them. This encourages staff to minimise the stress of commuting, optimise the benefits of collaborating, and connect with their teams on platforms and in environments that suit their preferences. Not everyone wants to start work at 9am, but almost everyone does want to feel connected and part of a team no matter when or where they’re working, and making that a reality every day will look different for every employee.

Roger Carvosso, Strategy and Product Director, FirstWave Cloud Technology

Thousands of Australians are taking advantage of the opportunities to work from home, which many businesses have trialled and benefited from throughout the pandemic. As well as businesses being able to cut rent costs, and employees being able to save time on commutes, many teams are also experiencing a heightened sense of trust and transparency. 

Meanwhile, a company-wide shift to working remotely has led to a rapid rise in cybersecurity threats and scams throughout 2020, which is an urgent area that needs executives’ attention. As professionals have flocked to working more online, rapidly increased their use of social media and web browsing, and have even further merged how they use technological devices across their personal and professional lives, cybercriminals have had more opportunities than ever to impersonate executives in emails, gather personal information via social media platforms, and trick employees into making payments into the wrong accounts. Consequently, for business leaders planning for a remote workforce in 2021, cybersecurity needs to be a significant part of the business strategy. 


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The Australian Government’s JobKeeper scheme has been of great support to businesses nationwide during the pandemic. With JobKeeper payments now reduced and the end of the scheme looming, Let’s Talk about what it can mean for businesses…

Rob Smith, Partner, McGrathNicol

JobKeeper has been the most significant and successful COVID-19 business support measure, providing substantial cash and employment support to impacted businesses across Australia through 2020. JobKeeper payments reduced again on 4 January 2021 to no more than $1,000 per fortnight and the scheme is currently set to expire on 28 March 2021. 

Without significant new government financial support, many businesses that continue to be adversely impacted by COVID-19, particularly in the tourism, travel, wholesale and retail industries will come under renewed liquidity and employment pressure from April this year.

We anticipate that asset-light small to medium sized businesses, with less funding options available, will be most affected. Solutions may be to permanently reduce employment, seek further concessions from suppliers, landlords and lenders, or to take more drastic measures such as closure or insolvency. Such actions will have a knock-on effect, impacting employment, liquidity and working capital through industry value chains and the broader economy.

Tracey Dunn, Associate Director, RSM Australia

While some businesses were hit hard by COVID-19 lockdowns, many have already transitioned away from JobKeeper in the second round. Most other businesses will have been planning in advance for the end of JobKeeper.

Businesses that are experiencing cashflow issues at this point may need to look at the business more broadly. It’s possible that underlying business issues were compounded by the COVID-19 crisis, magnifying and accelerating the impact of these issues for those businesses. If small businesses are likely to struggle to meet their overheads without JobKeeper, they should speak with their advisor to identify options. Restructuring could help the business emerge from this crisis stronger than before. In some cases, unfortunately, it may be that the business needs to be wound up.

Small businesses owners who are concerned about the end of JobKeeper should speak with their business advisor or insolvency advisor as soon as possible to maximise their chance of success.

Tom Cornell, Head of Assessments APAC, HireVue

Following the Government’s comments, JobKeeper will not be extended beyond its current deadline and instead Australian businesses will lose their safety net during March. For many businesses this will require a reassessment of their talent needs in order to ensure that all current and future hires can be adequately supported.

This may lead to HR teams having to make difficult decisions. However, the core thing to bear in mind is the long-term health of the overall business. The current optimism around economic recovery is based on a range of factors, including the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. Hiring talent into an unstable and potentially short-term environment comes with its own set of challenges and HR teams would be wise to take a cautious approach in the coming months. 

On the flip side, companies fortunate enough to be in a position to hire, will have an expanded pool of talent to draw from, so will need to effectively assess potential candidates to ensure they are securing the right fit for the business. Either way, this is not a time to be making knee-jerk decisions, but instead to be acting strategically.

Gordana Redzovski, Vice President APAC, Vend

Few industries were harder hit by the pandemic than retail, so for many who relied on it the impending end of the government’s JobKeeper program represents a daunting cliff edge. Despite that, though, the local retail industry has, and continues to make strong strides, with the proliferation of ecommerce, the “shop local” sentiment and easing social distancing restrictions representing a platform that could alleviate some of  the concerns about its conclusion.

That’s not to say it’ll be easy, though, so ensure you have a solid understanding of your business’ current financial position. Look at the past 12 months as a whole and then identify where you might be able to cut costs or implement more cost- and time-effective processes. If, for instance, you’re wasting time on manual admin tasks, consider how you might be able to adopt digital systems and processes to save both time and money in the long-run. Consider, also, whether flash sales, loyalty programs or discounts for recommending friends could incentivise a short-term spike in custom.

