The future of (distributed) work

For many years, ANZ has recognised the value of flexibility. Flexibility helps facilitate the agility and productivity we need to succeed as a business and delivers improved engagement and career opportunities to our people.

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In 2015, ANZ introduced an approach across the organisation to consider all roles flexible, with the intention to make working flexibly the norm - for anyone, with any reason.

"We have learned so much about productivity, efficiency and the capability and preferences of our work force in this period that we can use more permanently.”

Importantly, we ask “why not?” rather than “why?” when thinking about flexibility.

Prior to COVID-19, ANZ had around two thirds of our people working in the office five days a week.

By early March, coronavirus had arrived in Australia - and just three weeks later we managed to get 90 per cent of our workforce, close to 36,000 people, effectively working from home. A herculean effort by our technology colleagues.

This has occurred during an acute phase of a global pandemic. But actually the principles and lessons from this period will continue to inform how we think about work - and the workplace - in the future.

Even as we continue to “flex” with the crisis, we have begun a major project around the workplace of the future. We have learned so much about productivity, efficiency and the capability and preferences of our work force in this period that we can use more permanently.

We will need to consider the tools and technology, culture and wellbeing, policy and processes that are needed to support effective, healthy working regardless of location.


But to look at flexibility in the first instance, what have we learnt about flexibility throughout the COVID-19 pandemic?

Lesson 1: listen to your people and listen regularly

It’s important to acknowledge that first and foremost this is a health crisis which has impacted everyone in some way. From the very start we made it a priority to support our people. We’ve done this through a range of resources, including mental health webinars, counselling services and a digital app to help people with their mental and physical health.

In the first lockdown in April, our chief executive Shayne Elliott held daily staff webcasts - which have now moved to weekly. With so many people working from home, this is one way we’ve been able to connect with the many thousands of our people and make sure they stay updated.

We’ve a large-scale employee survey, with over 31,000 responses, where we asked whether we were doing enough to support people during the crisis. (Reassuringly, 94 per cent said we were.)

We also ran a company-wide “retro” - which is agile language to describe an exercise in retrospection.

Lesson 2 - a shift in our thinking about certain types of roles

COVID-19 has crushed any preconceived ideas about which roles at the bank could be considered flexible from a ‘work from home’ perspective.

For example, pre-pandemic, roles in our call centres embraced elements of ‘flexibility’, whether that was condensed working weeks or early start or finish times. But these were certainly not roles we considered viable to ‘work from home’.

Today we have 90 per cent of our Australian contact centre team successfully working from home. In July we had just 15 per cent. For any customer who calls our contact centres today, 70 per cent of those calls will be answered by someone at home.

Incredibly, we’ve seen minimal changes to our productivity levels in our Australian contact centre. Our Net Promoter Score (NPS) customer satisfaction results are at an all-time high - over 31 per cent. This dispels the myth that people are required physically in a call centre in order to effectively service our customers.

Lesson 3 - blurring of home and work lives

With the blurring of lines between the home and office, the concept of being ‘always on’ has never been more true. We know the pandemic has disrupted the lives of millions of workers - notably those with children.

Fortunately, that is not all negative: during one of our CEO calls, one of our people noted some big positives, including no longer enduring a three and a half hour commute each day. She said it offered the flexibility to set her own work schedule and as a result, she could spend a lot more time with her family.

But it is a constant juggle. We’ve all been on video calls over the past few months where a small child has appeared on screen with a random request. Last year, many people would have found that slightly odd, this year, it’s just how we operate!

Future work

As we look beyond the pandemic, we should not forget the lessons we have taken from this period and the preferences of our staff.

In the work we are doing on the future of workplaces we want to harness the significant shifts in our work-life arrangements.

At ANZ, we have developed some guiding principles:

  • The wellbeing and safety of our people is critical to ensure that they can thrive regardless of where they work;
  • we believe in the power of teams to foster collaboration and creativity, as these are essential to delivering ideas, solutions and products we need;
  • we will challenge the way we have always done things in the past, but not at the expense of what is core to ANZ’s purpose and culture; and
  • there will always be a role for an ANZ office or ANZ location but the way we use it and when we use it may be different.

Now whether that might mean two days or three days at work or anything more detailed, is too early to conlcude. And there will still be some roles that will need to be based in the office five days a week.  We need to carefully think this through to ensure we create a compelling employee value proposition - but that it also works for the company.

We may not know the exact answers but I do know we're going to have more people working from home more often. We do know that scepticism about flexibility is gone now. But what does that mean for the workplace? And what does it mean for the home space?

It’s so important for us to focus on maintaining the culture that we want to have at ANZ when more people are working remotely. And how do we ensure creativity is still going to occur? What I’ve heard called “creative combustion”.

What we do know from this period is productivity hasn’t suffered but, at the moment, the science around that is incomplete. For some roles, like in technology and contact centres, we do have good measurement. Equally we know some blunt measures - say time spent on a computer - are not very useful for something like creativity.

That means we will increase our effort on leading through change and leading in a distributed workforce. That will be really important. And we need to be very clear about what we want to achieve: we want outcomes, not the process and not presenteeism.

So can we see more roles being done from regional centres? Do borders matter less? Can we travel less for meetings?

That give us opportunities to bring in talent we may not have otherwise been able to attract. I don't know that connectivity to an office will cease to exist, at least for a company like ours.

And part of the reason for that is we are humans. When we talk about culture, about teams, about creativity, so often we are talking about real human contact. We must preserve that.

But the opportunity from news ways of thinking about working is enormous.

Alexis George is Deputy CEO at ANZ and head of the bank’s business continuity planning team

This article was produced as part of an appearance by Alexis George at a recent event for Chief Executive Women Australia

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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