How to make blended work operate effectively in a ‘post-pandemic’ world

Victoria’s stringent COVID-19 lockdown in 2020 forced dramatic changes to daily patterns and workplaces. Large organisations had to deal with teams working from home and scrambling to remain productive.

To inform strategies for effective communications and interventions that would support a new blended model of working from home and in the office, Melbourne Water engaged BehaviourWorks Australia to research beliefs and attitudes among workers.

Melbourne Water’s New Ways of Working agenda aims to enable blended working as an effective and sustainable option for Melbourne Water employees; a conscious shift from remote working being an option that may be available on an individual basis to something that’s effectively enabled through systems, policies and practices across the business.

BehaviourWorks Australia employed a range of techniques to explore attitudes and beliefs surrounding remote working, identifying potential enablers and barriers to supporting blended work as we move from the pandemic phase to ‘post-pandemic’ or ‘new normal’ phase.

The challenge:
Explore attitudes and beliefs surrounding remote working and identify potential enablers and barriers to supporting blended work as a 'new normal'.
Melbourne Water
Oct 2020 – Feb 2021 (Phase one)

What did we do?

The research project was designed to cover three phases:

  1. develop a shared vision of what working for Melbourne Water looks like in the future
  2. inform communications to support new ways of working, and
  3. identify target audiences and behaviours to implement blended working.

In this first phase, we conducted a rapid literature review on remote or flexible work arrangements. We then conducted belief elicitation interviews with Melbourne Water staff to help understand the drivers and barriers to remote working.

Practice interviews were also conducted with Melbourne Water staff around remote working arrangements in the future.

Surveys and workshops

From the belief elicitation interviews, a belief elicitation survey was developed and shared with the wider Melbourne Water organisation. Workshops were also held to gain feedback and learn how staff can support new ways of working, with the leadership team holding a workshop on how to implement the new arrangements.

BehaviourWorks Australia also conducted its own internal Hackathon into behavioural interventions to support remote/blended working arrangements.

Who was involved?

Melbourne Water employees (predominantly office-based).

Results and recommendations

The belief elicitation interviews and survey revealed a number of beliefs among ‘high intenders’ (those intending to work remotely) and ‘low intenders’ (those less enthusiastic about the idea).

High intenders reported upsides such as:

  • more productive/better integration of life activities with work
  • saves time by not having to commute
  • more time for work/life balance and wellbeing.

For low intenders, downsides include:

  • work-life creeping into private lifeless social interactions/camaraderie
  • working longer hours with more meetings
  • harder to quickly fix issues (some things need to be face-to-face)
  • harder to manage teams.

Both groups saw the blending of work and life from opposite points of view – as a benefit or a drawback.

Productivity, connection and wellbeing were seen to be enhanced or reduced, depending on the individual’s experience of remote working.

Teams also adapted differently to remote working. Some were trialling new work practices; others looking for direction.

The issue of physical presence in the office was raised; the belief that proof of commitment to the organisation was measured by simply being in the office and that there is an unspoken pressure to be seen at work.

Leadership is clearly key to the success of these new blended working arrangements.

Other perspectives on the future of work

Melbourne Water is an unusual organisation for exploring this complex issue and striving to support new ways of working into the future.

Many other ideas/perspectives emerging from this research include:

  • trust can be a key issue with blended working – can an organisation and its managers trust people to honestly work at home? However, organisations also need to ask themselves, how do they know people are working in the office?

In behavioural terms, lockdown is a moment of change – where people adapt to new circumstances with new behaviours.

  • people who’ve never considered working from home as a viable option realise they can do it.
  • many who don’t like it were forced to make it work. It also raises unexpected issues, such as gender equity – if more men are at home, this becomes normalised.
  • road congestion might be reduced, but there is also a lack of confidence about hygiene on public transport. Both workplaces – at home and in the workplace – have mental and physical health impacts.

Research lead

Dr Denise Goodwin

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