- 46% of Australian respondents in a Qualtrics survey said in-office workers had a career advantage.
- A majority of individuals in managerial and director positions agreed that working in the office assisted career prospects.
- Visibility to leadership was one of the main concerns.
By Nina Hendy
COVID lockdowns shifted the dial on remote working for many professionals. Two years into the pandemic, hybrid set-ups – with staff working from home some of the time and the rest in the office – are the default in many organisations.
Each of the Big Four professional services firms – Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC – has embraced some form of remote working and confirmed that these policies will remain in place after the pandemic ends.
But while many professionals have been enthusiastic about working remotely, Qualtrics research shows almost half the Australian workers it surveyed believe they could be left behind career-wise if they opt to work from home permanently.
What’s the worry about working from home?
The survey of 1000 Australian professionals, completed in August 2021 when both Sydney and Melbourne were in a COVID lockdown, found a substantial 46% believed that in-office workers would have a career advantage over employees working remotely. That view was even stronger among people in management (57%) and director roles (60%).
A quarter of respondents believed that working remotely meant they weren’t visible to leadership teams. Some were worried continued remote working would negatively affect their chances for promotion (18%) and future pay rises (10%).
The survey also pinpointed differences among cohorts. Men were more likely than women to believe working remotely would reduce their prospects of taking on additional responsibilities (24% vs 18%). Respondents aged 45-plus shared this concern (28%), and were more likely than other age groups to believe remote work could have a negative effect on pay rises, chances of promotion and visibility to leadership.
What’s the view in Asia?
These sentiments aren’t unique to Australian workers. When Qualtrics incorporated another 3000 survey responses from professionals in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia, it found 44% believe in-office workers will have an advantage.
This larger group of 4000 respondents cited visibility to leadership (34%), better access to colleagues for collaboration (25%) and a belief that managers assign projects to people they see (19%) as reasons for the perceived career advantage.
While hybrid may be the preferred operating model for many organisations, simply enabling employees to work wherever they choose is not the answer, says Steve Bennetts, Qualtrics’ senior manager of employee experience growth and strategy.
“Rather, the challenge for employers is making sure no individual gets left behind or is disadvantaged by the transformations underway,” he says.
Picture: Steve Bennetts.
“The challenge for employers is making sure no individual gets left behind or is disadvantaged by the transformations underway.”
“The Qualtrics research is a great insight into how every single person is experiencing these new environments differently, and the gaps employers need to address.”
There’s still a need for the office
Even as remote working and hybrid models become entrenched, it’s unlikely that Australia’s Big Four firms will be ditching their head offices any time soon – the view is that serving clients and working with colleagues is still best done in person.
KPMG’s Elenie Carey CA, partner, audit strategy and transformation lead, says people are hungry for connection, which is bringing people back into offices in Sydney. She will be coming into the office a day or two a week moving forward.
Picture: Elenie Carey CA.
“I think the last year and a half shows that you can definitely get the work done and be efficient at home, but social connectivity takes ‘work’ when you’re working remotely. There are lots of other benefits to coming into the office, like collaborating with team members and brainstorming.”
She doesn’t agree that remote work will negatively affect the careers of established workers.
“Concern for being held back professionally as a result of remote work should no longer be a concern. We recognise that the future is a hybrid model, ensuring you are present for your clients but also balancing this with what’s best for the individual and team,” she says.
But she has a caveat.
“If you’re joining the accounting workforce for the first time, I think there’s still a lot of benefit of face-to-face coaching and learning.
“It is hard to replicate the learning you get from sitting next to your team members and overhearing team conversations. Achieving that in a remote environment isn’t as easy.”