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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January 7, 2021 7 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In times of uncertainty, it is crucial for leaders to rally around the why behind their mission. There is a tendency to overlook the why when decisive action is needed, but it is essential to steering the course of the business. The why illuminates what needs to be done and how it can be accomplished. The why gives the whole team a sense of purpose. As Friedrich Nietzsche is quoted as saying, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

Over the past decade, my perspective on has been guided by one simple mantra: Start with why, inspired by the book of the same title by Simon Sinek. In my time as an engineer, starting with why was fundamental to tackling every new product or feature. Starting with why meant understanding the pain points of the user and defining the success criteria for addressing the pain points. From there, we could specify the functionality needed (the what) and set a plan for developing the product (the how). As I became a leader, I found that these same principles apply to — always, but especially in turbulent times. 

When my company, like so many others, confronted the impact of a global , we were forced to reevaluate our criteria for success, short-term and long-term. We regained clarity that our purpose is to empower data engineers in building smart data pipelines to solve the biggest problems of our generation. This clarity of purpose, our why, caused us to retool the what across the company, from our go-to-market strategy, to our product roadmap, to our investment model. This is enabling us to weather the storm.

Leaders, before solving for uncertainty in your company or industry, align with your team on why you are there. Ask yourselves, “Why will we succeed?” The answer will help determine what matters most right now and your medium-term goals. And use these three key tenets to reaffirm a sense of belonging, restate what you stand for and keep your business and your leaders on track.

Related: What the Regime Uncertainty of the Pandemic Means for Entrepreneurs 

Use the why to anchor your business and your team

At the end of the day, your strategy is valueless unless all your employees believe in it. When my co-founder and I started our company, strategy was our sole focus for three months before we hired our first employee. It was , but we converged on a belief that data engineering would be the linchpin for modernizing business intelligence. And that DataOps would be the practice adopted by data engineers. This informed our activities for many years. As we grew and things were going well, we made a number of opportunistic product and go-to-market decisions that helped grow the business but didn’t always align with our why.

When the pandemic hit, the macroeconomic uncertainty meant that we had to be much smarter about where to invest our energy and resources. Reaffirming our point of view and ensuring that it was differentiated was the first order of business. Across the industry, not everyone agrees on the essential value of the data engineering role. Some may think it’s just a little bit of busywork for an application engineer. Others may think that it is a minor roadblock to the more important task of embracing data science. Still others may think of this as a design-time engineering problem rather than a full life-cycle problem. That’s okay! We are not in the business of changing everybody’s mindset, but if an employee doesn’t believe in our why, then maybe they aren’t a great fit for the company.

The why should ground leaders and their teams throughout the execution of a plan or vision. Come back to the why when you encounter a problem, a lack of confidence, or a difference of opinion. The why will keep your teams aligned in the face of adversity and centered on the end goal.

Related: ‘The Alignment Factor’: The Keys to Internal Alignment

Be comfortable without unanimity on the what

On a day-to-day basis, the focus is always on results. More simply put, the questions I regularly ask myself and others are “What should we do?” and “Are we accomplishing it?”

The what is rarely obvious because there is more than one way to tackle a problem. While it is helpful and important to listen to all points of view on a team, as a leader you must decide because you cannot implement multiple solutions to reach one goal. The challenge this presents to a leader is the need to pick and choose the best option available and then strive to gain unanimous commitment across the team. There will be contrarians — encourage them to give things a chance, and commit to revisit your decision periodically to ensure that it was the best choice.

In times of change, the what can seem especially amorphous, at least at first, but a leader needs to be decisive in these moments of uncertainty. When faced with the pandemic, we had to act fast. I acted based on my belief that a leader must be responsive to current needs but also forward-looking about how needs may change in the future. Thinking like an engineer means being agile and amenable to pivoting your what as obstacles arise or new learnings emerge. For leaders, these sorts of obstacles might take the form of budgeting constraints, or preparing for a different business outlook as industry conditions change, or prioritizing a new set of key results to track.

Related: Why Engineers Like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos Make Great CEOs

Don’t tell your team how to do their jobs

A good leader never specifies the how. Once you specify the method for attaining success, you are taking responsibility for the success of someone else, who is actually implementing the how and getting the job done. In this situation, an employee may approach a task in a way that is unnatural to them because they are mimicking the leader’s way of doing things. When dealing with ambiguity, they will be unable to think for themselves. 

Rather, leaders should stay focused on the why and what. Staying grounded in the strategy and the results you need to achieve allows for clear direction without micromanaging the method of execution (leave that to your teams). When leaders stay out of execution, teams have the much-needed room to innovate. 

At StreamSets, for example, supporting the data engineer is a top priority; so our product team mapped out monthly releases focused on the features and user experience that data engineers love. Our team interviewed data engineers and delighted them with the resources they would need to be successful. Our team educated the champions in the company about how to enable the whole data team. Our customer success team came up with a new Academy to offer self-directed training. Together our employees were innovative, all while solving for the challenges the pandemic wrought and staying true to the why.

This sort of , this freedom to determine the how, is key because it is furthering the results needed to achieve your why. The creativity that comes out when employees improvise tactics or explore new approaches to a project is powerful. People come for the why but they stay for the how!

Using the why-what-how framework has been instrumental in guiding my leadership philosophy throughout my career and as CEO. It reminds me to start with the big picture and then tap back into my engineering background, to think critically about our goals and then to arm my employees with the tools they need to achieve them. As you get more productive with the what, you are getting smarter with the how, but it all depends on why.

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