Agence Olloweb D9 I Lr Db Edg Unsplash (1)


2020 in review: What’s really happening in Australian businesses?

Posted on 19th February 2021 by Vanessa Cole

2020 In Review Report (5)

Without sounding like a broken record, 2020 really was a year like no other. It shifted work habits, home habits and the way businesses operate.  Throughout the year we were consistently being asked by our clients (and candidates), “what’s happening in other businesses?”.  And we too were curious to understand how the effects of last year impacted Australian companies, so we conducted some market research to better service our customers and offer insights that might help.

We anonymously surveyed 100 business representatives across a wide variety of industries including Banking and Finance, Insurance, FMCG, Medical, Facilities Management, Tech, Professional Services, Manufacturing and eCommerce, and the results are in… They offer some interesting insights that, together with our Talent Insights report, reveal a tangible snapshot of what’s really happening in Australian businesses… and perhaps shape our predictions of what’s in store for 2021.

What went well in 2020?

Respondents were asked to pick their top 3 things that went well, and we have collated the overall top 5:

  • 59% - Utilisation of technology
  • 47% - Maintaining service levels
  • 38% - Retaining employees
  • 26% - Managing teams remotely
  • 22% - Maintaining projected growth

Businesses invested in tech so they could maintain service levels and retain their employees. They transitioned employees to work from home quickly and efficiently across the board, providing equipment, software and IT support to make changes fast. But like any big change, it was not without its challenges…

Encouragingly, 84.5% of respondents reported that productivity levels increased or stayed the same throughout the year. We hope that employees weren’t overworked or putting in extra hours in order to maintain or increase productivity. Checking in with your people to ensure they are coping is more important now than ever.

Managing remote teams

Managing teams remotely was of huge concern for our clients, and many asked for guidance through coaching and webinars, on how to do so effectively. It was a learning experience for many of us…

Suffice to say, remote teams have become embedded in Australian work culture and are here to stay. Many teams are now hybrid with employees working 2-3 days from home and 2-3 days in the office throughout the week. It’s important to consider what investment is needed in technology, and how to best facilitate this so that businesses and employees get the most out of their time together, whether virtual or in-person and feel the appropriate level of support.

To address this very issue, we asked Diana Tapp, Australia’s #1 high-performance team consultant, to deliver a Lunch & Learn on the topic in September 2020 – if you missed it and would like to take on the highly actionable and still-relevant insights, you can watch the recording here.

Tumbleweed rolling through the office hallway?

With many companies offering remote working (either between 1-4 days/week at 86%, or fully remote at 26%), the need for large office spaces is massively in decline. 29% of companies have reduced their office spaces to match the number of desks required, leading to cost savings for the business. Will this trend continue in 2022? Or will people start to miss the buzz of the office, after-work drinks with colleagues, or face time with senior leaders?

What were the biggest challenges?

  • Maintaining Employee wellbeing – 38%
  • Onboarding new staff – 28%
  • Technology – 27%
  • Employee Engagement – 25%
  • Recruitment freeze – 24%

It comes as little surprise that Maintaining employee wellbeing was at the top of the list of challenges, with mental health being very much in the spotlight in 2020. Thankfully 78% of companies were aware of growing mental health challenges, and 64% of companies offered additional support (on top of already existing services). These included;

  • Mental health/wellbeing training – 25%
  • Access to free EAP services - 20%
  • Access to mental health and wellbeing services – 10%

67% of respondents reported that these initiatives had a positive impact on their teams.

Mental health is an important issue and it will require continuing attention from businesses moving forward. In our Talent Insights report, 72% of respondents said that work-life balance was a top important initiative they want to see in their next employer, and 32% said they’d like to see more mental health initiatives in the workplace. Aside from the fact that untreated mental health conditions cost Australian workplaces approximately $10.9 billion per year, it’s more important than ever to bring a care-factor and let employees know that their employers place value on their teams’ health and wellbeing.

If you’d like ideas on combatting mental health concerns, please read our blog here.

The hiring landscape

We were of course interested to see that 24% of companies found recruitment freezes to be a real challenge for their business. 60% combatted this by hiring temporary employees to cover the gap, and 49% made internal transfers or promotions.

It was a huge surprise to note that 69% of companies surveyed made permanent hires. Traditionally in a downturn, permanent roles tend to be the first to freeze…

Among the top 5 role-types hired for, 46% of respondents recruited Operations positions, seemingly to organise and structure the many changes companies faced to maintain BAU (or whatever the new version of BAU is!). Customer Service roles were hired within 42% of companies surveyed, as businesses dealt with higher call volumes, and focused on helping customers and providing high service levels during trying times.

It was heartening to see that People and Culture roles made up 37% of new hires… perhaps we can interpret that the focus on internal employees was still front of mind. We have noticed that recruitment of P&C role-types has shifted since pre-COVID times, with more employment legislation, organisational design, and health & safety roles on the market than before.

The trouble with recruitment…

47% of those businesses who made hires since March 2020 reported that they struggled with an overwhelming volume of applicants, and 21% reported a lower volume of quality of applicants, and 37% said they found the hiring process, in general, more difficult than normal.

On top of workloads increasing for many, having external support was a welcomed assistance for 49% of companies who used an external recruiter to assist with this daunting task. It’s great to hear agency recruiters are still making a valued contribution!

So, where to from here?

With the vaccine roll out in its infancy, and with the effects of the past 11 months continuing into the future, many of the trends we have reported on look to be set to continue throughout 2021.

It will be important for businesses to be malleable to the changes that come and keep being flexible to the needs of their people, their customers, and the market, both locally and internationally.

There have been many important positives that have come from an incredibly difficult time; we may not be completely out of the woods yet, but we’re on the right track.

If you’d like to read a copy of our full report, please click here.

To have a confidential consultation around how people-solutions can assist in implementing any of the ideas you have read, please reach out, we’d love to open the conversation.