Regional Development Officer Forum - Workforce Futures

Pointer was invited by Regional Development Australia to present at the Regional Development Officer Forum in Griffith on May 10. Local Government, Business and Economic Development Officers and HR Managers were invited to attend and the Forum cover topics such as regional population trends, the Regional Workforce Strategy and 'relocation' case studies. 

Georgie Robertson, our PR and Marketing Guru presented on Pointer's behalf a session on 'Disrupting the traditional hiring methods'. Her presentation was too good not to share!


As a child growing up in Outback NSW, my siblings and I were educated remotely via School Of The Air. The lessons were delivered each day over a high frequency hand-held radio and our completed school work was dispatched via the postman on his twice-weekly round which took in a two hundred kilometre radius. 

When shearing time came around, we had to adjust our hours out of necessity to help Dad out with his mustering schedule.  Looking back, us School of the Air kids were always considered a bit 'different' from our peers who sat in traditional classrooms, wearing uniforms, and catching public transport to their local school. On the flipside, I couldn't imagine abiding by the strict framework that was the day-to-day reality for most of these kids.

When I was sent to boarding school at aged 12 it literally took me 3 years to adjust to the very rigid parameters that are a normal day in the life of a high school student. No longer could I turn up to our classroom (which also doubled as our laundry) at 7am so I could finish up my schoolwork by midday and head out to help dad with the mustering or do a water run. 

Today I am presenting on the topic of working remotely and the methods in which recruitment agencies are disrupting traditional hiring models. The irony is not lost on me that some 20 years down the track, we may have replaced the hand-held radio with digital connectivity, video conferencing and artificial intelligence but the principals are still the same, more and more Australians are seeking that flexibility, productivity and the freedom to escape the 9-5 grind. We are steadily speeding toward a future of work that includes job flexibility and location independence beyond our grandparents’ wildest dreams. The 9-to-5 job won’t cease to exist, but many will likely be revamped, with increased work-from-home days and varying office hours in response to a broader culture shift toward greater flexibility.

These conversations are happening all over Australia and especially in regional communities. If it hasn't happened in your company yet, it probably will. More employees and especially the millennial generation are enjoying flexible work environments, with one survey showing that 35 percent of Australians are working remotely and the number is steadily increasing.

My name is Georgie Robertson and I am here today to sub in for Jo Palmer who founded Pointer Remote Roles, an online hiring platform that she established in 2017 to connect employers with the hundreds of remote workers that are located around the nation. Pointer is the first company specialising in the placement of the highly skilled remote workers around the country who prefer to work from home…or anywhere really. 

The idea for Pointer came to life after Jo co-founded her event management company, Agri Alliance. As she was looking for employees she couldn’t help but look around at her peers and professional mates living in regional areas that were being held back from remote employment due to lack of awareness and opportunity. In response, and seeing a much-needed gap in the market, she created Pointer with the grand plan of eventually delivering thousands of qualified Australians the opportunity to work remotely.

In Jo’s words, "There is an enormous amount of untapped talent and experience living in regional Australia and if a corporate can give someone in Sydney two days a week of remote work, why can't they give it to someone in Broken Hill? If their Internet is as good – why can't they be in the mix?" 

Unsurprisingly, with the calibre of candidates who are ready and highly skilled, metro and regional businesses have been quick to embrace this unique recruitment model. Since Jo’s launch she has received national media attention highlighting the potential benefits to regional Australia as a whole; including increased rates of employment in rural areas, increase in income, and increased spending in local communities, plus addressing mental health issues related to professional and physical isolation.

With today's workforce moving towards flexible working hours and locations, providing the opportunity for businesses to fill positions with the best candidate for the job, regardless of where they live, has been a saviour for many. Pointer has also created a space for small businesses or individuals to find contractors or freelancers to complete small jobs or contracts, rather than having to employ full-time staff. 

My own situation directly reflects the benefits of such a platform and is one of the reasons that I stand here today. Having lived in far too many rural and regional postcodes than I care to remember thanks to a partner that has a helicopter service I have often found myself based remotely, from dusty cotton farms in Moree to beef stations located an hour from civilisation. In 2017 it turned out that our next move was Wagga and having read about Pointer in the Sydney Morning Herald I got in touch with Jo to see if there was a possibility of her finding me work relevant to my skills.  Ironically, she ended hiring me on a consultancy basis and connecting me with a co-working space and the PR work has steadily flowed since. Like many other candidates, I have become a massive advocate for what is the future of work. 

I should also add that the 6 or so Pointer Remote staff members all work from their home offices or in co-working spaces throughout the country, from Tasmania to WA and the model has been completely virtual right from the start. Having worked in both virtual and in-office environments, I can honestly say this is the most collaborative, positive, productive team environment I’ve been a part of.

