Some of Australia’s largest employers are delaying plans to bring workers back to the office in Sydney and Melbourne until February as government advice on borders and CBD access chops and changes.
Despite COVID-19 cases not breaching double digits in any of the major states since Melbourne’s second wave last year, state premiers have been quick to slam shut borders and prescribe masks to contain outbreaks as they arise.
Many office spaces are now decorated with signs explaining social distancing and limiting the number of staff per room, with some employers offering subsidised parking to ease the pressure on public transport.
In Victoria, up to 50 per cent of office workers can return to their desks from Monday, without being required to wear a mask indoors, after the state recorded eight consecutive days of zero community transmission of the deadly virus. This was originally slated to commence on January 11, but was pushed back after a cluster broke out in the city’s south-east.
In New South Wales, the public health order requiring companies to allow employees to work from home no longer applies, but social distancing requirements mean offices can only be half-full at any given time.
The Commonwealth Bank, which is the nation’s biggest bank employing more than 40,000 people, said it’s going to keep the hybrid model – staff split between office and remote working – through to February.
“We continue to monitor the situation and are currently looking to a hybrid return for many of our people in February, pending no new health concerns or restrictions are advised by the Victorian or NSW governments,” a CBA spokesman said.
“Flexibility and remote working will be important in helping us manage building occupancy rates to ensure we comply with physical distancing requirements.”
Telstra is also taking a cautious approach, and a spokesman said Melbourne staff were being encouraged to work from home until the end of January.
The telco said it would continue to enable flexible work conditions after restrictions are eased after staff said they “no longer want to spend Monday to Friday in a traditional office environment”.
“As things return to normal, many see themselves coming into the office up to two days a week to collaborate, see customers, and connect with their team. But there’s a wide range of views on this, with some keen to come back into the office full-time and others not at all,” the spokesman said.
Melbourne-headquartered National Australia Bank is only encouraging “business critical and frontline teams” to work on-site and did not specify a date for any future changes.
“Our advice to colleagues in Greater Brisbane, NSW and Victoria is if you can work from home, please continue to do so,” a spokesman said. “In early 2021, we will look to accommodate more colleagues to return, provided it’s safe to do so and in line with government advice.”
Travel between Sydney and Melbourne remains banned, and one major bank will have to change plans for a board meeting that was scheduled to take place in Victoria early February.
Like Telstra, other employers also say they’ve adapted well to the remote working model and will cut down on corporate travel and in-person meetings regardless of the health advice.
Australia’s second largest health insurer Medibank said the Sydney office would be reopened “shortly”, but a phased return of Melbourne offices would be delayed until February. In both cities, Medibank people and culture executive Kylie Bishop said flexible working conditions would be adopted permanently.
“Both these sites will re-open subject to government advice at the time and with a COVIDSafe Plan in place,” she said. “Medibank is moving to a new way of working in 2021, with the type of work to determine the setting, whether that be in the office, at home, or another location.”
Retail conglomerate Wesfarmers subsidiaries Officeworks and Bunnings are not encouraging office staff to return to bricks and mortar until February.
Australia’s top tech export Atlassian, which is based in Sydney, will keep working remotely.
The country’s third-largest bank, Westpac, declined to comment on border politics with chief executive Peter King on leave, however a spokesman said the bank would continue to review the latest guidance for its city offices and branch network.
“Corporate office employees working during this time are asked to work from home, unless it is business critical to be in the workplace.
“We plan to progressively increase the number of people working in our corporate offices when it is safe to do so, and are monitoring the current situation closely,” the spokesman said.
Source: Thanks smh.com