Will work be remote forever?

Private: Michelle Ahern

Early March 2020, yes, way back then – we were delving into some insights on companies changing the future of work. Keen to understand the technology and organisations that were paving the way for the future of work and discussing the cultural ground swell that was influencing change. As we marvelled at the then 10 million users on communication platform Slack and revelled in hearing of the bespoke and sustainable workspaces of organisations like Work Club Global who had partnered with MIRVAC to create ‘Australia’s Smartest Building,’ we thought we knew what we knew.

Then COVID-19 hit.

And while the global pandemic wreaks havoc on so many aspects of daily life, leaving no industry or individual untouched by unprecedented levels of change, it seems abundantly clear of one part of our lives that may have been changed for good – and it’s a change we all needed.

Coronavirus has not slowed innovation – as a matter of fact it’s amplifying it to historic levels.

A recent report published by McKinsey shows we have “vaulted forward 5 years” in consumer and business digital adoption in just an eight week period during the pandemic.

“Banks have transitioned to remote sales and service teams and launched more digital outreach to customers…Grocery stores have shifted to online ordering and delivery as their primary business. Schools in many locales have pivoted to 100 percent online learning and digital classrooms. Doctors have begun delivering telemedicine, aided by more flexible regulation. Manufacturers are actively developing plans for “lights out” factories and supply chains. The list goes on.”

In 2015, 6 years after launch, Slack recorded 1 million users. On 10th March 2020, they had reached 10 million. Just 2 weeks later, according to a series of tweets  from CEO Stuart Butterfield, they had hit 12.5+ million users.

Video communication platform Zoom Communications recorded 500% year-to-date growth of its stock price. From December 2019 to Zoom’s peak usage in April 2020, daily users  increased from 10 million to 300 million. In dollar terms, that translates to CEO and founder Eric Yuan adding an extra US$8 billion to his net worth in 5 months.

Microsoft has also seen dramatic increases in the daily use of their communication and collaboration platform, Microsoft Teams, with the number of daily active users increasing from 32 million in March 2019 to 75 million in April 2020.

“This was a crisis, and we had a product that could genuinely help people get through it and continue to work efficiently…We realized that this was our moment,” claimed Slack CEO Stuart Butterfield. “We all felt a new sense of urgency and alignment: If we add this feature today, our users will be able to work more easily and effectively tomorrow…If we help this group of researchers work together even though they’re apart, maybe they will defeat the virus.”

Zoom’s CEO Eric S Yuan echoed this responsibility in an online message: “The growing epidemic has broadened my view on what it means to be a video communications technology provider in times of need…It’s Zoom’s unique responsibility as a company to do everything in our power to support those impacted by the coronavirus outbreak by committing our reliable technology, expanded access, and agile customer service.”

Offering their invaluable technology for free to frontline workers and NGOs, introducing free learning tools and reducing barriers to use over the past 6 months has meant global access for many who have not previously had such technology available.

With the acceleration of digital adoption, so too have levels of remote working seen unprecedented growth from single digit percentages pre-COVID to up to 85% in some industries.


The Gartner CFO Survey showed 74% of organisations will shift employees to remote work permanently and global tech platform Twitter announced in May 2020 that employees can work from home ‘forever’ if they wish.

“This step change in remote adoption is now arguably substantial enough to reconsider current business models” asserted Mckinsey report, The COVID-19 recovery will be digital: A plan for the first 90 days.

As we are flung into the future of work, digital tools at the ready, all this innovation can only be a positive, right?

A recent report from the University of Melbourne records that while many employees have long called for more and better flexible work arrangements, and the pandemic is an opportunity to embed such practices, research shows just because work is flexible doesn’t mean it is ‘good’.

The research highlights that externally imposed flexible work (by businesses trying to adhere to social distancing guidelines) can be ‘bad flexibility’. For those who don’t have easy access to an appropriate work space at home such as working parents and carers and those without the right infrastructure to access technology, the usual desk at home is not a long-term solution.

To ensure we keep the good aspects of the COVID-19 flexible work experiment and harness all the newfound innovation and technology whilst not magnifying work-from-home life challenges seems to be the new tight-rope we will walk.

While collaborative working environments such as co-working spaces have been supporting Australian businesses and entrepreneurs since 2006, the new emergence in the flexible work solutions space, pro-working, could be an important solution to our future work challenges.

Pro-working – a flexible way of working for business teams or individuals within a dedicated shared work space – has been coined the ‘five star counterpart’ to co-working’s standard hotel. “Both offer core services, but the latter is simply a step-up in terms of professionalism”.

Soren Trampedach, Founder & Chairman, Work Club Global has noticed this need in Australian businesses already, even as a lot of the country remains in stages of lockdown “We have found people are getting tired of working from home. Especially those from larger corporates who cannot return to the office and don’t have the right environment at home.” As such, Work Club Global, a boutique professional working space is seeing a spike in numbers with use of their premium spaces across Sydney already back to pre-COVID levels.

Author, speaker and the brains behind one of the most inspiring TED Talks ever, Simon Sinek, recently posted about the future of work: “Will work be remote forever? We are social animals that need human interaction. What we have learned from COVID is that the future of work will likely offer more options for how we work – more fluidity and flexibility. But as long as we want to build trust or creativity, we will still have to come together in person.”

As technology races forward at an unprecedented speed and our work lives go more and more virtual, it seems having the option of remote work whilst still allowing people to come together to brainstorm, scribble ideas on walls, share energy (and a meal) is vital to the amplification of innovation truly being harnessed for the greater good.

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