Future of Work Series Part 5 - Looking forward, what concerns business leaders most

By Robert Half on 17 August 2020

As the impact of COVID-19 continues to ripple through the Australian market, Robert Half organised the ‘Workplace of the Future’ roundtable and invited six business leaders to a virtual panel discussion on COVID-19’s implications on businesses as well as evolving priorities that may shape future growth opportunities.

The panellists included:

  • Andrew Bain, CEO at Recreo, a cloud-based administration platform for the superannuation industry;
  • Andrew Myers, VP APAC & Global Digital Strategy at WorkJam, an employee engagement platform for hourly employees;
  • Simon Turner, CIO at AxiCorp, a provider of margin Forex trading services for retail and institutional markets;
  • Hayden Vowell, Financial Planning & Business Performance Lead at Culture Amp, an employee engagement, retention and performance platform;
  • Richard Raj, Director, Principal Consultant at Knight's Move Consulting, a consulting firm specialising in Lean Digital services;
  • Clinton Marks, Director at Robert Half.

The roundtable was hosted by David Jones, Senior Managing Director at Robert Half.

Part 5 - Looking forward, what concerns business leaders most

As the dialogue shifts from “these are unprecedented times!” to “what’s next?”, every organisation is confronted with how they forge a new normal that works – retaining the core behaviours that fuelled their competitive edge prior to COVID-19, integrating the lessons learnt, and aligning their business model to a radically different, but still unclear market.

As a conclusion to this 5-part blog series, we asked leaders to share their concerns for the future ahead and how they intend to respond:

Andrew Bain, CEO at Recreo

“The biggest challenge we will face is the retention of our employees. We retain people because we've got a good relationship with them and deliver a proposition that makes it mutually beneficial for each party to be wedded together. When you shift your employees to remote working arrangements, particularly when everyone in the market now has the same arrangement, you lose a competitive characteristic of your corporate culture and risk the relationships becoming transactional.”

“This new environment has led to different expectations or relationship dynamics amongst the employees which might drive them to look elsewhere if we don’t adapt. It will take a new suite of leadership skills to stand out and a new take on what our employee value proposition is.”

Andrew Myers, VP APAC & Global Digital Strategy at WorkJam

“The reality is starting to take hold that it's not going to be an easy fix and we’re in this for the long haul. Particularly coming from a multicultural team, we're used to traveling overseas a couple of times a year to see family or friends and now that might not happen for a while. This is likely to cause an emotional and social shadow that will impact morale and force employees to reassess how they manage their personal and professional lives.”

“The key thing for us is not to become complacent, but remain confident in who we are and what we do. While there are benefits to working from home, the real challenge going forward will be to maintain the culture of an organisation.”

Simon Turner, CIO at AxiCorp

“In the short term, our business has actually picked up customers who have moved across from other impacted categories, but I am concerned by the medium- and long-term outlook for our business. The government steps have shielded us from some of the serious impacts that the pandemic will have on our economy which is reflected in relatively positive market indicators, but once we check under the hood, I think we will face a harsher reality with a lot of market uncertainty that might potentially have a further negative impact on businesses.”

Hayden Vowell, Financial Planning & Business Performance Lead at Culture Amp

“As a start-up that is rapidly expanding, we’re always trying to balance our employment stack and make sure that we're hiring two or three months in advance to match what new and current customers' requirements will be one quarter or two quarters down the track.”

“The current environment has obviously flipped that on its head, which has been a learning in itself, but a challenge is trying to get the crystal ball working so that we can ensure that we're essentially positioned in resources for wherever the market moves.”

Richard Raj, Director, Principal Consultant at Knight's Move Consulting

“My key concern is that with various businesses, especially the ones that are going to be hit much harder than others, is that they give up rather than reinvent and reimagine. I am worried that we are shielding ourselves through short-term solutions and thinking it will return to normal, rather than planning out our recovery through a combination of political and commercial tactics.”

“The fact is that we need to support businesses and a meaningful way to achieve economic recovery, otherwise we risk a major downward spiral as more businesses struggle to continue.”

Clinton Marks, Director, Robert Half

“We need to prioritise the people as the long-term effects of the pandemic will be great. Many in the workforce have not been through a downturn before and look at us as business leaders to guide them through the changes.”

“Improving mental health, upholding team morale and keeping our employee engaged and motivated are all key priorities today, yet they also come with new challenges. We should take this as an opportunity to embrace a forward-thinking approach to how we will maintain our organisational culture ongoing. We are in this together and as leaders, our staff look at us to lead by example.”

The extent of the disruption requires an appetite for risk and a strategic mindset that embraces change and speed. While business priorities throughout this period have differed – adjusting processes to ensure compliance, automating systems to enable digital operations, redefining corporate value propositions to succeed in a fluid market – the one constant has been the importance of people management to carving a successful path in uncertain circumstances.

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