There is a place where workers don’t have to wear masks, and whatever visible changes companies have made to their offices — like social distancing circles on the floor and touch screens with COVID-19 symptom questionnaires — are only temporary.
Sydney, Australia, is almost completely back to its pre-pandemic office occupancy.
Australia’s COVID-19 containment strategy used the island nation’s remoteness to its advantage, closing its borders and mandating that Australians quarantine before reentering the country. As a result, it has kept average daily cases of the virus below 30 and recorded only one death since November 1, 2020.
Still, the country went into lockdown in March 2020 — just like rest of the world — and entered the same great remote work experiment. And while many people went back to in-person jobs in the fall, they had to deal with the same anxieties and uncertainties about the return that Americans are going through now.
"Australia is a glimpse into what the world might look like when the virus is eradicated or we have full herd immunity," Brett White, executive chairman and CEO of Cushman & Wakefield, told Insider.
As chief of one of the world’s largest real estate services firms, with over 4.1 billion square feet managed worldwide, White has a front-row seat to the return.
He and his colleagues have observed a few major changes to office culture and design in Australia that are likely to be repeated worldwide:
- The majority of workers are adopting hybrid models, splitting time between in-office and at-home work.
- Offices are becoming more collaborative, with informal meeting rooms and kitchens taking over square footage from rows and rows of desks.
- Technology that’s helped to manage the return, like software that tracks which parts of buildings are most trafficked and used, is likely here to stay.
The overarching takeaway that Cushman & Wakefield has gleaned from both their own Sydney office and the ones they manage is that every person returning to the office will have a different experience.
Each employee’s family life, career aspirations, and job responsibilities will determine whether they spend most of the week at home and only drop in for meetings, or whether they’re commuting to the office every day for back-to-back appointments.
Of course, the flexibility of any individual worker depends on their employer’s rules, but there are signs that many workers would rather quit their jobs if they aren’t afforded remote-work flexibility.
This video, produced by Cushman, captures the daily routines of three employees who are back in the office. Each splits time between the office and home in a different way.
Watch the video above to see more, or read our deep dive on the Australian return to office for even more context.
Alex Nicoll June 4, 2021 at 10:09PM