National businesses based in regional Australia have long had to prove themselves.
Historically we have had to work harder and have a more substantial offering than our city counterparts to succeed.
But COVID-19 has changed everything.
Most notably, the way we work and where we work.
It has proven that being based in the regions, at home, or anywhere else is not an impediment to being a great business.
As Australia battles a second wave, there is a possibility that the switch to working from home has the power to lead to a more significant change for businesses based in regional Australia.
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It could be the push to corporate Australia to finally look beyond its capital cities and better leverage the talent, lower property prices, and lifestyle benefits of cities such as Newcastle and the surrounding Hunter region.
Our own business has been operating in the Hunter Valley for over two decades as a specialist self-managed superannuation funds (SMSF) firm.
We have experienced both the good and the bad of being a regional business.
While more affordable housing, less traffic, and greater family time are compelling reasons that have attracted great talent, the talent pool is sometimes not deep enough to fill all the roles and grow our business.
But this may soon change and that is exciting for regional employers.
There is a good chance that Sydneysiders will now question whether they need to spend everything they earn on an onerous mortgage, waste time commuting during city peak hours and only ever see their children in the dark during winter
Having worked from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a good chance that Sydneysiders will now question whether they need to spend everything they earn on an onerous mortgage, waste time commuting during city peak hours and only ever see their children in the dark during winter.
If Australians can work from home well enough so that physical distance is less relevant, then Australia's regional areas are now far more appealing to a more significant number of high calibre potential recruits.
Businesses based in the regions have also long needed to be innovative to close the distance and provide solutions for their clients.
Fortunately, we were quickly able to pivot to remote solutions for clients, and we've gained traction and new business as a result.
We've seen a spike in demand from financial advisors and accountants for our established fortnightly online group clinics on SMSF issues and demand for our technical content is high. We have also created new digital reference products that can be easily accessed online. Internally, the connection between colleagues is just as strong as ever, thanks to the skills we've all learned and fine-tuned in the last few months.
Travel has historically been another challenge for regional businesses, and the lockdown has again worked in our favour.
With clients in every state and the vast majority at least 150km away, only a tiny fraction of our clients are local.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR:
We have a well serviced airport, but travel is still expensive, time consuming and disruptive.
Yet now our clients are locked down too, prompting them to change as much as we have.
As we become increasingly comfortable with video calls and webinar presentations, the days of expensive, time consuming travel are numbered.
This disproportionately benefits regional companies whose clients are overwhelmingly far away.
The high cost of travel, both in terms of the time and money is inevitably passed onto clients in some form.
Removing this means lower costs and higher profitability.
Even regional Australia's patchy internet access may not be an obstacle for long.
I expect, or at least hope, that faster, more robust 5G mobile technology can soon close or even eliminate the internet access gap between mobile phone and hardwired NBN internet, and thus regional and urban businesses.
Our COVID-19 experience has shown how well a nimble regional business can serve its clients, stay highly productive and enjoy strong colleague collaboration when everyone is working from home.
Despite the economic and existential fear brought by the virus and lockdown, regions such as the Hunter may be poised to benefit enormously from the lessons learned during these unprecedented times.