How to lead, drive engagement and create culture for remote workers
By Sakshi BanerjeeNovember 2, 2020
When employees work full-time from home, it can seem harder to build the relationships, trust and sense of community that’s normally associated with working together in one location. But while there’s an element of connection lost when you communicate online versus in person, it’s not an insurmountable problem. You can create a remote team that bonds well, stays engaged and keeps up productivity – it just requires a deliberate focus.
It’s all about working out your team’s individual needs, and how they each best operate. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to keep the connection open. Keep having honest conversations about how productive everyone is feeling, and then work together to help overcome the challenges anyone may be facing.
Here’s how it’s worked for me and my teams, and the best ways I’ve found to keep them happy, engaged and motivated when working remotely.
Remote working may be your secret weapon
Flexible working policies have a lot of benefits and these can be harnessed to build up your team’s motivation and output. This can make the days a lot more pleasant for employees who have caring duties or other interests that don’t fall neatly outside of the nine to five. For instance, some of my team have been doing a bike ride in the middle of the day and that’s been fantastic for maintaining energy and motivation throughout the week.
Flexible working has plenty of benefits from a business perspective as well. It helps us attract and retain great talent, including more women as they often shoulder the majority of caring responsibilities. It also just generally creates a deeper and more authentic connection between organisations and their employees, which leads to better results for the business.
Leaders can drive motivation and productivity from afar with the right approach
I have found that the key to motivating my team remotely lies in really understanding them and what is going on in their lives. When some of my team members have begun working remotely, I’ve made sure to ask questions about their home environment and how they like to work.
This helps me to understand how people sustain their energy and I use this information to motivate them from afar. For example, on my current team, I have some real night owls and others are sharpest and most productive in the morning. By allowing everyone to work at the time they’re at their best, I keep energy levels high.
As a leader, it can also help to show your own vulnerability at times. Being upfront when you’re lacking motivation or aren’t feeling productive yourself creates a safe environment for people to share when they feel the same. Sometimes just acknowledging a lack of motivation helps people become more motivated, almost as an inverse reaction.
I also believe it’s important to dedicate time to specific team-bonding activities. In my team, we’ve been doing quizzes, which are about both our products and what’s going on in the world. I’ve heard of other teams here doing activities like dress-up days where everyone dresses up as Harry Potter, which is a great way to lighten the atmosphere.
Finally, it can be beneficial to set up a coffee with someone once a week to just chat. In my team, that’s actually had the most positive response of all. Everyone tells me how much they’re missing those casual conversations in the kitchen or in the lift, and our weekly coffee catchups have really helped bridge that gap.
Company support makes a huge difference
Our organisation has done an extraordinary job of helping people work flexibly. Flexible working is nothing new here: we’ve had it for years and it’s embedded in our culture. We trust our teams to achieve their best, no matter where they’re working from.
Group Performance Principal – Global IoT Solutions -
Sakshi has led operational, commercial, and cross-functional transformation teams. Sakshi has a proven track in achieving goals and delivering profitable outcomes, via a collaborative, pragmatic approach. Adept at applying analytical, communication and collaboration skills, to a diverse range of complex projects to ensure the achievement of strategic business outcomes.
Sakshi has a passion for applying technology in an innovative manner that positively impacts teams, businesses and the community at large. Sakshi holds an honors degree in Commerce (Management & Marketing) from Melbourne University. She completed her MBA at Melbourne Business School and Hautes études commercials de Paris (H.E.C Paris).
How I foster team connection as a leader in the digital age
By Aaliah Eggins-BrysonJuly 27, 2020
As more of us work from home, or even just in different locations from our co-workers, leaders need to continuously evolve and lead in a different way.
Although we have amazing virtual connectivity tools available to us here at Telstra, as a leader I’ve learned that it requires a truly conscious effort on my part to ensure that my remote teams remain engaged.
How I’ve approached my role as a leader when it comes to creating a cohesive team culture
It is leaders who set the culture of a team and who are responsible for fostering an environment of connection and cohesion, regardless of where everyone is located. Physically separated people don’t get the hallway conversation, the quick desk huddle or the ad hoc whiteboard session. Because of this, I’ve made sure to keep inclusiveness and team connectivity front of mind.
I’ve also continued to set clear and achievable goals, encourage active engagement from everyone in the team, have open communication and ensure that every single member of my team can directly attribute their effort and output to our greater team purpose.
