Working from home has changed everything – for the better

Even before the "always on" office culture of email, text, WhatsApp, Zoom and Teams, I believed that putting in the hours and doing whatever it takes to get the job done was the key to success. This was instilled in me working in London in the 1990s where nobody batted an eyelid if you were still in the office at 3am or if you pulled an all-nighter. It wasn’t just expected, it was a badge of honour. How foolish that all seems now.

I will go back to the office one day soon and I cannot wait to see my colleagues and feel their energy.Credit:iStock

I remember the managing director of my firm recording a video from her hospital bed days after giving birth (this was before phones had cameras). This video was proudly presented to a potential client as evidence that we were unstoppable as a business partner. Looking back, that was so inappropriate – sending a clear signal to the women in the firm that you had to be constantly "at work".

Back here in Australia, this belief was only reinforced by working for 10 years in retail. If you’ve never worked in the industry you might be surprised to know that retail starts early: 7.30am starts are the norm and on a Monday everyone is on their toes to go over last week’s results – so needed to be up even earlier. And as the pressure grew in retail the hours extended later and later.

When I became a mother I moved to a four-day working week and was fully supported. But being "on" is in your DNA so I could never be away from the phone or email for more than 30 mins – I could have missed something! Once again, not saving lives, just selling bananas.

Despite the pressure I put on myself as a senior executive I was always proud of my record hiring and supporting new working mothers and fathers and giving parents as much time off as they needed. Part-time – no problem; four days a week – sure, job share – go for it. Everyone off on a Friday? Not on my watch. Old habits die hard.

So, on March 13, when I stood in front of more than 100 people and sent them off to work from home, I wasn’t sure what to expect. How could I know what people were doing if myself and my leadership team couldn’t see them for weeks? Were they working hard? Were they working at all?

It didn’t take long, however, to work out how wrong I’ve been all these years. In the past six months we’ve been more productive than I could ever have imagined.

We’ve worked faster and with greater efficiency than we did before. Departmental walls came down and teams got the job done. We’ve conducted extensive research programs, signed and activated community sponsorships, executed complex digital programs, produced multiple advertising campaigns, restructured departments, promoted people and hired new team members.

And all this has been achieved while the working parents juggled home schooling and team members cared for parents, friends, neighbours and loved ones. I couldn’t be prouder.

I’m not suggesting there hasn’t been a toll. My greatest fear was for the team’s mental health. We’ve engaged our partner BeyondBlue to help; psychologists have given us training and tips and motivational speakers have done their bit to inspire the group, but this is hard and people are emotionally and physically exhausted. We all desperately want the restrictions to end.

The hardest part for me personally has been that, despite COVID-19, life goes on. Within our team, people have fallen ill, babies have been born and lost, and parents have died. Saying goodbye to a colleague whose time it is to move on from the business over a Zoom call is something I never want to do again. And when a team member is heading off for life or death surgery, the good luck phone call seemed inhuman. Humans need physical contact.

I will go back to the office one day soon and I cannot wait to see my colleagues and feel their energy. But things will never be the same again. And thank God for that.

Amber Collins is Chief Marketing Officer at Australia Post.

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