During the 2020 Transformation Region Virtual Summit, Futurist Anders Sorman-Nilsson opened his keynote by highlighting how ten years of digital transformation had been compressed into a single year.
Whether you’re a METS business servicing the fast-changing resources industry, a health clinic finding new ways to treat patients, or a tourism business bouncing back after a weather event, change is commonplace for many in the Greater Whitsunday region.
But COVID-19 has forced all Australians to rethink how we stay connected, how we do business and how we stay productive in a world where virtual work is the norm.
Working from home has fundamentally changed how we go about our professional lives. What started off as a perk offered under strict arrangements between employees and employers has now emerged into a normal part of our working lives.
And the change is being embraced by some of Australia’s largest companies. Westpac’s head of human resources, Su Duffey, said to ABC Business that the bank already had a few thousand people on flexible work arrangements before the pandemic.
But after sending 20,000 corporate staff home to work all at once, the bank proved how far they could push this policy with workers reporting similar or greater levels of productivity and wellbeing than they were before the pandemic.
It’s fair to ask whether this is just a temporary solution, but with heavyweights and small businesses committing to flexible work policies and unions backing the move, working from home, at least to some degree, will become a part of our new normal.
Regional Australia is the surprise winner of this transformation. With many professionals no longer dependent on their postcode for opportunities, Australians are now contemplating regional lifestyles in record numbers.
Sallyanne Pitt is one of a growing number of Australians who've made the move, leaving Brisbane for Proserpine with her family after her husband accepted a role at St Catherine’s Catholic College.
“I’ve worked with my company for the last 10 years until it was acquired by [professional services company] KPMG.
“We had an informal policy where work revolves around the office, the client and the home, but now it’s become a stronger feature of our work culture, giving more people the opportunity to choose where they work,” Ms Pitt said.
Ms Pitt said digital technologies like videoconferencing and cloud services have made remote work possible, allowing her to deliver online consultations to her clients while still being able to enjoy the lifestyle afforded by Prosperine.
“If you’re just emailing and calling people all the time, it’s challenging for a bunch of reasons, but being able to see people virtually makes it feel like you’re having a real conversation.
“Face-to-face contact is still an important part of my business, so having the Whitsunday Airport nearby is important because it allows me to quickly fly to a client’s office or return to Brisbane to meet with colleagues,” Ms Pitt said.
“Productivity and communication barriers are real, but this year has shown that no challenge is insurmountable. I’ve worked with colleagues in Victoria and NSW for a long time so this experience has largely been about applying those same lessons.”
With more people embracing working from home, a new generation of businesses, professional organisations and business associations are pivoting to deliver their services to the virtual workforce.
Although the future of work throws some surprises, the ability to access opportunities no matter where you’re located is a big win for the region and a major opportunity for innovators who are able to adapt.
Or, if you’re like Sallyanne, you can simply support a busy lifestyle while working in one of “the most beautiful parts of Queensland.”