As companies look to reduce their office footprints, what does the future of working from home look like?

We started the year with a resurgence of posts on LinkedIn about research findings that highlighted the benefits of individual offices over open-plan workspaces. Skipping forward to August, the language has shifted to some describing offices as a relic of the past. 

There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken the world by surprise. The upheaval of our normal lives has meant that much of the business world has had to adapt at a blistering pace too. 

The trend towards flexibility and remote working has continued to grow over the past 15 years with Europe and the US previously leading the way, but in the face of a global pandemic for those who were able to pivot to a virtual workforce, the if/how/when debate quickly evaporated in the face of ‘now’. 

It’s clear that this trend is bad for commercial landlords, but there are many positive indicators that working from home can have a number of positive outcomes for employers and employees. 

So how can companies, and employees, thrive in this new world of virtual work? 

Are people productive working from home?

One of the traditional critiques of virtual work is that employees are slacking off, the alternate being that the ‘busy-ness’ visible in an office equals productiveness.  

This pessimism could not be further from the truth, a finding which is not only good news for businesses but for employees too. The research overwhelmingly tells us that people are more productive working from home. In a recent study of 5,000 workers across five countries, workers felt less stressed and got more done than they could in an office environment. 

Setting aside the recent experiences of those juggling homeschooling whilst also working from home, workers, in particular, reported increased levels of productivity resulting from no commute, with many also feeling happier because of the additional time they were able to spend with their families or on leisure pursuits. 

I’m fortunate to live within walking distance of the OpenLearning office and my daughter’s school, but the shift to all team members working from home has resulted in productivity benefits such as: team members being more refreshed from not having to commute, a more conscious approach to meeting schedules and agendas to avoid teleconference fatigue, and efficiencies for the team members who pre COVID-19 were often out of the office at face-to-face meetings which required factoring in travel time.  

Whilst being able to track and measure productivity within businesses is important, combined with culture and organisational theory grounding, the jury is in; when employees are given agency, freedom, and are empowered to do their best work, both their productivity and engagement soars. The change in location as to where that work occurs is secondary to the trust and support bestowed. 

Virtual leadership & company culture

When we work from home, it’s true that we can lack the camaraderie of our peers and the presence of our leaders. For some, this is a relief, but in general, the question is whether it is a conducive working arrangement for building a strong and cohesive company culture? 

It’s a known fact that when a leader is absent for extended periods, their team suffers, and so does company culture. Considering the full gamut of ‘readiness’ that businesses were in for their staff to move to a work from home model, it’s fair to say that virtual leadership and fostering the company culture requires some adaptations if the increased productivity is to be maintained in the medium to long-term. 

For OpenLearning, our approach to leadership during COVID-19 is much akin to our approach to learning – one size does not (and should not) fit all. As such, different techniques have been tried and amended as needed for each team – from daily stand-ups for our Learning Services team who are working on a range of projects at the moment, more regular 1:1’s for our Partnerships team who are generally more social personalities, through to virtual ‘drop-in/coffee’ sessions with the CEO each Wednesday afternoon. 

At a whole organisation level, structured monthly town halls have continued as usual, and cross team collaboration has been sustained via a range of tools and processes. Digging deeper though, sharing of common experiences with the team about what our ‘working from home’ reality is, insights into what is working for them, and being more conscientious about the frequency of communication flow or tweaks (or pivots) in strategy are important considerations in maintaining human connections, trust, and loyalty. 

Working from home or living at work? 

I’m aware of a number of organisations that have asked their employees for input on what a ‘return to office’ world would look like. In general, their findings have been that many would prefer working from home 2-3 days per week. So, if we know that productivity is up and many are up for it to continue longer-term, what’s the downside? 

With increased flexibility and the fact that most businesses had to pivot quickly in order to continue operating, the challenge is for companies to help employees in establishing healthy boundaries and techniques for separating work from home in order to avoid burnout. 

With recent news that Google and Facebook have updated their communication to employees that they will be able to choose to continue working from home until mid-2021, leaders will need to play an increasingly important role in ensuring that the team knows that being ‘always on’ isn’t a good thing, sick leave isn’t only reserved for when you are too sick to commute to a commercial office, and that taking annual leave shouldn’t just be saved for a date in the future for when travel is an option. 

Embrace the new normal 

A recent observation is that virtual meetings no longer open with the discussion about how many weeks it’s been since each organisation moved to a work from home policy, symbolising the ‘new normal’ taking effect. 

With the trend towards remotely based teams longer-term and slimmed down office spaces accelerated by the pandemic, by embracing increased productivity and promoting greater flexibility, companies can build an even stronger culture than before.

