Everyone is a volunteer
Slows people down
It takes time to get over
Feeling hurt, offended
It’s more efficient
– Christopher Nailer, Palm Cards for Managing, 2020
In organisations that allow it, working remotely is something we plan for. With COVID-19, this work perk (or somewhat stigmatised work option) suddenly became something thousands of us had to do, unless you were a direct care worker, medical and allied health professional, or facility maintenance worker.
For some, being away from the buzzing swarm of the office over the last few months has been an empowering opportunity to get into the ‘zone’, to finally complete meaningful work with limited interruptions, and to own your work schedule.
For others, it’s been an experience in Zoom meeting fatigue, constant phone calls or expectations for real-time online check-ins, and in worse-case scenarios, being monitored remotely. However, to focus only on the negatives, and not give weight to the positive aspects of remote work would essentially be a potential opportunity missed for our industry.
Even with the potential negatives in mind, the present landscape around working remotely is pretty clear. From interactions innovAGEING has had with the industry during this pandemic, workers welcomed it, middle managers were reticent, and executives were reservedly open to the idea. COVID-19 made the consideration moot.
Frederic Laloux in his book Reinventing Organizations characterises it as such:
“We happen to be in one of these transition periods where the old is starting to break down, but the new hasn’t taken shape yet. In these confusing times, some people double down on their existing perspectives and beliefs, trying to apply outdated solutions ever more frantically. Others, in increasing numbers, make the leap to a new perspective that allows them to seek solutions that were previously unavailable.”
As pundits talk about the post-COVID world where there is no going back to business-as-usual, it’s worth looking at remote work—the potential positive workforce benefits it may bring to our industry, and as a drawcard to compete for talent from other industries.
When we consider the case against remote work, the primary reasons relate to management concerns regarding inability to monitor staff doing work, and difficulties in having face-to-face meetings. It’s an unevolved top-down mindset harkening back to another era.
Fast forward to the present tense, management is still about being ‘busy managing’, and the primary mechanisms for managing, are meetings. Consider for a moment that an unnecessary or ineffective one hour meeting involving eight people results in an eight hour productivity loss for that organisation, it’s not rocket science to understand why this is a clear source of inefficiency.
What we’ve seen thus far through the present pandemic is an agile age services industry that is doing a good job in looking after older Australians and workers. There is much for us to learn and reflect on, and the present state of remote work in our industry and the prospective benefits of this should be included in these learnings.
To this end, here are a few remote working lessons from innovAGEING’s experience during this time:
Ultimately, if working remotely means that staff can find ‘flow’ and pride in their work, and providers can attract the best talent and increase productivity and job satisfaction—this is a strong position to be in as a sector.
As we move away from panic-mode, and consider our sector’s post-COVID next normal, it’s worthwhile reminding ourselves that this is not the beginning of the end, but more so, the end of the beginning.
Merlin Kong is Head of innovAGEING, Australia’s national innovation network for the age services industry.
For more information visit www.innovageing.org.au