Euan Black and Sally Patten

For some bosses, the main reason they want their workers in the office is simple: getting stuff done is easier when your people are in the same building.

If people are not there, discussions that normally take place in the kitchen or at the water cooler no longer happen, which means every decision ends up requiring a Zoom meeting. Worse still, decisions often don’t get made.

Mandi Ford (left), pictured with her employee Jacqui Walker,
says people who want to work from home would “not be a
good fit” for her concierge business. Peter Rae

“Matters take longer to close out, decisions take longer to be made and people are less informed,” says Bryan Saba, chief executive of Excite Technology Services.

His negative experience of remote working during the pandemic explains why he is one of a small group of employers to buck the hybrid working trend, by requiring staff to attend the office five days a week unless they have extenuating circumstances. Of Excite’s 45 employees, two work remotely some of the time and two work remotely full-time.

Just 7 per cent of Australian employers mandated full-time office attendance for white-collar workers last year, up from 4 per cent in 2022, according to the Australian HR Institute.

Mr Saba said his policy, which offers leeway to staff with health problems and other challenges, had sped up the company’s operations and provided more opportunities for new and younger employees to learn from experienced colleagues. Plus, people had naturally gravitated towards returning to the office full-time without being asked, he said.

Excite Technology Services CEO Bryan Saba says the benefits of mandating full-time office attendance outweigh the costs.

“There’s a lot that’s attained by being in the presence of an individual, in terms of onboarding and training up the junior staff, that you can’t get when you’re remote,” Mr Saba said, referring to the ability to observe body language and tone and to overhear phone calls.

But he conceded the office attendance policy had made it harder for the cybersecurity company to hire new staff.

“It’s been brought up a couple of times [by] candidates,” Mr Saba said. “It’s something that we know is a challenge for us, [but] the way in which we’re mitigating that is creating an environment in which people want to work.”

Mr Saba said the company had brought in ping-pong tables and added lawn bowls and drinks to the end of quarterly business reviews and all-hands meetings to add a social element to company updates.

“When you’ve got a really strong people and culture strategy, you have people buying into a purpose, beyond their work-from-home option, and they’ve really got skin in the game,” Mr Saba said.

Efficiency and collaboration

Small business owner Mandi Ford freely admits that people who want to work from home would “not be a good fit” for her concierge business.

At ES Concierge & Co, founded by Ms Ford 14 years ago, full-time staff must be in the office five days a week. For the entrepreneur, it is all about efficiency and the ability to collaborate quickly without having to send emails or make phone calls.

“To be effective and service our customers and be our most productive, we need to be in the office together,” Ms Ford said.

ES Concierge & Co’s clients include high-net-worth families, executives and corporates, who request services ranging from conference organising to travel planning, restaurant bookings and arranging gifts. The firm, which is based in the Sydney CBD, employs five staff, of whom three work four days a week.

“We get requests all day. It could be a gifting request. It could be a private travel request. It could be for catering,” Ms Ford said.

“Because those requests come in all day, we need to talk about who’s got capacity, who is going to be allocated to the task and then we update throughout the day. That’s not effective when we have people working from home because there is a lot more email.”

Jacqui Walker, a life and business concierge manager at Ms Ford’s firm, is happy to work in the office every day. She is keen to separate her work and family lives and loves the collaboration that comes with going to the office.

”I love being able to talk to other people and to turn to my left and say, ‘Our client has asked me about this. Do you think that should be done this way?’” Ms Walker said.

She also loves getting dressed in work clothes, appreciates the lack of distractions in the office, and said it was easy to go to a supermarket at lunch time to buy groceries for dinner.

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