However, there is still a cultural shift that needs to be bridged, particularly in relation to employer attitudes. And of course, the model would not work if it wasn’t somehow beneficial to employers too. Yet some companies are still on the fence about allowing employees to work outside the office. The fear factor for many managers is: 'If I can't see you how do I know you are working?' But this approach will be detrimental in the years to come. These days more candidates require remote work as a condition of employment and taking the option off the table can prevent companies from attracting key people, and to make it worse the top candidates you miss out on may be headed to your competitors who are offering a remote position. 

A key takeaway from this is that employers are no longer dictating the trajectory of people’s careers—the workers are.

One such employer and early adopter is the founder of Farm Table and Farmer Exchange, Airlie Trescowthick who has made a name for herself as a young producer and innovator committed to making a difference in the agricultural space. Her commercial acumen and corporate experience has seen her become a rapidly rising star in the industry. In 2015, Airlie first started developing a central online resource to put farmers in touch with the latest research, resources, training opportunities, grants and funding opportunities, and... each other. Having launched headfirst into the world of program development, research and app creation, Pointer Remote has played an essential role in building these areas of her business and in the last 12 months has hired 5 employees via the Pointer Platform.

Another employer based in Central Queensland is cotton farmer Fleur Anderson, who is the brains behind the Rural Business Collective; an initiative launched to help increase economic diversity in the bush. In a few short years, she has become the face of Australia's leading network for rural and remote business builders and entrepreneurs. Fleur is also Director of Cotton Australia and Chair of the Australian Cotton Industry Forum.

From Farm Table to Virgin. The constantly agile Richard Branson has a message for fellow business leaders: He says “Your employees want flexible work arrangements” He was introduced to flexible work in 2005 after the birth of his first child and says he found himself out of a job, not because he didn't have the right skills, or experience, or commitment to his employer, but because he wanted to spend an extra day each week with his family. Branson staunchly believes that if companies want to find, attract and keep the best employees, they need to build flexible working and remote hiring into the talent strategy.

Many major tech companies are already doing just that. In 2017, Amazon announced it would be hiring 5,000 remote workers by year's end and Apple recently posted a job advertisement seeking employees for work-from-home positions. The growth in the number of forward-looking employers means that the workplace is finally starting to catch up.

So, if you are an organisation that is concerned about productivity and performance issues associated with a companywide ability to work from home, a few tips:     

- Create standard key performance indicators for both management and employees. This way, remote team members are aware of expectations, and their performance can be monitored. 

- It takes preparation and discipline to manage remote employees but if it’s well executed you will say goodbye to inefficient interactions you have when you’re sitting next to your team members and hello to super efficient meetings and workflows. Which is an employer’s dream come true?

Part of Pointer’s success is because Jo can also spend time with her clients educating them on to make remote work, work.

She advises these companies on how to ensure their remote employees feel involved and part of the company culture. She notes that this can be especially difficult when hiring junior employees remotely and says it’s crucial to successfully give them ownership and responsibility.

It takes a mix of good collaboration tools and good team habits. The benefit of having remote employees is that it forces you to think long and hard about which tools you’ll be using, how you’ll be communicating and constantly evaluating the efficiency of your set up. If it’s not working, you’ll know within hours.

Good team habits range from organising daily and weekly meetings to yearly company off site. A remote future does not mean company culture and team building will become things of the past. 

Building a team that’s part remote or totally remote requires a lot of planning and iterating about your team’s efficiency. In the end, it forces you to ask yourself questions and tackle crucial collaboration issues you might have put to the side if your team wasn’t remote.

And to her employees who are looking for work, she says, first, figure out what type(s) of flexibility you really want. Some people love working from home and others prefer a flexible schedule, and some like a combination of the two. Decide what remote work looks like to you before you dive in. Then, set yourself up for success. If you’re working from home, create a quiet space dedicated to your work, and set up a routine for yourself each day so that you’re still in the mind set of “going to work.”

All these tips might feel small as the future of VR is rapidly evolving and in a few years will iron out some of the problems we experience with remote. But they’ll still ring true because in the end the path to reach true happiness at work lies in learning to work as one team and respecting each of your collaborator’s rhythm & needs. Remote is an incredible school for teams to achieve this.

Much like the hook-up app Tinder but without the bad dates and dodgy headshots the Pointer matching platform has truly changed the face and the future of hiring remotely. As you can see, it’s as simple as employers posting a role, and if a candidate's profile matches the criteria, they are emailed the role. If the candidate wishes to be considered, the employer is sent the 'matches' and the interview process goes from there. The rest is history.

Georgie Robertson



Jo Palmer