How will people be drawn back to office work?

By Leon Gettler >>

A BIG ISSUE now for businesses is that employees are coming back to work, after the lockdown, but the world has changed.

Work places need to accommodate the new conditions and social distancing. And many employees who have been working remotely are reluctant to come back.

Office National CEO Gavin Ward said businesses need to come up with some ingenious ways to entice staff back to work. These include perks, creative activities, wellness equipment, elaborate desk top accessories, parties and more. 

“There’s a variety of reasons that people don’t go back. Some may say ‘I don’t want to do the traffic’ but I think you have to look after some fundamental things to make it work,” Mr Ward told Talking Business

“The first thing is we can’t ignore COVID. Make it safe. So one of the exercises is ‘Am I going to be safe in the new workplace’. So if you’re going to start talking about people, you will need good communication in terms of the way you’re going to prepare the workplace to ensure that they don’t get an infection so you’re going to have the right processes to say you’re going to wipe down the surfaces on a daily basis, that you’re going to have the wipes and all those sorts of things. So there is a fundamental thing, you’re going to make it safe.

“What you’re going to have to do is create an environment when they come back that they’re going to be engaged, that they’re part of the team. You’re going to promote connection about objectives, about what you’re doing and how you’re succeeding. These kinds of fundamentals are really important.

“The other thing business owners need to do is make them feel comfortable. Some businesses have been encouraging people to bring their dog into work, bringing part of the world they have at home into the office. Dogs also have an impact on the other people in the office and calming folks. Other employees might instead bring in a pot plant,” Mr Ward said.

“Business owners also need to look at the office environment. Is the light right for employees to do their work? Are there multiple screens elevated to the right height? Are the keyboards ergonomic? Are there brush-pens? Are the chairs right? Do they give good support? Can the seat be moved in and out?

“If you do these things and get the right equipment, when they come back they’ll find they’re much more connected, they’re much more productive and they can create really solid great work,” he said.


Fitness and wellness equipment at the workplace will also be important. Milestones like birthdays, anniversaries, promotions, successes and good occasion should also be celebrated.

Mr Ward acknowledged that many employees, after spending months working from home, would opt to come into the office three or four days a week, and do the balance from home. Companies will need to accommodate that.

“I think the world has changed forever and we’ve always had to consider the different styles of people we work with,” Mr Ward said.

“Part of what we’re doing is we need to entice people for the times that we need it, but I think we will always need to be agile and have some people working from home because I think they just won’t fit in the new workplace.”

He said the trend to hot-desking will be harder to sustain in the post-COVID environment.

“So the concept of working at a desk, getting up and moving your stuff back and someone coming down and sitting in that same space and ensuring that’s clean and ensuring you have the distance and socially isolate with the person next to you is going to be extremely challenging,” Mr Ward said.

Hear the complete interview and catch up with other topical business news on Leon Gettler’s Talking Business podcast, released every Friday at

COVID-19 induced remote work strategies will pay off long term

By Leon Gettler >>

THE REMOTE work force could become a permanent feature, according to Moe Vela, the chief transparency officer of TransparentBusiness.

Mr Vela, who was a strategic business adviser to US Vice Presidents Al Gore and Joe Biden, said the coronavirus had already transformed the global workforce.

Speaking from his home town of New York, he said figures showed that 80-90 percent of the global work was now being performed remotely.

“One of the challenges is that there was no transition period, there was no adjustment period. It was just a shock to the workforce system and workforce model,” Mr Vela told Talking Business

He said it might become a permanent feature of the workforce if it was handled correctly.

“If we make it work well during this pandemic, I actually believe it will become the new normal in phases,” he said.

“Incrementally, I think we will move over the next few years towards a more robust remote workforce.”

He cited a recent study by Gartner which found that 74 percent of managers now expected 15-20 percent of their workforce “would remain remote.”


Managers, CEO and boards of directors had not previously moved towards remote work because of concerns about damage to productivity, operational efficiency and the “out-of-sight-out of-mind-out-of-control” syndrome.

Mr Vela said the first thing management should do is use the technological tools – such as Zoom, or Skype or WhatsApp – that are already in the marketplace, to mitigate those risks and concerns and create connectivity.

Another approach is to use file sharing programs.

