Here is an update that I shared today with Telstra employees.

Team,

As you know, I normally keep my communications short, but given the complexities of these unprecedented times I wanted to share with you all of the thinking, planning and actions underway.

Telstra has seen many crises over its long history and our crisis management procedures and approach is tried and tested. Bushfires, floods, cyclones all take their toll on our networks and systems and our people work tirelessly to make sure the country and our customers stay connected. Indeed our crisis management team has been stood up for most of the summer, due first to the devastating bushfires that swept the Eastern states, and since in response to COVID-19.

One of the most challenging things about the COVID-19 crisis is staying clear-headed about managing our response while living through it personally. We are all affected, whether it is concern over elderly parents and grandparents, concern for job security, grief over a way of life lost or fear of the virus itself and what it may mean. It would be naïve to think that our own responses and leadership are unaffected by the impact of COVID-19 on us personally, so let us be kind to each other during this time.

Indeed, as new social distancing restrictions and forced isolation has come into effect, remaining connected has never been more important. Connected to our families, connected to our friends, connected to our studies, connected to our work, connected to the people and things we love. In only a few short weeks we have moved to a world where working, learning, celebrating, grieving and connecting socially online is the new norm.

As an organisation responsible for enabling so much of this connectivity, and as one of Australia’s largest companies, we are living this crisis on the front line. Like many Australians we are stepping up for our communities and for this I want to say thank you.

If we ever needed proof about the role of big business in our lives, in our communities and in our society, it is playing out in front of us right now. Telecommunications, technology, power, food supply, logistics, healthcare – so many businesses in so many sectors on which we all depend being challenged to the extreme but stepping up.

Unknowing of what we were about to face, just eight weeks ago I spoke to an audience in Melbourne about responsible business and what it might mean in the 2020s. I spoke about the role big business in particular plays in our society and why it is so important. I spoke about how it is impossible today to view business as independent from society, particularly big business. Society is rightly holding us more accountable than ever before for our actions. What we do and how we act therefore matters.

It is against this background that I wanted to share an update on how we have responded to the COVID-19 crisis so far and how we are adapting our plans and beginning to think of the post-COVID-19 period.

Playing our part in a time of crisis

In these extraordinary circumstances we have challenged ourselves to look beyond just our role in keeping people connected but what more we can do for our people, for our customers and for our economy.

To support our people our first step was to give you certainty and security. As you are aware, we have been on a major and necessary transformation as we had been responding to the changes in our industry structure with the NBN. One of the challenging aspects of that transformation has been a significant but necessary reduction in our workforce. However, given the current environment we put on hold any further job reductions over the next six months to give our people certainty at a time when they need it most. In fact, to help manage call centre volumes we announced three weeks ago that we would be recruiting another 1,000 temporary roles in Australia and today we increased that by another 2,500, to a total of 3,500 joining us or our partners.

Many of these people have been laid off from other companies and we are really pleased to be able to offer them an opportunity at a critical time.

In addition to employment, we were the first major company to introduce a new global epidemic and pandemic leave policy for our people in Australia, including paid leave for our casual employees. To support our more than 25,000 people now working from home we have provided additional mobile data to assist if at any stage they needed to use their own data to stay connected.

These are challenging circumstances and I am also conscious our customers have significant issues contacting us at the moment. As well as bringing on more people we continue to look at ways to address these issues including diverting internal employees to help with this demand as well as offering self-service options. Rest assured, along with your health and safety, we are working around the clock to improve our customer services to keep Australia connected.

To support our customers we are providing unlimited data for home and small business broadband customers, extra data for consumer and small business mobile customers and free unlimited local, national and 13/1300 calls and calls to Australian mobiles for pensioners on landlines. For our small business customers we are providing free or heavily discounted access to specialist online digital business tools and discounted mobile broadband plans to help them rapidly move their business online. We have also launched our new My Telstra App to allow customers to increasingly self-serve rather than calling us, and for those consumer and small business customers unable to pay their bills we have suspended late payment fees and disconnections until at least the end of April.

Today we are announcing a range of additional support measures to help keep people connected at this challenging time.

For those on the JobSeeker benefit, we will offer a discount on their existing services to relieve some of the burden. Those with a fixed connection or multiple mobile services can receive $20 off their bill, while others with a single mobile service can receive $10 off their bill. The offer will be available from 20 April for a period of six months. We have also launched a new $30/month mobile offer for anybody with a valid Healthcare card. The offer includes unlimited national calls and texts, no excess data charges and peace of mind data shaped after 2GB.

We are also supporting small businesses and from today we are offering small businesses with a 10-digit account number who have had to cease trading the option to suspend their fixed business services until they need them reinstated. We will also divert their affected fixed business phone services to another fixed or mobile service of their choice, regardless of the carrier, at no cost for the period the suspension is active.

