‘Work from Anywhere’ Is the New Office

June 10th, 2020

Going to an office to work was a defining part of everyone's life. It's been our home-away-from-home up until recently. Susan Lucas-Conwell shares her leadership approach during this unprecedented time.

Going to an office to work was a defining part of everyone’s life. It has been our home-away-from-home complete with a second family comprised of workmates for centuries. The roots of the office can be traced back to 1729 with the first purpose-built office building for the East India Company in London[1].

The pandemic up-ended the office along with commonly held practices on how work is supposed to get done. According to the Brookings Institute, 50% of working adults are working from home as a result of the COVID-19[2]. This up-ending didn’t happen overnight, it just feels that way.

For decades, companies have experimented with job-sharing, telecommuting, staggered shifts and work-from-home-Fridays to reduce operating costs and meet employee demand for increased flexibility. In the late-1990s the Gig economy1 took off with Millennials embarking on freelance digital careers to satisfy their wanderlust while paying the bills. They legitimized work-from-anywhere (WFA) and proved employees can be just as, if not more than, productive as their office-bound peers.

The pandemic upped the ante. Numerous companies from Twitter to the Big Four accounting firms have either eliminated a return to the office or postponed it until well into 2021. Work from Anywhere (“WFA”) has become mainstream.

Long before the pandemic changed the world, CSIRO US team was already WFA. The North American innovation center in Silicon Valley is a hub for visiting scientists, government officials, start-ups and to host forums, events, and industry roundtables with Fortune 500 companies and federal government research labs. Work-from-Home was already part of the fabric for the US team – home, customer sites, and airports – until the pandemic hit.

“Cloud-based technology enables us to work effectively, anywhere,” shares Susan Lucas-Conwell, Executive Vice President of CSIRO US. “The critical success factor is culture and communication.”

Lucas-Conwell’s leadership approach is ‘people-first’:

  1. Stay in constant contact with employee, clients and partners
  2. Communicate, communicate and listen
  3. Be empathetic and flexible
  4. Build a healthy, inclusive and open team culture
  5. Lead by focusing on results instead of activities.

“Everyone has different work habits. The most effective way to manage is to understand each individual’s strengths and weaknesses, and support them for success” shared Lucas-Conwell.

In place of in-person meetings and hallway conversations, the team makes extensive use of Video Conferencing, Microsoft Teams, and digital workplaces. Being able to “see” each other on video calls helps maintain personal relationships and team culture. Establishing trust is essential.

Work-from-anywhere has been instrumental in improving the team’s quality of life. Several Research Associates are members of the US Olympic Men’s Rowing Team. WFA enables them to train on the east coast or work from other locations around the country while contributing to expanding the North American reach of CSIRO scientific business units.

“One area I keep an eye out for is professional isolation and constant working,” said Lucas-Conwell. “I check in with everyone to make sure they have a healthy work/life balance, and we have virtual team events. It’s all about being creative and taking care of each other.”


CSIRO US facilitates relationships with North American companies, government agencies, and academic institutions to connect Australian researchers with USA projects to expedite mutually beneficial opportunities for scientific advancements in food agriculture, space, water conservation, wildfire, and smart cities. Partnering in open innovation brings not only deep scientific research competencies to the table but also deep experience with a wide range of real-world problems. Follow us on LinkedIn.

1 https://smallbiztrends.com/2019/11/the-history-and-future-of-the-gig-economy.html
[1] https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-23372401
[2] https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2020/04/06/telecommuting-will-likely-continue-long-after-the-pandemic/
[3] https://www.businessinsider.com/work-from-home-lurk-always-active-slack-microsoft-teams-jabber-2020-5