A third is to use remote workforce management software.

“Communication is integral in making a remote workforce setting effective,” Mr Vela said.

“Communicate with this remote workforce and remind them that you value them, that you respect them, that you affirm them and that you appreciate them. Those are the kinds of messages you need to be sending.

“Number two, communicate and remind them that you trust them,” he said.

“And during the pandemic, as part of this communication effort, remind them that you as management are flexible because you understand their plight. You understand there’s a lot of anxiety in this new setting. You understand their children may not be in school because of the pandemic and maybe they have to stop in the middle of the day to play blocks on the living room floor, or put their child down for their nap, or play with them for a little while.

“Remind them as management you understand that and that you are flexible, that you are patient and that you have their back.”


Mr Vela said these approaches by management would elicit trust, appreciation, gratitude and loyalty from the workforce.

He said studies had shown this could even create a more productive workforce. The studies found that workplace productivity increased between 15-60 percent.

Mr Vela said there were five beneficiaries of remote workforces.

The first is management producing a more productive workforce with less absenteeism and less sick leave.

The second is the employees who enjoy it because it gives them a better work-life balance and greater flexibility.

The third is the economy, with studies showing remote workforces can add $2 trillion to the national economy as they deliver more savings for companies.

The fourth is the environment, with commute times eliminated and lower carbon emissions.

A remote workforce is also beneficial for women, especially single mothers or those who cannot be on site, and people who are disabled who are unable to commute, Mr Vela pointed out.


Hear the complete interview and catch up with other topical business news on Leon Gettler’s Talking Business podcast, released every Friday at

Small Business Ombudsman releases new mental health resource for sole traders

THE Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell has released a free online mental health webinar for sole traders, amid alarming predictions of a dramatic rise in Australian suicide rates due to the economic and social impacts of coronavirus.

Beyond Blue ambassador and sole trader, Garry Mills hosts the short webinar, during which he describes his own experiences with depression and anxiety and some of the strategies that worked for him in his darkest times.

“Garry is an exceptional person who comes from an incredible background as a former security guard for an ex-Prime Minister, running complex security operations in Australia and overseas as well as competing in triathlons and training elite athletes,” Ms Carnell said. 

“His unique story is proof that depression doesn’t discriminate. In addition to Garry’s personal story, he provides a number of excellent practical tips for boosting mental health, many of which are tailored to sole traders who may be struggling as a result of this COVID-19 crisis.

“I understand that small business owners don’t have a lot of time to devote to their mental health, but if you can find 10 minutes in your day to watch this video, it will be time well spent," Ms Carnell said.

“The webinar also directs viewers to our My Business Health web portal, which offers dedicated holistic support to employers and sole traders.

“The COVID-19 section of My Business Health walks small business owners and sole traders through the practical steps to keep their business afloat and also links with resources from Beyond Blue, which has taken a lead role in providing mental health assistance throughout this pandemic," she said.

“There’s no doubt this is a very difficult and uncertain time, but there is support for small businesses and sole traders and I would encourage them to access the free resources and services on offer.”


Use Eccountability to pivot past coronavirus tumult

By Leon Gettler >>

THE BIG CHALLENGE for companies now in this age of lockdowns, social distancing and social isolation, is to change their business models. Many are now going online and, for some, that is an enormous challenge.

Executive and leadership development coach Ronan Leonard, who connects people up with his online platform Eccountability – the first global virtual mastermind platform – is helping service professionals move their business online as the coronavirus social distancing rules and lockdown come into effect.

Mr Leonard said for businesses now, it is a case of “adapt or die”. 

He said not every business can switch online and it might take some creative thinking – but it’s an area that could attract a lot of service professionals.

“One thing I am advocating with people is to look at how they delivered content and information in the past and find ways they can do it differently – and certainly they can do it online,” Mr Leonard told Talking Business.

He said the early adopters of technology are much more likely to survive the coronavirus-induced economic crisis.

“The reality is, everything was changing even before this crisis, things were always changing and evolving, so the more you are able to embrace new technology and try new things, you’ll find better ways to work,” he said.

“The people that are early adopters, the people that embrace technology or embrace change, are going to be far more resilient in this time.”


Mr Leonard said even in sectors like cafes and restaurants, there are business owners that have pivoted around and are doing home deliveries or coming up with subscription models.