Whilst we may not be catching up in a physical office kitchen or breakout space anytime soon, thankfully with the help of collaboration and connectivity tools available today, many companies are engaging in a genuine dialogue with their employees about what the ‘new normal’ should be.

About the author of ‘How can we thrive working from home?’
Cherie Diaz is the Managing Director of Australian operations at OpenLearning Limited (ASX:OLL). Cherie has over 15 years’ experience within education, including roles as the Head of Education Delivery at the Australian Institute of Company Directors And Director of Customer Success at Scentia, where she led the operational teams of four colleges. Cherie is the recipient of multiple individual and business awards for service excellence by the Customer Service Institute of Australia.


Do you love flexing your conversation muscle? Or do you run a mile when a big or difficult conversation presents itself? Whether you’re meeting with someone new, speaking with colleagues or connecting with your partner, there’s more to conversation than just a verbal exchange. 

The conversations we have, and the way in which we have them, hugely impact our work, and the quality of our relationships. But sometimes it can be tempting to avoid difficult conversations, or go into a conversation only really half listening. So, how can we have productive conversations and get the best outcomes for everyone involved – including ourselves? 

Being present, preparing correctly and removing preconceived ideas are all ways we can improve our conversations, but often we’re too distracted or worried to really make the conversations we have a truly meaningful exchange. 

Here are some key tips on how to make the most of your conversations. 

The power of perspective

Understanding someone else’s perspective and truly considering things from their point of view has huge power. It leads the path to connection, communication and conflict resolution. As children we’re encouraged to ‘put ourselves in someone else’s shoes’, but as adults we often forget to consider other people’s perspectives. The result? We take part in conversations in a way which is only half there. 

By understanding someone else, a whole other world opens up. It becomes difficult to blame and shame people when you understand that they, just like you, just want to be content in their own way. 

Tip: next time you’re having a conversation, try to truly be open and present to the other person and their point of view. Practice mindfulness rather than mindlessness. 

Add curiosity to your toolbox 

Curiosity is a powerful thing for our conversations. Being curious and open means asking questions rather than just making statements. Think about why your clients, customers or colleagues will be impacted by your decisions, and think about what it means for them, not just how it benefits you. 

Ask, rather than assume to improve your understanding. Try questions such as:

  • Can you tell me more about that? 
  • And what else? 
  • It sounds like you’re saying… Is this correct?
  • Can you help me understand better? 

Try this: if you struggle to listen in a truly present way, try a physical cue to stop yourself from interrupting other people or making assumptions. For example sit on your hands, cross your legs or hold your pen. This can be a cue to you to respond with a question, rather than a statement. 

Listen more deeply 

Listening deeply to someone with complete focus helps you to understand more about them – you start to see the story behind the words, the emotions conveyed by their body language, and what is at the heart of what they’re saying. 

You become ‘other people centric’ by listening to understand, rather than just listening to solve. How often have you been frustrated by a friend or partner when they’ve responded to your confession of a problem with an irrelevant solution? So often in our conversations we’re focused on solving someone’s problems, rather than just giving them a safe space to speak. 

If you are brutally honest with yourself, how well do you really listen to the important people in your life? And how well do you feel listened to? 

Dealing with discomfort

Worrying about an upcoming conversation? We’ve all been there. 

Whether it’s giving negative feedback on someone else’s work, negotiating a pay rise, or asking a housemate to do their share of the cleaning, uncomfortable conversations are just part of being human. 

Living a life on your own terms takes courage, which means sometimes you need to get out of your comfort zone when you’re having conversations. Some of us struggle to say no or worry about whether or not people will like us. Or waste hours thinking about what the outcomes might be, but if we don’t have those difficult conversations, then we aren’t paving the way for real change. 

The power of no 

Sometimes we feel obligated to say yes – we want to be helpful, but it means we over-commit to tasks which drain our energy. Saying yes to help someone else is all well and good, but not if it’s taking away time from you to do the things that bring you joy and meaning.

Of course saying no can be awkward in the moment, but the more you do it the easier it gets. Say goodbye to resentment and hello to productive, meaningful opportunities. 

Focus on what you’ll gain, rather than what you’ll lose. 

Preparing for a tough conversation

If you’re more accustomed to being ‘nice and polite’ than having tough conversations, here are some ways to tackle them.

  1. Prepare: Preparation and thought ahead of the conversation mean you’ve got the information you need to answer potential questions and challenges. 
  2. Clear the decks: Try to start the conversation with a clear and open mind, rather than holding onto preconceived ideas and expectations. 
  3. Perspective: Remember why you’re there, and that feelings of discomfort are temporary. The experience is a path to growth. 

Timing: The longer you put off having the conversation, the more it takes on a life of its own as the expectation builds. Jump in and have the conversation now, rather than leaving it for months when it’s become irrelevant to the other party. 

