The explosion in remote work because of social distancing restrictions has accelerated Australia’s move out of offices by a decade and brought into sharp focus the value of digital experiences, according to Australian technology leaders.

Didier Elzinga, co-founder and CEO of local tech unicorn Culture Amp today said the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the move to remote work by five to ten years and will force companies to ask tough questions about the value of their office space.

Speaking online with executives from IAG and webinar host Slack, Elzinga said the current pandemic has demonstrated the viability of remote work and its value when a crisis hits.

“Companies left and right are writing down future forecasts, there are great businesses going out of business and laying off staff because they don’t have customers. So I think there’s an agility there that everyone needs to take out of this,” Elzinga said.

“People are looking at it going ‘I’ve got an office in San Francisco, an office in New York, an office in London, an office in Melbourne. If I just add Tokyo I’ve got the five most expensive cities in the world.’ 

“‘Why I am I paying a $1 million a year to have a big floor plan when maybe people should be in the office less.’”

Didier Elzinga, co-founder and CEO of Culture Amp. Supplied.

Elzinga said early data is not showing whether remote work is better than office work or vice-versa but it was demonstrating the value of combining the two.

“Actually the data I’ve seen is the hybrid [model] is the best. People working at home more is more effective but there is still an opportunity and need [for offices].”

According to Elzinga, the challenge now for organisations is to redesign offices and how they are used, suggesting working from home may now be the “default” option when possible.

Slack SVP, people, Robby Kwok agreed the sudden and unexpected shift to remote work is challenging many business leaders’ long-standing views around office productivity.

Kwok said, “Being 100 per cent remote for the last two months and for the next several months [means] we can no longer say ‘you are more effective in the office versus not.’ 

“We just can’t legitimately, as leaders, say that.”

“As leaders you have to be honest and admit that you had a certain set of beliefs in the past and now the actuals may be changing your beliefs … We will have to figure out how to have a more remote workforce whether that’s 100 per cent remote or a hybrid.” 

You’re a digital business now: IAG Digital Chief

IAG chief digital office, Mark Drasutis, said the pandemic does indeed mean organisations need to conduct a “fundamental review” of business operations and argued the current crisis underscored the value of newer business models and customer experience.

Drasutis said the adoption of meeting platforms like Zoom by consumers during the pandemic to communicate with friends and family was an example of the “new norm” – a blend between consumer experiences and business experiences. 

The IAG digital chief cautioned that traditional businesses like publishers and insurance companies need to learn that lesson before it’s too late.

IAG chief digital officer Mark Drasutis. LinkedIn.

“A lot of those businesses need to realise that actually they are now a digital business. There’s no question about that … You need to be as good as a consumer band for your B2B business.”

Drasutis said the pandemic means all brands are now up for question and the ability of some to deliver in tough circumstances, naming companies like Amazon and Deliveroo as examples, was pushing consumer expectations even higher. 

His own example is IAG’s downturn in insurance claims as consumers drive less under lockdown measures. The period means the claims that do come through are typically being resolved faster.

But Drasutis said customers will be expecting similar experiences even when things return to normal and brands may need to innovate to meet their expectations.

“[Brands] that are able to accept and basically deal with and lean into the fact that customers’ expectations have changed will be those that will be successful out the other side.”

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