Instead of waiting for customers to come to them, they are looking to deliver meals to people who are now working from home.

Other examples include financial planners who, instead of writing up detailed reports for clients, are now putting it all on Zoom or something similar, where they could record and transcribe all their notes and have it as a digital footprint.

Or a yoga teacher who has moved his classes to an online streaming business model.

“Sure people like the personal touch. We don’t want to use technology to put us into a box where we never interact with people. We are a social animal, that’s what we’re all about,” Mr Leonard said.

“But there are definitely ways where we can improve for certain businesses and this for some people is just the push they needed.

“Some businesses will be able to pivot and adapt. Not everyone can do that.

“So it’s a question of going back to your assumptions and thinking, speak to other people, find the creative ways where you can potentially turn this around and get some income coming in in these troubling times.”


Mr Leonard said this will change business forever when the crisis passes, whenever that may be.

Some may never open their doors again, others will have a completely different business model.

“That is all about being adaptable and looking at this as a potential opportunity of a way to do things differently,” Mr Leonard said.

He said a positive mindset helped people work through these ideas.

“If you’re in shut-down mode right now, crisis mode, fear kicks in, cortisol kicks in and you struggle to make those good decisions, but there are people out there that have already changed their model,” he said.

“In a perfect world, we are happy where we are and we are comfortable in that zone.

“Due to this crisis, it’s been forced on everybody to take a long hard look where they’re at, what their strengths are, what their gaps are and to fill in those gaps.” 

Hear the complete interview and catch up with other topical business news on Leon Gettler’s Talking Business podcast, released every Friday at

Managing responsibilities to employees during COVID-19 disruptions

By Sam McIvor >>

THE SPREAD of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to cause significant disruption to Australian businesses and fuel ongoing economic and employment uncertainty.

This has led to an unprecedented number of inquiries relating to an employer’s obligations in respect to ensuring the health and safety of its workforce and how to appropriately manage employees through these increasingly uncertain times. 

Personal leave and working from home 

If an employee informs their employer that they have contracted COVID-19 or need to care for a member of their immediate family or household who has contracted COVID-19, then they will be entitled to take personal leave under the NES.

However, personal/carers leave is technically not available where an employee has come into contact with a person who has COVID-19 or where an employee returns to work after travelling to a high risk area, but is not yet sick themselves.

This is because an employee can only access personal/carers leave if they are unfit for work because of an illness or injury affecting them.

Employers may elect to take a practical approach to these circumstances. This can include the employee working from home if they have the capacity to do so, which means they will continue to be paid their wages.

Employers still maintain the discretion to provide employees with paid leave in order to maintain no loss of  income.

Changing or scaling down operations

As a result of the potential further spread of COVID-19, some employers may be forced to consider scaling down operations. For example by: 

• placing a freeze on new hires;
• reducing engagements with supplementary labour such as contractors or labour hire workers;
• reducing employee hours; or
• providing annual or long service leave in advance or at half pay.

An employer’s ability to make such changes will largely depend on the applicable industrial instrument (for example, an enterprise agreement or award) or contract that applies to their employees.

Stand down

Where an employee or group of employees cannot be usefully employed for a period because of a stoppage of work for which the employer cannot reasonably be held responsible, then employers may ‘stand down’ that employee or group of employees for that period without pay.

It is critical that there is a stoppage of work to trigger a stand down. That is, all or part of the business must cease operations in order to stand employees down without pay.

Employers usually exhaust employees taking available paid leave such as annual leave before considering  standing down without pay.

If you have a stand down provision in an enterprise agreement or an employment contract you must get specific advice on the terms of this before implementing a stand down as the general rules may not apply to you.


Sam McIvor is a partner with Mullins Lawyers, Brisbane, specialising in employment law including employment relations, industrial relations and health and safety.


Why you must always have a Plan B

As Australia’s cyclone season arcs into action, it is vital that business leaders make sure they have a ‘Plan B’ at the ready, to deal with the unexpected, writes Peter Kim, a consultant engineer with FM Global.


WHEN POWERFUL powerful Typhoon Hagibis struck, unleashing fierce winds and unprecedented rainfall that triggered landslides and flooding in Japan in October, one of the questions being asked was: ‘So what’s Plan B?’

