Advancing how we work

However the pandemic plays out from here, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work forever. This is not a matter of business continuity or emergency response, it is a recognition people want to work differently permanently. And that can be a huge positive force for organisations.

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For ANZ, whether it is Japan or Singapore or New Zealand or Australia, we are developing a new framework for how and where work is done across our 33 markets. Much is already in place but much will inevitably be refined as we test and learn and modify for different cultures and businesses.

"Singapore is different to Seoul and to Sydney or Suva but the common preferences are actually much greater than the significant differences.”

What has already emerged is the vast majority of our teams will work to a “hybrid” or “blended” model - that is two to three days in the office and two to three days at home.

Of course, some work places, such as our core branches or trading rooms will be primarily offices based while others, such as mobile lenders or regional managers will be primarily remote. The blended model though works almost everywhere else in the organisation. And when I say works, it allows us to build and maintain our culture and other intangible benefits while being the preference of the majority of our workforce.

We’ve done some internal work with our staff and overall more than two thirds have expressed a preference for blended working. We continue to look in detail at different roles and how they can be undertaken but again, ultimately, most are best blended.

It’s also been very interesting for us to find that preference for a blended model seems quite universal – no matter how different cultures think about the workplace.

Singapore is different to Seoul and to Sydney or Suva but the common preferences are actually much greater than the significant differences.

But we will continue to test and learn and adapt as the work place evolves and we emerge from the pandemic – being mindful technology continues to reshape almost everything we do.

Core to culture

We call this project on the evolution of the workplace “How We Work” (HWW) and it is a natural evolution from the flexible work model we have had in place for several years – put through the hot house of 2020.

One of our core principles in How We Work is the power of teams and the significant role the workplace plays in collaboration, making connections, problem solving, learning on the job and innovation – it is core to our culture.

A blended model gives people the opportunity to structure their working life in a way that provides greater flexibility to work from home but to also be in the office for the critical and often intangible benefits of developing our culture, building social networks and learning from – and mentoring – colleagues.

And let’s not forget those chance encounters that can be the spark for great ideas.

We can see the preference for a blended model across our business, from retail banking to Institutional to group functions and services.

Moreover, we see this balance of freedom to choose how you work while contributing to the fabric of our culture is also something that is particularly attractive to the workforce we compete to employ. If we do it well, it becomes a competitive advantage for ANZ as an employer of choice. Meanwhile, we will closely monitor how other employers of choice are responding.

Greater understanding

How We Work goes well beyond COVID-19 and it is one which is essential to the success of ANZ but it’s fair to say 2020 also taught us some very important lessons.

I think, from our headquarters here in Melbourne, we were aware of the challenges a far flung international network brings as well as the opportunity. We knew we had to be inclusive, to be sensitive to the different experience colleagues might be having if they were always attending meetings or seminars remotely.

Yet when we in Melbourne were forced to work through two periods of lockdown, as Australia and Victoria took all necessary steps to prevent the spread of the virus, we did gain a much deeper understanding of what it feels like to be present only as a voice or an image on a screen. We can all appreciate the frustration now and that greater understanding is something we will take into the future.

Appreciating that sense of missing out is just one thing we are more sensitive to and we appreciate other frustrations will emerge and we do need to remain flexible.

In a recent presentation for the bank, Atlassian’s futurist Dom Price explained Atlassian has a rule that if one person in a meeting has to be remote, everyone must be on screen – even if several others are in the same office.

Some of our teams are also experimenting with this, mindful that we don’t want to discourage people from coming in and enjoying the benefits of being together in person during meetings. It’s a great example of how we have to be creative in how we work.

In my own division of Talent & Culture, we’ve created a role of an “advocate” for those not in the room during meetings. That person keeps track of technical difficulties and ensures all voices are being heard.

That is a pro-active role to ensure wide involvement. We’re trialing a range of different techniques in meetings to ensure regardless of whether people are in the office or virtual, they can have a consistent and inclusive experience.

Moreover, as we look across our international network, despite that common preference I mentioned, we recognise there are cultural differences and the home-office balance can be quite different.

No fixed model

While we’ve applied organisational wide principles in How We Work across ANZ, we’ve put our country heads squarely in charge of how each workplace will operate. That makes complete sense as COVID-19 spread and continues to make sense as different countries go through different waves and periods of acute or chronic or little infection.

Obviously, different country heads are at different stages but we are empowering the country heads to ensure their working mode is appropriate, that it works for their staff and for ANZ. There is no fixed model.

ANZ has been a leading bank in the Asia Pacific for half a century now and we very much appreciate the value and practices of the different cultures we operate in and the enormous opportunity presented to us through that diversity.

How We Work will build on that history. We are giving our country heads the opportunities – and the tools – to work out and learn about how the preferred blended model will work in practice.

We are also growing aware of some of the risks. We know in most countries, the pandemic impacted women to a greater degree than men. Women assumed a greater role in domestic duties, in home schooling, in caring. If that continues after the pandemic we can see challenges to the gender equality we know is so valuable.

There will always be challenges too with visibility. We must be aware of the bias towards over-emphasising what we see in front of us – and perhaps missing the valuable contributions of those not so obvious. But this is always a management challenge.

It’s early. I’m sure we will learn a lot as we continue to evolve the How We Work framework. The blended model also means we can still learn from one another in those informal, more personal ways only possible when we are together. It preserves and enhances the “cultural fabric” of ANZ.

This best of both worlds can lead to better outcomes for our people, our customers and our shareholders – across all of our markets.

Kathryn van der Merwe is Group Executive – Talent and Culture 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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