Do you fear feedback? 

Receiving feedback can be uncomfortable and damage our self-confidence, but try taking yourself out of the process so you can accept feedback as information rather than a personal attack. By using feedback as a catalyst for change, it helps you to grow as a leader, and to continually improve your approach. Taking pride in your success, but also learning from your mistakes, are both hugely valuable. 

Ask for what you want and need

If you ask for what you need and want with clarity and purpose, then it provides opportunities for you to work collaboratively with others on a shared purpose. Asking for help and support does not mean you’re needy or a failure. In fact, when you ask someone to help you, quite often they feel needed, wanted and important as a result. So you both win. 

It’s important to ask for what you want, rather than assuming other people know or care about what is important to you. Be really clear about what you’re asking for. 

Create agreements rather than expectations 

When we set expectations which aren’t met, the result is blame and feelings of frustration and disappointment. But when we set agreements, we’re creating mutually agreeable arrangements, where both parties determine what is required and when it will be executive. The focus is on the how, what and when, and clearly outlining what the results need to be and what ‘done’ looks like. 

By articulating exactly what ‘done’ looks like to your teammates, partner or family members, you’re providing clarity to a conversation and giving people clear tasks to focus on. Agreements eliminate frustration and anger, as they give you more clarity and focus on how to move things forward. 

At the end of the day, we’re all humans and no two conversations will be the same. But when you go into each conversation with an open mind, open ears, and clarity around what is being agreed, you’re much more likely to walk away feeling fulfilled, or excited by the new opportunities which you’ve opened up.

About the Author

Danielle gives practical and informed tips on how to rewrite the gender code which creates pressures and limits our potential as women, and provides tools and strategies to create individual solutions for your unique context. If you would like to dig into this deeper you can purchase Danielle’s book, Breaking the Gender Code – which shows how women can use what they already have, to get what they actually want. 



Some people love networking, others shudder at even the thought of it. While you may think that being an introvert is a drawback for those in business, it is actually an amazing quality for building relationships in business. Why? Because you are  focused on where you’re headed, and what you need — and less distracted by the superficial ‘noise’ around you.

So don’t let the world convince you that building strong relationships in business requires you to be an extrovert!

Amanda Rose founder of Small Business Women Australia, has put together her top tricks to build relationships and strategically connect when networking doesn’t come naturally — or even worse, you loathe it.

1. Build up a strong online presence

This is THE easiest way to build a network and have a profile without having to constantly be out and about networking. For business professionals, you should be aware of all mediums however focusing on a handful and doing it well will reap benefits. LinkedIn is a necessity for anyone in business. Others which are beneficial are Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

2. Video

This may sound weird as a recommendation for an introvert. However, it is often easier and more comfortable to video yourself and have it edited, then distribute it in a controlled environment, than to deal with strangers face to face. Further, the messages and pitches you polish for video will actually make it easier when you have to network face-to-face at some time.

3. Leverage media (print & online)

There are many websites that will accept your content without you having to leave your laptop. Content is king and distributing that content is queen. So ‘get your writing on’ and produce quality pieces of educational information in your area of expertise. You can also respond to media call-outs, contact media outlets and offer yourself as a commentator on an area you are passionate about and experienced in.

4. Network in small groups/informal events

When life and network groups get back to normal, keep your networking to small groups or one-on-one meetings. If you don’t know of any, create your own. Invite a handful of people out to lunch. The smaller the group, the more detailed and immersed the discussions are — and the stronger the connections will be.

5. Buddy up at large events

Large events can’t be avoided; and if you go, they need to be leveraged. If you are uncomfortable in large crowds with whom you’re expected to mingle, take a buddy along. Someone who can help you work the room, support conversations you have and help you connect with new people. Remember that everyone in that room is there to meet you and everyone else in that room. Enjoy the process. Learn what you can about the people you engage with. If you are uncomfortable talking about yourself, ask questions about them!

6. Master the follow-up

Don’t fall into the trap of the follow-up freeze. You stare at people’s business cards and start overthinking whether you should be following them up. And if you do, what do you have to say? Do they care? Will they even remember you? Stop this! For starters, they would not have connected with you at an event if they didn’t care about what you had to say or offer.

Secondly, always consider this. Make it as easy as possible for someone to work with you. Remember you are an expert in what you do so help others understand that by educating others on ways you can help them, including examples of what you have done before.



Leaders are known by the influence they leave on the communities they serve and the staff they lead. When faced with adversity, the skills as a leader will be challenged beyond what can be imagined. In the last few months, leaders have been pushed to the limits as the COVID-19 virus became the forefront of all human life.

Continue reading →