The organisers of the Rugby World Cup, which was underway across the country, were forced into the unprecedented and controversial step of cancelling several matches. They said they were taken by surprise by the scale of the storm, the strongest in three decades.

While this scenario is a particularly high profile one, taking place at a time when millions of additional eyes were on Japan, the issue it raises is one that’s relevant to many Australian businesses: What’s your Plan B in case of a cyclone? How prepared is your business? 

This is worth some attention. In the 15 years to 2017, gross losses from cyclone-related wind events in non-cyclonic areas of Australia alone – including Sydney and Melbourne – reached $62 million.

Some of the most common losses we see relate to cladding, weak connections like roller doors, roof failures, windows getting damaged by debris, timber rot and corrosion.


Complacency is one of the greatest challenges we see in Australia when it comes to cyclones. Businesses in cyclonic areas such as northern Australia understand the risks well; they know it’s a matter of when they will face a cyclone, not if.

Southern Australian businesses are far less prepared. If they have had little experience with wind loss, it’s difficult to convince them of the need for planning and preparation, regardless of what is laid out in the Australian standards.

We advise businesses that they should look back long-term at what has happened in their area to get a better gauge of their true tropical cyclone risk.

Complacency increases when people wrongly believe their business has withstood a Category 5 tropical cyclone –  but in actuality they have not.

There’s also misunderstanding around standards. The truth is that businesses may need to look beyond existing standards if they want to minimise financial losses and impact to operations.

As a key stakeholder, we advise that standards and building codes merely represent the legal minimum that can be applied in structural design and do not always ensure the highest level of protection against tropical cyclones.

Businesses should be aware of new construction materials entering the market which may not be categorised under existing standards, such as solar panels, and by continuously learning from damage that has occurred in the past.

Business leaders should also be aware that standards are primarily focus on structural integrity, however damage can still occur to the occupancy where a building has not suffered catastrophic structural failure.


Building owners often place a lot of faith in a building designed to code, sometimes overlooking the fact that standards merely provide technical guidance for designers and engineers on how to design a structure to resist the extreme forces generated by severe tropical cyclones.

Even buildings designed and constructed to standard have vulnerabilities and, once built, will be susceptible to deficiencies throughout their life cycles.

Another issue to be aware of is that design standards change over time, instigated by losses or failures as well as new research on how structures perform, identifying new risks that have not been previously understood.

This is where companies like FM Global come in, as a reliable resource that can help to identify deficiencies and mitigate issues.

By comparing local codes and standards with our client’s loss history, FM Global is able to advise on what kinds of materials and products commonly fail or withstand cyclones. For example, roller door standards in Australia have proven to not be particularly stringent and windows have not been required to undergo impact resistance.


In order to successfully minimise the chance of losses and business interruption in the event of a cyclone, it is critical that a business develops a cyclone response plan that is site specific and identifies potential points of failure that could be critical to the business.

This is why it is important that the cyclone response plan is a living document, updated annually at least. Its performance should also be reviewed post cyclone to see if there are opportunities to improve and take on board new learnings.

It’s also critical to ensure that there is clarity around who has authority to activate or alter the plan.

To start developing a cyclone response plan, businesses can look at plans developed by other businesses – and what they have learned from previous wind losses.

In my experience, there are a number of Australian companies that do have well-developed plans, particularly in regards to recovery processes.

Plans typically involve actions such as securing roller doors and double doors, covering windows to avoid impact from debris, determining if adequate spares are in place and tying things down prior to a cyclone event.


When preparations are made, we see a significant difference in outcomes post-cyclone. As one example, a supermarket that upgraded its roof by installing screws in the perimeter ended up being the only shop where you could buy food in the area post-cyclone.

Remember that it is not only in your business’s best interests but that of the community as a whole that businesses, as well as residences, prepare their properties.

Not being prepared can have flow on affects to neighbouring properties as well. For example, not cleaning up yard storage can increase wind-borne debris and impact buildings downwind.

Business owners are best suited to identify the most appropriate actions for their type of business and how to prepare for these events but informed partners can help. 

Having a Plan B will give your business – and your neighbours – the best chance of surviving a tropical cyclone with minimal immediate or long-term damage.


