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No one-size-fits-all in the move back to work

As Melbourne has spread out, those living in the outer suburbs, or in regional towns, would no doubt be more inclined to appreciate relief from their long commutes. And for those who were previously struggling to juggle the work/life balance, the ability to more seamlessly combine the two must be a persuasive argument for staying at home to work.

But working from home is not for everyone.

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Even before the pandemic, there was a growing number of people feeling lonely and isolated. A survey in 2018 found that one in four people lived in a state of loneliness, and 30 per cent did not feel like they were part of a group of friends. With many people having to isolate at home for long periods of time last year, that would only have been exacerbated. For many in this situation, a return to work could be a welcome return to some form of socialising.

For those who are new to a workplace or just starting out in their career, long stints working from home are not ideal. Without established professional networks built up during years spent in an office, or time spent in the workplace getting to know colleagues through face-to-face contact, their chance of career progression and professional development could be limited.

Such a diversity of circumstances means workers will require more than ever employers to be flexible and attuned to the individual needs of their workforce. There is no one-size-fits-all in this situation.

That should not stop the state government and business leaders encouraging as many people to return to the city as possible. As chief executive of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott, stated recently: “CBDs are more than a collection of office towers; they’re cultural, entertainment and retailing centres. Empty CBDs are economic dead zones … it psychologically drags on our return to some semblance of normalcy.”

It all points to the growing realisation that “normal” life after the pandemic has passed may look a whole lot different to what we once thought the future may bring. If enough time is spent taking into account individual circumstances, then that may not be such a bad thing.

Note from the Editor

The Age’s editor, Gay Alcorn, writes an exclusive newsletter for subscribers on the week’s most important stories and issues. Sign up here to receive it every Friday.

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