As we announced yesterday, we are proud to be doing our part in helping to bridge the gap by providing 20,000 disadvantaged students and teachers across the country with internet access to educational content to support their online learning through the Department of Education and Catholic Education.

As previously announced, to support the economy we have brought forward $500 million of capex from the second half of FY21 into this calendar year providing the economy with much-needed investment at this time. We will be deploying this capex to increase capacity in our network and accelerate further the rollout of 5G among other key projects supporting the digital enablement of our customers’ businesses and operations. Other measures include extending all our many sponsorships expiring this year for another 12 months and accelerating payment terms for small businesses in the short term as we move to 20-day payment terms by 30 June 2020.

That is today, but what of tomorrow?

Re-focussing our work, effort and resources

Since the start of COVID-19 Telstra’s primary focus has been on protecting the health and safety of our employees, helping our customers stay connected, and playing a role in contributing to the national response. The prospect of expanded and ongoing restrictions means we must all now accept we are in a new reality and we have to pivot our operational approach from crisis management to a more sustainable model – not business as usual – but a version that retains the flexibility to respond to the very dynamic environment we are now in.

Our T22 strategy was launched two years ago and we have been making good progress as we approach its midpoint. At its heart the strategy is premised on radically simplifying our business and removing customer pain points, digitising and moving customers to digital channels, simplifying our structure, introducing new ways of working, establishing InfraCo and leaving our legacy behind.

Since the beginning of the program we have reduced 1800 consumer products to just 20 whilst eliminating excess data charges on new plans and other fees. We have built new digital technology stacks enabling a more than doubling of digital interactions with our customers. We have introduced new technology solutions for our small business and enterprise customers enabling them to operate online at scale. We have removed three layers of management and moved 10,000 people to agile ways of working. We were the first telco to launch 5G here in Australia and one of the first globally, and we have continued to maintain our clear technology and 5G leadership with 5G coverage in selected areas in 32 cities and regional areas across the country.

The principles and initiatives that sit at the heart of our T22 program are exactly those that are helping us respond to this crisis. Indeed they are exactly those that we will need to support our customers and to be successful in this new reality.

Notwithstanding the veracity and relevance of our strategy to this new emerging reality we are also looking at how we focus our work, effort and resources particularly over the next 3-6 months in response to the challenges COVID-19 presents all of us. In so doing there are five key priorities that are driving all of these decisions.

  • Firstly, protecting our people’s health, safety and wellbeing – ensuring we support the parts of our workforce working from home and those still on the front line both practically and emotionally;
  • Secondly, keeping our customers connected and prioritising essential services;
  • Thirdly, building more capacity and flexibility into our network to manage demand from home-based working and education to meet the changing connectivity needs of our customers and leveraging our mobile leadership;
  • Fourthly, securing our financial stability so we are future-ready – while we have a role to play in supporting our people, our customers and the economy we also have a responsibility to ensure Telstra stays strong; and,
  • Fifthly, ensuring that we emerge from COVID-19 with strong growth potential from our core business. This includes new opportunities such as Telstra Health where we are providing additional funding to leverage our existing investments in digital technologies that support electronic prescriptioning, electronic medical records in hospitals and aged care, telemedicine where our volumes have tripled over recent weeks, and national registries which can play a crucial role in disease management.

‏‏‎ ‎
The final piece for us is recognising we are in a new reality and we have to adjust our operating approach to this.

Adapting quickly

Looking further ahead, the lessons from history are that the economy post-crisis always looks very different to the economy pre-crisis. It will change because people will change their behaviour. Many people will stay working from home, the adoption rates of banking, shopping and schooling online will increase faster than we have ever seen before and the new ways of socialising online will become permanent features of our lives.

Those ideas will roll on through the economy, through the supply chain, through every part of business and society and bring change in the strategies, the skills and the tools needed to work and live effectively in a connected world. So we must take our new ways of working and embed them forever in a new operating cadence that can support the long term sustainable investment so crucial to telecommunications yet flexible enough to pivot in real time as the world around us continues to change dramatically.

A moment to grieve but with an optimistic heart

I am sure all of us have been shocked at the incredible suddenness in which our world has been turned upside down. We are all concerned about the health and safety of our families, our workmates, our friends. And I am sure we are all also worried about the impact on our local communities; the shops, restaurants, coffee shops and sporting and cultural events that are so much a part of our lives.

Telstra traces its origins back more than 150 years – through many crises and cycles of change – and our focus all along has been to connect Australians to each other and the world using the best technology available. That focus has not changed but the world has again and we must too – faster than we ever have before.

I have always believed organisations, like people, show their true character in times of crisis. I could not be prouder of the way everybody at Telstra has risen to what is an extraordinary challenge on a global scale. You have responded amazingly as you have done in previous crises, such as the bushfires only a few weeks ago. It is you – the people at Telstra – that makes our company what it is. Again, thank you for commitment and helping serve our customers in this extraordinary time.

It is also the people of this country that will see us through this current crisis and to a better world beyond.