My team at Telstra has recently moved to an agile working methodology, which has further strengthened our cohesiveness – every member of the team is required to help deliver the end-to-end outcome.
What I’ve been doing to foster connectivity with my remote team
Despite being physically apart, I’ve been working to keep my team feeling connected by doing the following things:
Having open conversations, building trust within the team and amongst team members, and having regular team bonding sessions. One great example of the success of my team bonding activities is from a team member of mine who was overwhelmed by an upcoming deadline. I asked her to think about what she could ask of her peers in terms of contribution and we planned out a “who does what”. She then set up a session with her plan, asking for input from everyone in the team, facilitated by a shared document on Microsoft Teams. By that afternoon, everything she’d asked for (and more) was updated in the document, ready to be presented the following day. I know this relieved a huge burden for her, not only for the deadline, but also in knowing that she could genuinely rely on her teammates to help her when asked.
Making sure that the team has a clear purpose. I continue to set ambitious but achievable goals and make it clear to every person in the team exactly how their contribution will deliver part or all the outcome.
Ensuring everyone feels comfortable seeking help and knows that support is available. I’ve observed people in the past try to resolve big issues by themselves and often if they had just asked for support, someone in their team could have offered valuable input.
The most important leadership skill I possess, especially when it comes to a remote workforce, is communication
No two people are the same, so it’s been important for me to work out the most effective method of communication for each of my team members.
I believe that my communication as a leader should be consistent and regular for certain things, like performance discussions. Aside from that though, ad hoc conversations can really be left up to the relationship I have with the individual and their personal needs and style.
In terms of channels used and the frequency of communication, I’ve determined what works best for each member of my team and gone with that when communicating with that individual. Some of them are entirely autonomous and only need to speak to me occasionally, whilst others demand more time. Some people prefer emails, some are happier for me to just give them a call.
Telstra makes remote working easy for its people
Telstra has always been amazing with supporting leaders and teams when it comes to flexible and remote working. The COVID-19 restrictions have just reinforced this.
We have a top-notch collaboration tools, which I appreciate more each day. I have realised during lockdown how lucky I am to have such readily available and effective tools that help me to do my work.
In a time of increasingly remote workforces, I’ve been reminded how crucial it is to continuously approach the leadership of my team with their connectivity top of mind. By maintaining appropriate communication patterns and inclusive initiatives, I’ve ensured that my team remains cohesive, no matter how physically far apart they may be.
I’ve been at Telstra for a number of years now, I started as a Product Manager and I’m currently the Head of Product & Marketing at Belong. In my time at Telstra, I’ve had the opportunity to grow and develop my career and now landed my dream role, whilst working with some truly outstanding people. Outside of work, I collect/hoard houseplants, love my 2 dogs and love to ski.
We now have a growing digital economy – something I recently highlighted as a significant opportunity we as a nation should seize. With businesses reopening and social restrictions relaxing, (albeit with some constraints given the risk of increased infections), we should stop thinking about post-COVID-19 as only a “recovery”, but as an opportunity to grow the economy in the long term and put us in a better global position.
From the Industrial Revolution to the Great Depression, profound disruption has brought opportunities to be bold, to re-think conventional wisdom, and seek out new economic and social opportunities to help build a stronger future for everyone.
COVID-19 has proved change can be made and embraced quickly. During the height of the pandemic we saw a huge acceleration in digitisation – from telehealth to online learning, remote working and e-commerce – and the fast-tracking of numerous policy and regulatory changes to break down long-standing digital roadblocks.
As a nation we have achieved in a few months what might have taken us years to progress, and it is important that we now do not lose that momentum.
However, a single company, a single organisation or a single government cannot achieve this on its own. Through coalitions across the public and private sectors, we can affect change by removing barriers and incentivising growth so it is faster and more pervasive.
Over the past few weeks I have been Chairing the Business Council of Australia (BCA) Digital Economy and Telecommunications working group, and this is exactly our aim: to map out tangible ways we can put Australia at the forefront of a digital future – paperless, cashless and virtual – so we can come out of this stronger as a nation, not just bounce back.
This requires reform in five key areas:
1. Digital transition
Australia’s local businesses and enterprises pivoted quickly to ensure they could keep running – from working from home, to medical practitioners delivering telehealth consultations, we even saw interactive online cheese tasting sessions!
