Owen Wilson: Money Matters, but Not as Much as It Used To

Owen Wilson, CEO of REA Group

“Remuneration is important and the tech sector is a very competitive market,” Owen Wilson, CEO of the real estate advertising giant REA Group, told the crowd at Qantas magazine’s final Think. event for 2022, held at St Kilda’s Stokehouse in association with LSH Auto Australia. “But the first question a tech employee will ask you is not about money, it’s about your flexible working policy, and they want to understand your purpose and know how they are going to develop in the company.”

Purpose can’t be a cheap promise – it’s a genuine expectation, particularly from millennials and gen Z, and they will hold you to it.

“Employees want an inspiring purpose,” says Wilson. “They want to learn and grow and know their career path. When you get down to remuneration, it’s a hygiene factor. It’s those other things that they’re looking for.”

Owen Wilson, CEO of the real estate advertising giant REA Group

As a tech company, REA Group was ready to roll with remote working from day one when the pandemic hit. Today, the focus is on empowering people to do what works best for them.

“We treat hybrid like product design, and we do it around what we call ‘the moments that matter’,” explains Wilson. “We asked each team to look at their activities and decide which are performed better together, which are better done on their own, and which can be done hybrid.”

That way, teams map out their projects and decide among themselves when and how often they need to come together in the office.

“It’s different strokes for different folks. If you’re a coder, for example, it is a very solo activity and peace and quiet is a godsend, so developers would spend a lot of time at home. On the flip side, sales teams like to come together more often to share ideas and thoughts and the finance teams like to be in the office all the time.

“We’ve developed a hybrid working guide, which gives you the principles for the teams and individuals within that fairly flexible arrangement.”

REA Group has published that guide on their public website, acknowledging another shift in the corporate world where knowledge is shared, an approach pioneered by tech giant Atlassian.

It needs to be a living document. “We’ve said nothing is set in stone,” says Wilson, adding that REA’s third hybrid-working staff survey showed at least half of the people who participated were concerned about reduced social connection and relationship building in a hybrid environment.

“That’s something we’ve got to work on and we don’t have the answer yet – we have to make sure we set up the time and space for that connectivity, which has to be face-to-face, in the office.”

Owen Wilson, CEO of the real estate advertising giant REA Group

Whatever that looks like, Wilson says in terms of productivity, it’s purely about output. Trusting your teams to deliver that is essential to a high-functioning organisation.

“REA doesn’t make widgets – every single program or app feature or product that we develop is bespoke, so there’s no real measure of productivity in our business. That’s why we have what we call ‘summer Fridays’. If you’ve got to Friday lunchtime and your output’s there, then you spend the rest of the day on self-development or reading – things that are going to get you set up for next week, and the week after. There’s no productivity panic at REA.”

That trust is another arrow in the organisation’s quiver in attracting and retaining talent. “The last three years has been the most competitive talent market we’ve seen, but it’s slow and surely changing. There’s been a flight to quality and our vacancy rate is the lowest it’s been in about three years.”

Think. is a thought-leadership event and content series, presented by Qantas magazine and in association with LSH Auto Australia – the country’s leading Mercedes-Benz dealer group. Find out more about LSH Auto Australia.

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