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Does WFH hurt productivity? This billion-dollar Aussie business doesn’t think so

Employment Hero allows its 1,000 staff to work remotely 100 per cent of the time and says its productivity has thrived.

As Aussie bosses start cracking down on work from home (WFH), one billion-dollar business is arguing remote work has been the key to its success.

Australian HR, payroll and benefits company Employment Hero moved to a fully remote working model three-and-a-half years ago and hadn’t looked back since.

Since making the WFH move for its nearly 1,000 staff, CEO Ben Thompson said the company had seen their revenue increase almost seven-fold and their valuation increase by about $1.7 billion.

Ben Thompson, Employment Hero CEO on remote, WFH company.
Employment Hero CEO Ben Thompson shifted his company to a fully remote, WFH model three and a half years ago. (Source: Supplied)

Do you have a WFH story to share? Contact tamika.seeto@yahooinc.com

“Productivity is actually a big reason we retain our remote model,” Thompson told Yahoo Finance.

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Thompson said the ability for staff to work remotely meant the business could access the best talent and wasn’t bound by location.

“We’re spread across 19 countries and have amazing members of our team - single parents, caregivers for high-needs family members, people with mobility limitations and people in remote areas. We would not have these people if we insisted on office attendance, even if it was part time,” Thompson said.

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Communication key

Thompson said regular and clear communication had been crucial to maintaining the team’s productivity after transitioning to fully remote work, with staff still able to work from their Sydney and Ho Chi Minh City offices if desired.

“People often wonder how to collaborate in a remote environment. Like everything remote, you need to be deliberate. This includes daily stand-ups or written check-ins, Slack for instant messaging and video meet-ups,” Thompson said.

Thompson also said teams were allowed to set their own schedules, something remote work allowed for, in order to maximise their own productivity.

What about the downsides?

Increased productivity, maintaining corporate culture and career progression are some of the common reasons many employers are asking their staff to come back into the office.

But Thompson argued that remote work could still achieve this, as long as the company was deliberate in its actions.

For example, he noted that Employment Hero had an annual company calendar with virtual check-ins, quarterly social get-togethers and an annual team-bonding week for the company.

“Career progression is an area where remote work is often questioned, but it's where remote work excels,” Thompson said.

“We measure performance on outputs and alignment to company values - full stop. We have a merit-based progression system that does not regard time spent online or in the office. Central to making this model work are clear performance indicators and regular virtual check-ins.”

Benefits for staff

There’s also the potential financial and personal benefits for staff. Recent research from McCrindle found office workers paid about $10,289 in associated costs each year, for things such as child care. This compares to $6,164 per year for remote workers, whose savings on transport, lunches and child care can be offset by higher home costs like office equipment and internet.

Employment Hero’s senior insights manager, Natascia Spadavechhia, currently works from home most days, going into the office once or twice a month for meetings or to connect with colleagues.

Natascia Spadavecchia and son
Natascia Spadavecchia says WFH means she has the flexibility to take her son to appointments and meet with his school. (Source: Supplied)

“There are so many reasons that WFH is beneficial to me and my personal circumstances,” Spadavecchia told Yahoo Finance. “I have a school-aged son who is neurodiverse and requires hands-on support in the form of doctors and specialist visits, and school meetings. My son is also at home outside of school hours.”

On the money side, she noted she’d been able to save on before- and after-school-care fees, daily commuting costs and coffees. Her family was also able to buy a house further away from public transport.

Bosses threaten to pay WFH staff less

A recent global survey by Herbert Smith Freehills found 37 per cent of Aussie employers were planning to differentiate pay between remote and in-office staff in the next three to five years.

Last week, ANZ became the latest major Australian company to link staff bonuses to time in the office. It warned staff their pay could be cut if they needed to come into the office as required.

Thompson said he was “cautious” of creating this divide between staff.

“I’d be cautious of creating a distinct two-tier system for employees that not only categorises them as ‘office’ and ‘not office’ but then pays and promotes them based on office attendance,” he said.

“This arrangement also excludes or disadvantages people who have a genuine need for flexibility, such as those with mobility issues or parents caring for high-needs children. If your employees are focusing on office attendance at the expense of outputs, I don't think you’re getting the best from your team.”

While Thompson acknowledged remote work wouldn’t suit every business, he said his case provided “proof” that remote work could provide “a huge business accelerant where productivity, performance and team morale can thrive when considered deliberately”.

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