Technology was at the core of many businesses that adapted well. That said, a range of recent studies found that Australia’s small-to-medium enterprise sector could be substantially enhanced by a greater investment in digitising their internal processes and developing an effective web presence. Xero’s September 2019 Small Business insights indicate that businesses that boost technology spending the most grow revenue three times faster than those with the weakest technology spend.
Some options we are exploring include potential incentives and assistance to help the small business sector access the benefits of greater digitisation of business processes and an improved online presence.
Connectivity is what powered many workers and businesses during the crisis, ensuring they could continue running.
For Australians to effectively participate in the digital economy, they need access to affordable, fast and reliable telecommunications services.
Telstra announced $500 million of capital expenditure planned for the second half of FY21 would be brought forward into the calendar year 2020, to increase capacity in our network, accelerate our roll-out of 5G, power more people with connectivity as well as provide a much needed economic boost.
With the completion of the nbn rollout nearing, there is now an opportunity for the Australian Government to develop its future vision for Australia’s digital economy and the telecommunications industry for the next decade – a vision that is technology agnostic and provides an environment that is pro-investment and pro-innovation.
Governments and regulators play a significant role in enabling a digital nation, as well as ensuring as many Australians as possible can take advantage of the opportunity.
They took significant steps forward during the pandemic, including measures to help provide better access to telehealth, virtual AGMs, electronic execution of documents, and national electronic pharmacy scripts.
In the spirit of those last two initiatives, the BCA will be recommending a systematic review of regulation from federal to state to local, to eliminate barriers to a virtual and paperless society and a cashless economy.
4. Cyber Security
Last week was a timely reminder about the importance of strong cyber security, with the Prime Minister highlighting major cyber-attacks that are putting pressure on critical infrastructure and public services.
Separately, I have been working with the Government chairing its industry advisory panel on the development of the 2020 Cyber Security Strategy. This will contain a number of significant initiatives to strengthen our collective cyber defences.
It was inspiring to see the flexible and innovative mindset many businesses adopted during the pandemic. This mindset needs to be deeply ingrained in Australian culture and to do this we need to invest in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) skills.
We are also working on a suite of proposed improvements to the way industry and the education system collaborate, to ensure Australia’s school leavers have the foundation skills needed to succeed in the modern digital economy.
Australia’s opportunity to lead
The economic downturn caused by COVID-19 has left many businesses and families doing it tough and we need to do everything we can to build a stronger economy in the longer term in response.
Australia has been a world leader when it comes to protecting the nation’s health and economy during COVID-19, and now we can lead again. It will be important in so doing that this includes success for all of our communities.
Andy Penn became the CEO and Managing Director of Telstra, Australia’s largest telecommunications company, on 1 May 2015. At Telstra, Andy is leading an ambitious change program transforming the business to be positioned to compete in the radically changing technology world of the future with 5G at its core. Andy has had an extensive career spanning 40 years across 3 different industries - telecommunications, financial services and shipping. He joined Telstra in 2012 as Chief Financial Officer. In 2014 he took on the additional responsibilities as Group Executive International.
Prior to Telstra, Andy spent 23 years with the AXA Group, one of the world’s largest insurance and investment groups. His time at AXA included the roles of Chief Executive Officer 2006-2011 AXA Asia Pacific Holdings, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Executive Asia and Chief Executive Australia and New Zealand. At AXA, Andy was instrumental in building one of the most successful Asian businesses by an Australian company that was sold to its parent in 2011 for more than A$10bn.
Other directorships & appointments: Member of the Council of Trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria; Board Director of the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA); Chairman of the Australian Government’s Cyber Industry Advisory Panel, created to guide development of Australia’s 2020 Cyber Security Strategy; Patron, on behalf of Telstra, of the National and Torres Straights Islanders Arts Awards (NATSIAA); Life Governor of Very Special Kids and an Ambassador for the Amy Gillett Foundation. He serves on the advisory boards of both The Big Issue Home for Homes and JDRF.
Recognition and qualifications: MBA (Kingston), AMP (Harvard), FCCA, HFAIPM. Andy has a national diploma in business studies (with distinction), is a Fellow of the Chartered Association of Certified Accountants, holds an MBA from Kingston University and is a graduate of Harvard’s Advanced Management Program. In 2008 Andy was recognised as Insurance Executive of the year in the Australian Banking and Finance Awards and in 2016 he was made an honorary fellow of the Australian Institute of Project Management. In 2018 Andy was named by the Financial Times among the top 10 male leaders globally HERoes list supporting women in business. In 2019 he was named by the Australian Financial Review as among the top 10 most powerful people in business.
