A tale of two talent economies

1 February 2021

Based on research conducted by Findex, small businesses need to think about how they can embrace flexible working models and technology to avoid losing out on the best talent to big business, who will be more likely to offer this.

The findings from businesses across Australia and New Zealand on the impact of distributed working arrangements (working from home) during COVID-19, show small businesses are bearing the brunt of the mass migration to working from home, with one in four saying their productivity has taken a hit.

While many SMEs have struggled to find efficiencies in new ways of working in the lockdown era, big businesses reported the opposite, with 40 per cent of businesses with 500+ employees saying they found significant or small increases in productivity.

Findex is a case-in-point. When COVID-19 forced us into lockdown, we recognised there was an opportunity to transform our business model, so we could not only support our clients in their local communities as needed but provide our staff with the flexibility to develop a work environment that suits them.

This year, our almost 3,000 strong workforce transitioned to a long-term ‘remote first’ operating model and two thirds of the 96 roles we’ve filled in 2020 have been remote.

Moving to a permanent distributed working business model allows us to use the collective understanding of our advisers across Australia and New Zealand, while also offering a local perspective to our clients. Furthermore, it has given us the opportunity to finally build a culture that provides the long-overdue work flexibility employees have been crying out for. And it’s paying dividends.

When compared to the prior period last year, employee productivity is up by 2-3%. We’ve seen increased employee engagement and a reduction in voluntary turnover. The amount of sick leave employees are taking has almost halved.

For clients, our turnaround times are down, and clients are saying they are more satisfied than they’ve ever been. Client churn has decreased and our NPS is up by more than 20% on the prior period.

We’ve demonstrated, with the right infrastructure, a supporting culture, purposeful leadership and high levels of trust, the previous bias associated with remote working can be successfully reimagined.

On the flipside, the report suggests 2020 has been a year of significant hardship for SMEs. Three in five said their ability to carry on with business as usual has been hampered by the COVID-19 restrictions and shut-downs.

So why did SMEs feel the brunt more than bigger enterprises? It’s likely larger businesses already invested in the hardware, system and tools that supported a smoother shift to working from home prior to the pandemic.

Smaller businesses are less likely to have made this investment, or deliver services requiring physical shopfronts to be operational, which has left them more vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19.

As most of Australia emerges from the strictest phases of lockdown and gears up for economic recovery, what does the future of working from home look like?

66 per cent of those surveyed said at a minimum, they’d want to continue working for home at least a few days a week going forward, with one in five saying they have no desire to return to the office full time.

Additionally, 100 per cent of businesses with more than 1,000 employees that we surveyed anticipate their employees will work from home at least some of the time when full COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

So, it stands to reason that we expect flexible working models to become a real point of difference for recruitment and retention. Employers of choice will be the ones who can accommodate true flexible working arrangements and provide employees with the role they’re after and the flexibility to choose where they live.

The strategy at Findex is about taking work to talent, not making talent come to work. Small businesses need to think about how they can embrace this to avoid losing out on the best talent to big business, who will be more likely to offer this based on our research.

More insights and findings from our research can be found at Standing still is not an option: Digital transformation driven by COVID-19. To discuss your talent strategy in a post-COVID-19 world, get in touch with the Findex Consulting team.