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The future of work is not just digital, it’s distributed

For many businesses, the future of work is yet to be decided. Changing government regulations, customer demands and working environments have seen plans scrapped as quickly as they are created. However, one thing for certain is that COVID has fundamentally shifted the way companies are thinking about ways of working. At Airwallex, for example, our return-to-work plans have been amended numerous times to ensure we meet COVID-safe guidelines while maximising for efficiency – both in Melbourne and in our offices globally.

We’ve taken an employee-first approach to our return-to-work policy – allowing employee feedback to guide our process. As a result, we have created a split schedule, providing different business functions the option to come into the office two days per week.

While the uncertainty can be challenging, it has also created an era of experimentation around distributed ways of working with new technologies, working styles and digital operations being tried out en masse.

So, what can we really know about the future of work? And more importantly, how can we prepare for it?

Technology as an enabler of distributed work

The global pandemic has seen technology adoption skyrocket, with many industries learning hard lessons about the importance of digital operations (or lack thereof). A recent study from IDC found the impacts of lockdown exposed SMB “shortcomings in connectivity, support, security, and sourcing”. Many SMBs have spent the last twelve months playing digital catch up, and as a result, IDC predicts that their IT spending will continue to increase in 2021 despite being in “survival mode”.

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Unsurprisingly, technology solutions like Slack, Google suite and Zoom have soared in popularity, providing businesses with tools to work effectively while scattered all over the world. While this trend is likely to continue, digital agility will become a key business capability as organisations continue to work in a distributed manner. As a result, business leaders will need to close gaps in their technology stack and be open to trying new tools as they look to drive efficiencies across their organisation.

The hybrid working model

The 2000s were defined by the emergence of a digital working model – less than 7% of the world was online in 2000 – today that number has reached 59% (4.99B people). The 2020s (and beyond) will be the era of the hybrid working model. Many businesses are still testing the right balance of flexibility for their employees – whether 100% remote, working in a physical office or a combination of the two.

The hybrid working model has placed higher importance on employee autonomy. As a result, technologies that enable more employee flexibility will be critical to this new way of working. No matter where teams are based, staff should feel empowered to make their own decisions to get the job done – like purchasing subscription software or training modules. Equally, it’s important managers have visibility over employee activity. New types of technology are emerging to enable this, such as Airwallex’s Virtual Employee Cards, which allows teams to create a virtual spending card for their employees with set limits.

ALSO READ: Why a ‘people plan’ is just as important as a business plan

Empowering employees through flexible culture, technology and company policy is key to creating a happy and productive workforce. However, this must be accompanied by strong employee feedback loops and well-being programs. Employee burnout costs Australia $14 billion annually and has been on the rise since COVID, as employees struggle to find the boundaries between home life and work life while working remotely.

Implications for talent in a distributed world

The talent war, particularly in the tech sector, has been a mainstay in the Australian market for some time. However, in a more distributed workforce, businesses have access to a wider talent pool.

At Airwallex, we are pursuing top tech talent globally, so understand this challenge firsthand. Our product and engineering team is one of our largest, and growing fast. We are still looking to fill over 30 open roles in Australian engineering team alone.

We’ve found that creating an environment with exciting projects, a modern tech stack and a flexible culture remains key to attracting highly skilled talent from all parts of the world. It also helps that one of our main offices, Melbourne, has been continuously voted the most liveable city in the world. Furthermore, the Australian Government has recently expanded their Global Talent Visa Program to include technologists across a range of sectors including cybersecurity and data science, which will draw in more of the world’s top tech talent to Australia.

For other organisations, talent is now truly borderless. All organisations both large and small should be thinking global when it comes to finding talent and not let location be a barrier to hiring.

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Neil Luo

Neil Luo

Neil Luo is VP, Global Head of SME at Airwallex, leading the company’s international growth and user acquisition strategy. He has over a decade’s experience working across marketing, strategy, technology and data science, previously holding roles at SEEK, Hotels.com, Expedia and The Boston Consulting Group.

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