For 25 years the Telstra Business Women’s Awards have celebrated the success of Australia’s female business leaders and entrepreneurs. With most of our 2020 events cancelled due to COVID-19 things looked a little different this year, but we were still determined to celebrate our incredible finalists and winners.
We spoke to our 2020 Telstra Business Women’s Award winners about what it’s like to win an award in the middle of a global pandemic, the impact receiving a Telstra Business Woman of the Year Award will have on them personally and their businesses, and the journey they have taken to get to where they are today.
Good news at a testing moment in time
For Margaret Williams, the 2020 Telstra Tasmanian Business Woman of the Year, winning the award in the middle of a pandemic was a welcome surprise during a stressful time. As Chief Executive Officer of residential care facility Medea Park, Margaret’s leadership has been more important than ever, and she has been focused on being a present leader, supporting her team and residents alike.
“I’d been so worried about the health of my residents and staff, and I had just walked in the door to my home when I got the call. I put my phone on speaker and when I received the news I just started crying. Happy tears of course – I think my husband may have shed one too!”
2020 Telstra Northern Territory Business Woman of the Year, Bec Hammet, won the award at a time when her business, SH Build, was feeling the full impact of the pandemic, and closing their doors was becoming a real possibility.
“We were considering closing our doors and hibernating while COVID happened, but instead we decided to stay open and support workers as much as possible. The day I found out I had won we had just received a small contract, and then I got the phone call. I was so overwhelmed, but it was such a shining light and great way to get our name out there.
“The win has given me additional contacts and opened up new networks, with many people contacting me to say congratulations, and that they didn’t know we were still operating because we are so remote.”
Jodi Cant, Director General at the Western Australian Department of Finance, and 2020 Telstra Western Australian Business Woman of the Year, won the award while focused on the government’s COVID-19 response.
“The important thing as leaders is to make sure we keep the good things that have come from COVID-19, on the other side of the pandemic. Since winning the award I’ve had lots of contact from people I’ve worked with over the years, and support from very distant places. I’ve also had a very proud mother posting full-page ads of my head! Times and situations like these mean people are quick to focus on what’s important, and as someone who grew up in the country where family is number one, COVID-19 has been a good reminder of what really matters.”
Leadership and collaboration during a global pandemic
Jodi, Margaret and Bec’s focus at the time of their win was supporting their staff and the people around them, and helping them balance their priorities. This rang true for our winners across the country, all in leadership positions at an unprecedented time where empathy and adaptability are more important than ever before.
For Jo Thomas, 2020 Telstra Queensland Business Woman of the Year and Chief Executive Officer of Metro Arts, leading in the not-for-profit sector was challenging enough before the COVID-19 lockdowns.
“It’s an interesting time where we are very focused on physical safety in Australia, but we cannot forget about mental health. I’m constantly checking in with my team and artists to make sure everyone is doing OK, while spending a lot of time in sector consultations for art, and joining recovery committees for the broader arts industry. Especially in tough times, you need a good reason to keep going, and I’m lucky to be leading in an industry that I love.”
Jo is focused on working with health ministers to re-open the arts sector, and sees art as critical to guiding society out of isolation and enabling connection, joy and entertainment once again.
Collaboration has also been key to Telstra Victorian Business Woman of the Year, Julie Hirsch’s recent approach to leadership. As Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Eloments Natural Vitamin Tea, Julie has spent her time talking with other business leaders.
“There are so many wonderful ideas that are going to come out of this period. It has opened people up to thinking about a different world that we are entering, and while it’s super intimidating and scary, it is also so exciting when you have people that are willing to push boundaries and innovate. If you put anyone in a house for eight weeks by themselves, they will come up with some cool stuff!”
Kerrie Campbell, Chief Information Officer at Flinders University, and 2020 Telstra South Australian Business Woman of the Year, has been amazed at how the information technology function is now seen as the department that can hold up a business.
“The feedback has been that we have been so calm and helpful. We are in control because we do this all the time, not just during COVID-19, but people don’t realise it. What has been most important is exercising humanness and empathy at a time when people are scared. There is a lot of merit in leading with both courage and vulnerability.”
2020 and beyond: what leadership looks like moving forward
This year’s winners have all agreed that one of the most beneficial aspects of the Telstra Business Women’s Awards has been the opportunity to reflect on their journeys so far, and consider their approach to improving their industries.
