The working world has forever been changed by the pandemic. How do we ensure it’s for the better?

As founder and joint MD of leadership development consultancy Maximus International, Vanessa Gavan spends a lot of time thinking about what it takes to build thriving workplace cultures.

Speaking to the crowd at Qantas magazine’s final Think. event for 2022, held at St Kilda’s Stokehouse in association with LSH Auto Australia, Gavan admitted there has been a “shadow side” to the pandemic. “But I like to focus on the good things, including the role that organisations now play in focusing on the wellbeing of their people.

Vanessa Gavan, Founder of leadership development consultancy Maximus International

The pandemic brought humanity to the workplace. All of a sudden we have this visibility into people’s homes and their kids and their other responsibilities.”

Leaders now must step up to navigate balancing visibility and flexibility, for themselves and their staff, at a time when people are fatigued and economic pressures are high. “There’s never been a more challenging time to lead. The old rules of work were about structure, hierarchy and authority. It now calls for different leadership, where leaders need to be visible and also role model flexibility.”

In a hybrid work world, Gavan says a simple question should make it easy for anyone in the organisation to decide where they should be: to whom does it matter most? For instance, if there’s a young intern looking for mentorship, they need co-workers around. “It’s their foundational work experience, so it matters to them if you’re there.”

Equally, now that we’ve discovered it’s possible to be a high-performing leader and be present for family moments that matter, keeping the promise to be at your child’s school concert or your elderly parent’s morning tea is just as important.

“That question of ‘who does it matter to?’ – whether you show up in the office today or not – frames the way we should be thinking about this modern way of working.”

However, Gavan notes that there’s still something of a generational divide around flexibility. “Boards and management still ask a lot of questions around productivity. The challenge is this focus on time. The focus needs to be on purpose, discretionary effort and outcomes – you’ll get more from that equation than if you’re purely focusing on time.”

Vanessa Gavan, Founder of leadership development consultancy Maximus International

All the same, flexible work doesn’t mean a free-for-all. “At Maximus, we talk about freedom with accountability. People want more freedom, more ownership, and to focus on outcomes. We believe the way to do that is to fuel their passion by focusing on purpose, on enriching, and building reciprocity in the relationship. No relationships work without reciprocity.”

Don’t skip over purpose – it’s absolutely key. “People see leaders as key to influencing things that we need to progress – the things that people feel are wrong with the world that need correcting. They’re looking to their leaders and saying, ‘What’s your perspective on this?’, and they expect you to have one.” And leaders should expect to lose hearts, minds and headcounts if they claim to believe in something, but their actions don’t follow through.

For most people, work is much more than earning a living, and making it fun must not be forgotten. “Work is a big form of identity for people, a place where they get a sense of achievement,” says Gavan. “We need to not be purely focused on efficiency or output and get back to the joy of how we collaborate, connect and learn together. They’re the things that breathe energy into our workplaces.”

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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