At a Queensland Futures Institute event in Brisbane this morning, business and industry leaders agreed the pandemic was altering the nature of work with as-yet unforeseen consequences for the state.
The Australian Industry Group’s Queensland head, Rebecca Andrews, said she believed the increased flexibility that had allowed many people to work remotely had also brought benefits in terms of work-life balance and mental health.
With Brisbane’s city centre still quiet, the Queensland executive director of the Property Council of Australia, Chris Mountford, argued it was important for the CBD to return to normal activity levels to underpin the state’s economic revival.
But Andrews suggested workers were looking for a more balanced approach.
“I know that we need vibrant cities, we need people back here (in the CBD), we do need people in offices, I don’t disagree with that,” Andrews said.
“But we have proven that we can be productive, we can be successful, we can be flexible if we give our teams and people choices that still mean success for our businesses, that still mean productivity.”
Mountford – who starts late on Mondays and Tuesday so he can drop off his kids – said well-run organisations were already flexible. He urged people to remember that the CBD was more than just office buildings, and other businesses were feeling the strain.
Mountford said the biggest unknown with the changing nature of work was how much Queensland’s continued population growth was driven by people moving north with work, as opposed to moving north for work, and whether it was sustainable.
While Mountford suggested the demand for housing was strongest in the south-east, and would likely require government and councils to release more land within a year, many regional centres have also been longing for stability and growth.
Queensland Farmers’ Federation CEO Georgina Davies said the lack of backpackers and overseas workers had forced primary producers to innovate where possible – or work double shifts just to survive. However, there are still 26,000 farm vacancies ahead of a busy season, and lost produce will devastate local communities.
After being asked what regional towns and cities could do to attract more people, Queensland Tourism Industry Council CEO Daniel Gschwind suggested most people moved for lifestyle reasons, better infrastructure, or schools for their children, and that jobs were a separate consideration.
He and Mountford called on regional stakeholders to offer something new, and be willing to compete, in order to attract new residents and boost local economies.
The Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland’s Amanda Rohan said business confidence was lagging and the end of JobKeeper next month would lift the state’s already high unemployment rate.