For Dr Sarah Pearce, Deputy Director of Astronomy and Space Science at CSIRO and 2020 Telstra New South Wales Business Woman of the Year, one of the most exciting things to have come out of the awards experience is the opportunity to speak to audiences she wouldn’t usually talk to, about space science.
“People are really interested in what we do (at CSIRO), so one of the things I’ll try to do more of is get out there and continue to talk to different audiences and raise the profile of women in science and astronomy. It’s so important that girls see that yes, they can do this, and have fun doing it.”
Dr Pearce felt the congratulations and display of warmness from the community as a whole has been overwhelming, and is a great reminder that it is possible for women and girls to have successful, rewarding careers in STEM.
2020 Telstra Australian Capital Territory Business Woman of the Year and Chief Executive Officer of Mental Illness Education ACT, Heidi Prowse, has used the awards as an opportunity to reflect on the practices she follows as a leader.
“We are experiencing such a critical time in Australia, having faced the recent bushfires, and now COVID-19. This has enabled me and my team to take a good look at what we’re doing, the purpose we exist for, and evaluate whether we’re meeting these whole-heartedly. This isn’t just for business purposes – it’s for the people we are working to help as we educate Territorians about mental health, something that is now even more important as we face a pandemic.”
Entering a new world
As Australia begins to create a new normal, strong leadership will continue to play a crucial role in the success of businesses across all sectors. The innovation and determination shown by this year’s winners is exemplary, and their courage and positive outlook on the future offers hope and excitement for what business might look like on the other side of COVID-19.
We will continue to advocate for women in business, promote gender equality in the workplace, and applaud the women who are paving the way for future generations. Congratulations again to our 2020 Telstra Business Women’s Awards winners!
Group Executive -
Transformation, Communications & People
Alex is accountable for Telstra’s transformation roadmap and orchestrating the delivery of its key priorities with a focus on transforming the way employees work. Alex also oversees activity designed to strengthen employee engagement and external reputation.
We’re improving our payment terms to make doing business better
By Vicki BradyFebruary 4, 2020
We’re always looking for ways to improve, simplify and streamline the way we do business, both for our customers, and those we do business with. That’s why we’re moving to shorter, 20-day payment terms for thousands of businesses to ensure our suppliers are paid sooner.
Back in 2017, we made a commitment to pay suppliers that are small businesses within 30 days. We also extended this approach to charities, Indigenous organisations and disability enterprises. Now we’re continuing this good work, increasing our commitment to pay more suppliers even faster.
This new arrangement means that we move to 20-day payment
terms for any supplier with invoices of up to $2 million annually.
Before the end of this financial year, over 85% of our
suppliers will have their invoices paid within 20 days of us receiving an
Cash flow is crucial to any business, and this change means
operators will have cash in their hand sooner than ever.
When we started this process in 2017, we used the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ definition as to what a small business was. Three years later, these definitions have shifted as part of our ever-diversifying economy.
Our new methodology for paying invoices within 20 days
captures more businesses than ever, and we encourage governments and the Small
Business Ombudsman to create a new standard, consistent definition of small
business to ensure everyone is playing by the same rules.
We’ll work with our suppliers over the coming months to
update payment term agreements, and we’re proud to continue to help businesses
Chief Financial Officer and Group Executive -
Strategy & Finance
As Chief Financial Officer and Strategy & Finance Group Executive, Vicki Brady guides the company’s financial performance and reporting, leads the development of and progress against its corporate strategy, and oversees its risk and internal audit capabilities, with the aim of delivering shareholder value over the long term.
Vicki joined Telstra in 2016 and was most recently Group Executive, Consumer & Small Business. In this role she led a business unit with $14.6 billion of income and was one of the architects of the T22 strategy. Prior to this Vicki was Group Managing Director, Sales & Service and Group Managing Director, Consumer, with responsibility for the implementation of a customer-led strategy and operating plan for Telstra's contact centres, stores, digital channels and business centres, lifting customer experience, commercial performance and driving cultural change. She also has extensive executive leadership experience in telecommunications and services companies in Australia and internationally, having worked for organisations including Optus, SingTel and KPMG.
Vicki has a Bachelor of Commerce from the Australian National University and a Master of Science in Management from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business. She is a member of the institute of Chartered Accountants ANZ and is a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.