As the COVID pandemic took the world by storm earlier last year, so did it end up affecting the ways through which people engaged in work. And this is just as true for a nation like Australia, where work has resumed post-lockdown, but with a difference: 2 in 5 people now work from home at least once a week, as opposed to 1 in 5 people as of before March 2020.
This signals that “hybrid work” - a model where employees come to office flexibly, and only for specific requirements such as meetings or collaborative sessions - is well underway in Australia. Moreover, according to a research conducted by Atlassian, there is a sense of optimism about the future of work: 64% of the participants interviewed believed their job security had improved during the pandemic.
How have Australian industries handled the transition that the pandemic necessitated? Let’s first understand the structural changes that took place due to the pandemic, and then see how industries responded to these changes.
The changing landscape of jobs
Contrary to all expectations, as industries recovered from the effects of the lockdown (which ceased in October) there was a significant increase in the overall number of jobs. There were as many as 250,000 job vacancies, a hike of 4.1 percent over pre-COVID-19 levels in February 2020.
According to job posts on LinkedIn, the industries that experienced the most growth - in the last quarter of 2020 - were real estate, which rose by a staggering 49%, followed by construction at 32%. Close behind were IT services as well as transport and logistics, both at 14%, while manufacturing rose at 10% as well. This indicates that jobs that required physical presence rose very steeply once the lockdown had lifted.
The industries that experienced the biggest losses were recreation and travel, which went down by a sharp 40%, followed by entertainment, and then education, at 35% and 25% respectively. Interestingly, people who used to work in these sectors have shifted towards working in finance as well as IT jobs, thereby maintaining their livelihoods. Meanwhile, those who used to work jobs in transport and logistics have taken jobs in construction as well as manufacturing, even though the latter itself experienced growth post-pandemic. These trends are all indicative of changing mindsets, owing to the landscape of jobs changing so drastically - and a big part of the reason behind this is hybrid work.
Possibilities both present and future - The adoption of hybrid work
The post-pandemic recovery in Australia was not only facilitated, it was also accelerated by hybrid work, which has played a key role in shaping industries both for the present as well as the future. Let’s try to understand some of the tectonic shifts in these industries, and what is likely to be in store for them.
Perhaps out of necessity, the Australian healthcare sector has grown - and not just due to COVID. The demand for virtual care grew very steeply, with the government stepping in to fund telehealth. The result of this was 10 million consultations in a span of just two months. In fact, a report by PwC predicts that the healthcare sector will continue to grow at 15% per year, with a shortfall of about 120,000 nurses by the end of 2030.
Needless to say, digitization has played a huge role in precipitating this sea change, and a significant demand in the future will be hybrid work through the incorporation of telehealth and providing services to patients who have already been screened by robots and evaluated through AI tools. As an industry, healthcare is poised in a unique manner to provide insight into hybrid work.
Banking and Financial Services
4 out of 5 employees of the total of 85,000 National Australia Bank employees were working from home after March of 2020. Susan Ferrier, NAB Group Executive, mentioned that they are also “looking ahead to what the new normal will look like for businesses like ours in the long term” - and this includes thermal cameras for body temperatures, booking desks through online tools, touchless water taps, and more.
A report by PwC Australia too highlights the importance of “productive, flexible, and distributive working” as one of the nine key factors that will change the course of the financial services industry in the years to come. Thankfully, for employees of NAB, two of three people reported that their overall well-being had increased due to having hybrid work setups.
With the government investing $1.5 Bn over a period of four years, manufacturing as an industry has the financial backing needed to make significant progress over the years to come. As with every other industry, this one too has to come to terms with digitization - and a report by PwC predicts that 33% of manufacturing jobs will become augmented by technology, while an approximated 640,000 jobs will also become automated.
Unlike other industries, here the “hybrid” of “hybrid work” doesn’t just refer to the mode of working, but rather to the engagements that constitute work itself. The automation of a lot of jobs will result in some loss of jobs, however many more will be created that will require employees to come into work and interact with machines.
Governance and Construction
The City of Sydney, with a staff of over 2,000 people had already moved to working from office one day per week, with the number gradually increasing to two days from October. Those whose presence was not immediately required in the office worked from home, thereby evidencing yet another iteration of a hybrid work model.
While a McKinsey report indicates that this industry in particular will suffer from “lower spending per customer”, the industry is predicted to grow at least at a rate of 2.4% over the next five years. Here too, wherever feasible for companies to implement this model, the preferred mode of working will be hybrid. In the case of the City of Sydney, for example, they have staggered start times and arranged shifts in a manner that makes sure that social distancing can be maintained across the board in the organization.
The future of work is hybrid
For many Australian industries, hybrid working is not something they were forced to adopt due to the pandemic. Rather, it is something that defines their present and, if their current success continues, their future as well. While the future of work is always being constructed, and there is no final word, here we get a very clear picture of what the future will be, and it is without a doubt hybrid.