Jonathon Colbran, Partner, RSM Australia

Government stimulus funding has kept Australian small businesses afloat during the COVID-19 disruption. JobKeeper was a highly effective cashflow measure but, although it was extended a number of times, it was always intended to be finite. Businesses should therefore be prepared for it to end.

Unfortunately, it’s not clear that business owners have proactively planned for this. In an environment where many significant creditors have deferred debt repayments, businesses need to prepare for the time when these debt repayments will re-commence or return to pre-COVID-19 levels, since most debts were only deferred, not forgiven. When the government stimulus payments eventually stop, this is likely to affect cashflow.

Businesses continue to face risk from COVID-19 and other, unforeseen disruptions. It’s essential to work with a business advisor to plan for uncertainty, find ways to protect cashflow and explore all options such as restructuring to protect and improve the business.

Dunya Lindsey, COO, Wiise

The end of JobKeeper should be a sign that everything is getting back to normal. But as any business knows, “normality” is still a long way off. Australia has so far weathered the impact of COVID-19 better than many other nations. But certain industries have been particularly hard hit by continued travel restrictions. Travel and tourism, international education, freight and logistics will still be severely impacted even as JobKeeper ends.

This is a crucial time for businesses to take advantage of the right technology solutions. Having robust accounting and ERP software is critical to generating the data and insights needed for smart decision-making. This will boost business agility and help them keep a close eye on cashflow, as well as ensuring there is enough capital to rebuild businesses and meet deferred payments. Employment forecasts seem more positive, with labour force figures showing continued improvement since the depths of recession in June 2020. But the recovery is not evenly spread. For vulnerable businesses, still struggling and exposed to uncertainty, ongoing support measures will be critical.

Simon Le Grande, Director Of Marketing And Product Management, ‎Lightspeed

With the hospitality industry still facing so much uncertainty, there is hope that the federal government may continue to support the industry by extending JobKeeper or replacing it with a hospitality-specific scheme such as ‘HospoKeeper’, currently being pitched to the treasurer by Restaurant & Catering Australia.

However, if tough staffing decisions do need to be made by business owners, making the right decisions will be paramount. It will be critical to understand how business has changed over the past six months, including: What are now the busiest hours of the day, and days of the week? What is the new order channel split (eg: dine-in vs. takeaway), and how does this vary by hour? Getting the mix of skills and coverage right when rostering will be more important than ever.

Hospitality owners should also consider implementing emerging technology to generate additional staffing efficiencies. Connected, cloud-based POS systems enable access to tools that can bring efficiencies to roster management such as digital ‘order at table’ solutions, and rich, real-time analytics features that empower smarter business decisions


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Everyone has a personal list of challenges faced and overcome during the Covid-19 pandemic. At the top of mine is navigating the transition to leading a healthcare IT company as a first-time CEO.

On March 4, 2020, I assumed the CEO role at PatientKeeper, a Massachusetts-based EHR optimization software company. Within two weeks of starting the job, HIMSS20 was canceled, much of the economy shut down, fear had gripped the industry, and financial risk was pervasive.

In a completely unexpected twist of fate, among my first actions upon joining the company was to equip our 200-person workforce to work 100% virtually. Our company’s situation certainly was not unique – nearly every organization that could “go virtual” did so – but mine was. After all, I had barely set foot in the office before I was forced to close it.

Just as significantly, we had to respond quickly to conditions our customers – physicians and other healthcare providers across North America – faced as a result of the pandemic.

As a brand new, first-time CEO, this trial-by-fire experience in leading through a crisis taught me a lot and gave me much to reflect on. Most notably, the responsibility of a healthcare executive (and any leader, for that matter) appears to have fundamentally changed. We may have defined ourselves at one time as decision-makers or problem-solvers or communicators or as those that hire and encourage employees. Going forward, I propose that we must, first and foremost, be activators. We must personally act and execute with a sense of urgency and surround ourselves with others that value velocity and are capable of delivering results at ”Covid speed”, even once the pandemic is history. We must reject old norms such as long, bureaucratic and time-consuming presentations, workshops, and layers of approval required to make decisions. We must drive execution and results based on hypotheses motivated by doing what is right for the patients, providers, and other constituents we serve, without necessarily having the full financial and operational analyses blessed, baked, summarized, and socialized. And we must accept rapid transformation as the norm, and the potential for failure that comes with it.

