Doing the homework on working from home

In early March, like many businesses big and small, ANZ set out to quickly move almost 40,000 staff members - 90 per cent of our workforce - to working from home indefinitely in order to comply with COVID-19 restrictions and ensure the health and safety of our teams.

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Now, many months later, our people have been working diligently and securely in this state of “new normal” fairly seamlessly. But that doesn’t mean everyone wants it to stay this way forever.

"You've got to really understand each of your direct reports, their scenario and how they can turn up to work and be at their best.”

It might be easy for leaders to look at their own situation and project that onto others but it’s important to understand people are working in very difficult circumstances. You've got to really understand each of your direct reports, their scenario and how they can turn up to work and be at their best.

Some people are single parents trying to home-school multiple children, others live in shared accommodation with someone who’s sadly currently out of work. In those scenarios, it could be pretty hard to get some quiet time and space to work. On the other end of the spectrum, others may be feeling isolated because they live alone.

This is why I think people who say companies will require significantly smaller office footprints in the future have missed the mark.

I think social distancing in office spaces will mean less people will be on the floor than otherwise would be. And naturally some people will feel comfortable continuing to work from home some of the time. But I also expect a lot of people will crave the interaction and routine of coming into the office, grabbing a coffee, saying g'day and getting on with the job.

Wellbeing focus

Like many, I’ve been working at home in Melbourne since mid-March and have days when it’s hard to keep the energy levels up and focus on the job. I’m sure we have all had days like this. That’s why at ANZ the mental wellbeing of our staff has been top of mind since we left the office. How do we continue to educate our people, remind them of the ways they can keep their mind focused and stay upbeat about what's going on in the world? It can be tough, particularly in Victoria where we are in hopefully the final stages of a second strict lockdown.

Some of the simpler strategies include reminding people not to sit at their desk all day – maybe by getting headphones and do a walking meeting. But if they do have a long day and are feeling stiff or sore, we have provided content from the physio in our headquarters with tips on how to stretch out their muscles. Although domestic and international travel might be on hold at the moment, we’ve encourage people to take leave where possible to clear their mind and not think about work for a few days.

The other thing I think has helped is a willingness for everyone to be more flexible in terms of what constitutes “business hours”. Some people have to supervise home-schooling during the day so they prefer to work later at night. I’ve personally learnt more about my team’s lives and operating rhythms in this period than I would have otherwise.

Virtual water coolers

The most important thing for leaders is knowing you can't over-communicate in this environment. Corridor or “water cooler” conversations don’t exist remotely so teams have to be transparent on what is being worked on, delivery timelines and responsibilities.

This period of enforced isolation really does bring home how social we are and how much of that is purely incidental – running into someone in an elevator, chatting on the way to a function, catching up on news informally as people gather for a meeting.

Another strategy is having shorter, more frequent meetings with very clearer agendas and only inviting the people who really have to be there. No one has the time or mental capacity to be in all-day meetings anymore. There is a great intensity to “on screen” meetings.

These things may seem obvious or simple and many companies – including ANZ - were already doing this in some capacity but the pandemic has certainly helped accelerate a better, more flexible operating rhythm which will stick around for a while.

As we move out of the acute phase of COVID we will be – and we already are – looking at the workplace and work habits of the future. Some things we know – flexibility will be even more entrenched – but much more will need to be worked through.

We want our people to be as engaged as possible and that means making them comfortable with their work environment and practices. And there is no one, best model for that.

Mark Hand is Group Executive for Australia Retail and Commercial Banking at ANZ

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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