Workplaces are on the frontline in emerging Australian mental health crisis

AN EMERGING crisis in the mental health of Australia is costing the economy between $43 billion and $51 billion a year, according to a draft paper by the Federal Government’s Productivity Commission. Leading employee assistance program provider AccessEAP has outlined the role workplaces must play in reacting to the Australian Government Productivity Commission’s Draft Mental Health Report.

The Mental Health, Draft Report revealed that beyond this alarming statistic of economic cost, an approximate $130bn additional cost is created by diminished health and reduced life expectancy for the one in five Australians living with psychological conditions.

The draft highlights the complexities around defining a mentally healthy workplace but acknowledges the recognised risk factors and stressors that can impact mental health in the workplace. The role of employee assistance programs (EAP) and the importance of investing in research and evaluating outcomes were also identified, according to AccessEAP CEO, Sally Kirkright. 

“Workplaces must take a stance against mental ill-health,” Ms Kirkright said. “While diseases and physical conditions tend to affect older generations, mental ill-health inhibits our working lives, limiting the ability to secure and retain employment.

There are four main job-related factors that exacerbate psychological conditions, including: job demand and control, caused by a lack of control over highly cognitively and/or emotionally demanding jobs; a perceived imbalance between effort and rewards; job insecurity; and exposure to trauma.

“Businesses need to be mindful of the impact they have on employees’ mental wellbeing through the job itself, workplace culture and organisational support including recognition, stigma and the physical environment,” Ms Kirkright said. “Employers should also support employees in the workplace and with external stressors, such personal issues and lifestyle needs.”

Ms Kirkright has outlined the lessons that businesses can take from the report, to improve the mental health of their workforces:


Almost half of all Australian adults will meet the diagnostic criteria for a mental illness at some point in their lives, showing the scale of the issue.

Bosses must create an open dialogue around mental illness, free from stigma and fear of discrimination and should be given it the same importance consideration as physical health and safety, when developing processes and health codes.


Absenteeism from people with mental ill-health or their careers, is roughly five percentage points higher than the average worker. Additionally, presenteeism amongst this group can be anywhere between five and eight times higher.

This issue costs Australian businesses somewhere between $13bn and $17bn annually in lost activity, with potential further losses due to the secondary effects on colleagues. Allowing employees to take time off to manage their mental ill-health is essential in helping them to remain productive and to allowing managers to direct workflow.


Employees most commonly come to us for help with stress, anxiety and depression, which can all greatly benefit from early intervention and management. Worryingly, the report reveals that 40% of sufferers don’t seek professional help for their condition. This makes the role of the workplace in supporting mental wellbeing essential. Employers must train managers to identify and engage with mental ill-health sufferers and encourage them to get help from an Employee Assistance Program or other professional.


Stigma is one of the biggest barriers to getting help for psychological disorders, with the report highlighting that it reduces the efficacy of mental health programs. It also discusses the importance cultural differences around the issue.

In addition, we encounter mental health stigma regularly in male-dominated industries, such as construction and mining, which can harbour a ‘macho’ culture where asking for help is seen as a weakness.

Regardless of industry, it is also important that employees feel that they can trust employers enough to reveal their mental health conditions. The report found that a fear of discrimination and lack of support from bosses, has led to 38 percent of people living with psychological conditions choosing not to disclose them at work.


There are strong two-way links between employment and mental health, as it can provide a sense of identity, purpose, life satisfaction, increased social connection and regular opportunities to communicate with people outside of the immediate family and/or social circles.

It is important for people to be able to stay in work while they deal with any psychological issues, if their workplace does not contribute to the condition. Businesses should provide practical support, such as Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP’s). These organisations allow businesses to offer workers with a range of confidential psychological and counselling services via phone and face to face sessions, as well as a range of support materials.

An EAP will assist with health and safety practices for mental health conditions. It will also offer proactive training on creating a positive work environment, which is particularly important in preventing cases of psychological injury. The average mental health compensation claim is over $25k and will see employees miss an average of 16.2 weeks of work, compared to just 5.2 weeks for all other claims.

While the full report is yet to be issued, it’s clear that businesses need to tackle mental health head on, with a well thought out approach that includes organisational codes of practice and supported by expert psychologists.


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