As we continue to fight the pandemic, I am more convinced than ever that the next decade in medicine will be defined by automation. Our industry will be empowered by technology that will activate data and analytics to both improve clinical care and help reduce the administrative burden on healthcare providers — a huge problem that was exacerbated by Covid-19. Physicians, other providers, nurses, and care teams, who have long been forced to accept monolithic electronic health records (EHR) systems and their usability shortcomings, will require and demand a versatile system of experience that delivers immediately relevant clinical information – think of it as “precision HIT” — to enable higher quality outcomes; and that is available 24×7 on clinicians’ mobile devices, regardless of the physical location of the care team. These ideas are not new, yet it will be the organizations that utilize these products and services and respond at ”Covid speed” to the changing needs of the healthcare community that will be the winners in the future.

Now imagine a world where we attack other pressing problems – poverty, mental health, cancer, obesity, gun violence, climate change, and drug addiction, to name a few – with the same speed, resources, and urgency as we are the current Covid-19 pandemic. I can! And I believe the new post-pandemic responsibility of any leader will be to serve as an activator, driving velocity and a sense of urgency as our pre-eminent responsibility.

Photo: z_wei, Getty Images

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Dr Susan Graham is the Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder at Dendra Systems, an environmental restoration company founded in 2014. Based in London, Dr Graham’s known for her work across research, startups and inspiring young women in tech.

She was named on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for industry in Europe in 2017 and is the former winner of both the 2015 Hello Tomorrow Competition Grand Prize and the 2017 New York Venture Summit Pitch Competition. Most recently, she is the winner of the Advance Award for Emerging Leaders, which recognises Global Australians who represent the next generation of Australian innovators, thought leaders, creators and collaborators.

Founding Dendra Systems

Dr Graham founded Dendra Systems in 2014 in Oxford, England. She had set herself the challenge of helping to solve the world’s current environmental crises.

“There really is this collision of challenges that have gone beyond the tipping point,” she says. “We’re living in a period of mass extinction, the rate of which is over 10 times that it’s been in the last 10 million years.

“We currently have 2 billion hectares of degraded land and question marks over the future of food security for everyone on earth. I looked at it and thought, ‘There has got to be the technology to help enable people to turn the tide on this crisis.”

That’s why Dendra was started. She explains that it was the combination of taking on a challenge that has a real positive impact on the environment, and using “awesome tech” to do so.

Dendra uses drone technology to survey and analyse degraded land, and to plot trees using what they call a “sky tractor” to restore the ecosystems. By using drones to both diagnose the problem and solve the problem, the process is entirely scalable and more accurate than other methods of fixing environmental problems.

“Just imagine how nature would do it with surrounding forests and birds coming over and dropping seeds into degraded land,” Dr Graham says. “What we’re going is just accelerating that by putting the exact seeds that are needed in the right place at the right time using drones.”

“These environments are not friendly. They’re steep, they’re rugged, they’re scratchy and they’re trying to keep our out. While the natural world is beautiful, it’s not very easy to manage, so solving the problems from up above it makes the process a lot more efficient.”

“With drones, you have the ability to analyse an entire ecosystem down to a blade of grass. They can capture so much more data in any one day, than traditional methods of monitoring could do over a longer period of time. Then, you’re obviously allowing AI systems to go and analyse that data which again, is just so much more scalable than we could ever think of.”

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Credit: World Economic Forum

Supporting women in tech

Dr Graham is a large supporter of women in tech, simply because of the opportunity and joys it can bring. Born an entrepreneur, she knew from a young age she would be using her skills and passion to solve challenges.

“My first experience with business was when I was 14 and trading cattle on my parents property,” she says. “It’s not exactly what you call entrepreneurship, and it wasn’t exactly a startup, but it was certainly my first experience in the world of trading.”

“I became an engineer after getting my PhD from Oxford, which drew me towards the world of innovation and developing technology to tackle big challenges that can be scalable. With this, a passion grew inside of me to make a business that addressed the fundamental sustainability of the earth.”

When asked what she would say to young women looking to join the tech world, she said: “Just do it.”

“It’s so exciting, it’s so rewarding, and it’s a fantastic challenge. If you can become an engineer, or a scientist, what you’ve got to do is just launch yourself into it and not be afraid of failing.

“There are hurdles no matter what you do, but his career path is an exciting and a fun one, I can guarantee it. So, seriously, just jump in.”

The Advance Awards

This year, Dr Graham is the recipient of the Advance Award for Emerging Leaders, which recognises Australians living abroad who have the talent and the tenacity to showcase Australian ingenuity to the world. She has been selected due to her research, her work with Dendra Systems and her use of technology to disrupt the environmental restoration space.

“I was pretty chuffed when I was nominated as a finalist,” she said. “So I was absolutely over the moon to find out I had won.”

“Myself being an Australian, but living abroad for the last decade, it’s been such a wonderful community to always be connected to. It’s helped me understand how Australians can operate businesses globally, and make a real impact in the world.”


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