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For many of us, working nine to five is the bane of our existence. Could it soon be a thing of the past?
This was the focus of a roundtable that I recently attended with The Australian Financial Review’s BOSS magazine. The key takeaway? Australians want to work flexibly – but business culture and our workplace laws need to catch up first.
It’s a topic I’m hugely passionate about because it marks a potential turning point for Australia. Technology is allowing us to make radical decisions about the nature of work, if we’re brave enough to grab the opportunity with both hands. But all too often, when I tell a room full of executives about this shift, I can see their eyes glaze over.
They’re rusted onto this idea of a job for life, even though the world doesn’t work like that anymore. Younger people don’t want the traditional career path where you get in at the ground floor and toil away for 25 years to get a gold watch at the end of it.
They don’t see why they can’t have a job and pursue their passion on the side, whether that’s owning a coffee shop or writing the next great Australian novel. They don’t view work as a permanent fixture, it’s just a stepping stone to their next adventure.
While outdated views of work are changing, the supporting policies aren’t. This means many companies are failing to create the right environment to attract a new generation of talent. It’s a big commercial opportunity that business – and Australia at large – is missing out on.
Redefining Flexible Work
Flexible work meets the needs of employers and employees alike. But I don’t mean letting people start an hour earlier so they can pick the kids up from school; it must go further than moving the traditional eight-hour working day into a different time slot. I’m talking about a meaningful shift that lets individuals dictate their careers.
As an example, let’s look at consulting. Instead of a business hiring an army of management consultants on hefty permanent salaries, they could hire independent consultants through a crowdsourcing contract model where they’re given pieces of work. These individuals get paid better and pick the work they want to do. You, on the other hand, don’t have to pay full-time employee costs.
Young people have grasped the idea of work being the sums of its parts. They know there’s more personal risk involved but they’re more than happy to own their own careers. They understand that if they’re good at what they do then the world is their oyster; that they could be at home in Australia but working remotely in North America, Europe or Japan.
"Reworking traditional workplace structures isn’t for the faint hearted – it takes real leadership to realise this opportunity"
In fact, many of them view traditional roles as stepping stones to building their own personal brands. If they work for a big company, it’s part of bolstering their experience for the next role – not a pathway to a corner office.
The Commercial Opportunity
So how do you attract these people into your organisation? You’ll need a new structure and strong leadership because it’s not an easy shift to make.
Most businesses are still built as traditional hierarchies. They’re closed at the top and heavily siloed. You’ll need a flatter, more open structure which allows people to come and go, work collaboratively, and easily access the information they need for what they’re working on.
This requires a new mindset. We need to let go of the old-world view of a job for life. We need to realise it makes sense to outsource some divisions and create mechanisms which makes this easier.
The technology to allow this is already here. There are digital onboarding systems and cloud technologies that enable people to work from anywhere. But it needs to be put in place with the right organisational structure surrounding it to work.
It also takes a brave leader. Reworking traditional workplace structures isn’t for the faint hearted – it takes real leadership to realise this opportunity.
Making it a Reality
One of the key points of discussion at the roundtable was that our political and legal frameworks don’t allow this idea of flexible work to exist. For entrepreneurial businesses, there’s a need for mechanisms to support them in the start-up stage. They also need a commercial policy that includes things like immigration for highly advanced skills. We need our laws to move with the times.
Obviously, we need to train people – this is without question. But where there are skill gaps, we need policies that bring experts to our shores. This will help businesses attract the best people and put Australia on a global stage. There’s also a flow-on effect. With a reputation for excellence, Australia will attract more talent and more investment.
Politicians often speak about Australia’s opportunity based on our enviable geographic position near the economic powerhouse of Asia. We’re in the right place at the right time to become a services hub. But it requires innovative thinking to match.
Waiting for the political environment to become more supportive of this aim is not an option. By its nature, politics follows demand. That’s why businesses need to step up, address the needs of employees and push for change. Being a forward-thinking nation will come from a grassroots and business level first, and a political level second.
Now is the right time for this shift. But it requires a big leap from business to make it a reality. Are you ready to drive it?