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This article was originally published by Smart Company

By Dr. Amantha Imber

April 22, 2022

What is your organisation’s work from home (WFH) policy? Or perhaps I should first ask: does your organisation have one?

One of my teammates at Inventium, the behavioural science consultancy I founded, shared this nifty crowdsourced summary of hundreds of Australian companies’ WFH policies. It reveals that less than one quarter of Australian companies are fully flexible when it comes to work location, which got me thinking about why that’s the case.

As one of the co-creators of the Australian Financial Review BOSS Best Places to Work list, I am given the opportunity every year to look inside nearly 1000 organisations. In just two years, offering flexible working options has become a basic expectation for many employees. This is a huge step forward in the ongoing juggle between our work and home lives.

However, I find it mildly disturbing that leaders at less flexible companies are pushing their values and beliefs onto staff through mandating a minimum number of three or more days spent in the office per week. Such values and beliefs (that have no evidence or data to back them up) include:

  • Productivity is higher when you can see your staff;
  • Culture can only be built within the four walls of an office;
  • The best work happens synchronously (when we are all together, live, and face-to-face);
  • Collaboration is more effective in person;
  • Innovation happens best in an office;
  • Serendipitous conversations and ideas can only occur when we are in the same building; and
  • I could go on…

Workplaces that thrive in the future are the ones that will be brave enough to challenge these assumptions. They will pose questions such as:

  • What if we could create a compelling culture that didn’t exist or grow within four walls?
  • What if innovation happened most effectively asynchronously and virtually?; and
  • What if we really did value output over hours – rather than just say we do?

At Inventium, we have challenged a lot of assumptions about how work works. Several years ago, we had an unlimited paid leave policy that ran successfully for three-and-a-half years. Staff were empowered to take as much paid leave as they needed in order to feel like they had a healthy balance between work and life.

Two years ago, we gave up our office leases in Melbourne and Sydney and committed to becoming a remote-first organisation, whereby staff can work from anywhere in the world they like. As a team, we redesigned how collaboration and innovation happened and default to asynchronous communication (where previously, meetings were always the default).

Almost two years ago, we challenged the notion that our output is higher if we work a standard five-day week. Instead, we trialled the four-day week (FDW), whereby staff are paid full-time salaries and are still expected to produce the equivalent output of a full-time staff member, but only work four standard eight-hour workdays per week. The experiment was a huge success and we made the FDW permanent at the end of 2020. Not only did productivity and engagement skyrocket, but financial performance did too.

With the war for talent so rife, and people resigning from their jobs to pursue more meaning and more flexibility, it’s not enough to simply do the bare minimum when it comes to providing flexibility for staff.

Organisations that become talent magnets will challenge pre-existing notions of how work best happens and move to exploring less mainstream ideas, such as abandoning office space, adopting the FDW, and ultimately, giving staff more choice rather than less.