Can Australia lead the global COVID-19 recovery?

Six months after the first case of COVID-19 was reported and led the world into lockdown, Australia finds itself in an unassuming, somewhat unintended and almost accidental position of opportunity: to lead the world towards recovery.

Quick policy rollouts and decisive leadership by government and businesses have helped slow the spread of the virus, making Australia one of the first markets in the world to start paving the way towards reopening the economy and workplaces. 

In this three part series, we speak to leadership, technology and business experts about the opportunities and challenges for Australia to create a blueprint for what a safe and successful return to work could look like. 

In Part One, we talk to technology and workplace consultant James Dellow to understand how Australia is placed from a digital readiness and workplace design perspective. 

Is Australia an innovation leader?

When it comes to technology and innovation, Australia is a tale of two cities: on the one hand Australian consumers are famously known for being early adopters of technology, but as a nation it ranks in the bottom half of the OECD when it comes to metrics around collaboration and innovation.

So how do we reconcile the two? 

The most helpful frame we’ve come across is to have the confidence Australia can be an innovation leader, with the realisation that we’re performing well under our potential. 

Success stories like Canva, Afterpay and Atlassian show that Australia can produce world class tech companies, while historically groundbreaking inventions like the Cochlear implant, Wifi and Google Maps show that Australians are good at using technology to solve problems, and change the way the world lives and works for the better. 

Democratisation of technology 

James believes that Australia’s potential is also fuelled by the democratisation of technology.

“Since the democratisation of technology over the past few years, every business in Australia can have access to much the same technology as some of the big players. As software-as-a-service and networking have improved, smaller businesses have had access to the same tools as their enterprise counterparts, and big businesses can use their tools in more places, rather than being tethered to a work computer,” said James. 

When COVID-19 hit, workplaces that were already operating on a cloud-based model were able to quickly solve the problems of connecting remote and distributed teams; and tools like Dropbox, Slack and Zoom became some of the first apps people opened each morning, and the last closed at night.

In speaking to his clients, James surmises that there have been three different types of businesses - those that have struggled, some that have coped with the bare minimum and some that have embraced the technology and excelled. 

As workplaces start to reopen in Australia, they will be faced with the decision of what to do with their new found ways of using technology to fuel distributed ways of working - will IT keep these systems operational, or phase them out?

Hear James' opinion on how businesses have adapted to distributed work here:

Redefining the purpose of the office 

James believes that many workplaces will find themselves in a hybrid scenario, split between onsite and offsite workers. 

“One of the main purposes of a physical workplace is ensure everyone is on the same timeframe - the workday starts at 9ish and ends at 5ish, and the workplace keeps everyone on that timeframe, but that will soon be a thing of the past. We’re going to have people in the office and people working from home and what we’ll likely see is people coming into the office for very specific purposes or individual needs.”

These can include use cases such as facilitating all day offsites, acting as a drop-in centre for work in-between meetings or as a place of solitude for focused work. Forward thinking workplaces are already assessing alternate ways to use their office space to safely accommodate a workforce that has the flexibility to come into the office when they need.

According to James, Australia has already been leading the way in project-based office design with incredible offices that use technology to fuel collaboration, a few examples of this are PWC’s Sydney office, Dropbox’s own office in Sydney or CBA’s Axle building. Being one of the first workforces in the world to re-enter the office, Australia is in a position to test and challenge the purpose of a physical workspace and how it it can be redesigned to better suit the needs of workers in a post-COVID world.

Hear James talk about disrupting the cadence of work, by shaking up the traditional office:

Keep an eye out - in the coming weeks we have two more segments in this content series, speaking to Joe Sweeney, Technology Analyst at IBRS about building a culture of innovation, and Melis Senova from Huddle about leadership through times of crisis. 

This story is a part of our series interviewing experts on the opportunities for Australian businesses coming out of COVID-19 lockdown. Keep an eye out for the next pieces in this series coming shortly.

If you have questions about this story or want to speak with a member of the dropbox team, you can reach us at drop-everything@dropbox.com