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Hybrid working: Busting the productivity myth

By Telstra News October 21, 2021

We are all different. We all have our own personal challenges, work in different ways and care about different things. As cities and offices start to open back up, embracing a hybrid way of working will allow everyone to thrive.

If anything, the last 18 months has given us a deeper glimpse into these differences – some have loved the previously unknown flexibility, while others had a harder time with isolation or working while home schooling. Through all of this, it has become clearer than ever that a one size fits all way of working is not the right way.

At a time when lockdowns are starting to lift, organisations are thinking about return to office plans and there is growing interest worldwide in what has been termed “The Great Resignation”, how, when and what we work on is increasingly important to us all – as business leaders and as employees.

So, we recently commissioned a landmark report that found businesses that have adopted hybrid working, turbo-charged by the Covid-19 pandemic, overall have higher income, productivity, and levels of innovation.

In fact, Australia’s economy could be $18 billion larger and more than 42,000 extra full-time jobs could be created over the next decade if the country adopts a hybrid working future.

Businesses with hybrid working have six per cent higher income, on average, are 22 per cent more likely to see higher productivity and are 28 per cent more likely to be innovative than those without hybrid working policies.

The research also found that hybrid working could:

  • Improve customer service by 12 per cent
  • lead to more engaged employees, improve employee wellbeing and reduce attrition
  • help small businesses increase their income by seven per cent for those that do it successfully
  • open up the talent pool to more people, from more backgrounds and in more places. For example, mums and dads who want to return to work, those who live in regional areas and it means we can be more inclusive including for those with disabilities.

At Telstra, we’ve been working flexibly for the better part of a decade, and as COVID-19 has truly accelerated our adoption of hybrid working as the ‘new normal’, we’ve seen the benefits for our company, our customers and our people.

The research for this report was undertaken for Telstra by Deloitte Access Economics and researchers from the Australian National University, providing quantitative analysis using business modelling with ABS data.

With data from over 7,000 organisations and a survey of 1,250 business leaders and employees and reinforced what we’ve known for years now at Telstra – that a hybrid workforce benefits business, employees and the economy as a whole.

The findings are supported by hybrid working policies already in place at some of Australia’s leading companies including Telstra, BHP, Microsoft, CBA, and Officeworks.

Not just for big business

Hybrid working won’t just benefit large organisations. Small and medium businesses have more to gain through higher incomes and productivity from hybrid working than their larger counterparts, in part as larger organisations have invested earlier in digitising their customer experiences and workplaces.

Improvements also come from the new opportunities it creates. Removing barriers to work creates more opportunities for mums and dads with young kids, people with disabilities or caring responsibilities, Indigenous Australians and those living in regional and remote parts of Australia as we open up the talent pool to more people.

Making the right decisions as leaders

Throughout the report, it’s clear that there are a few key factors for success with hybrid work, regardless of the industry.

Firstly, leaders need to make bold and deliberate choices to suit their workplaces and their people so they strengthen the ties they have with their employees. By listening to your people, and developing a hybrid working plan that’s easy for everyone to understand, it will help to build greater engagement across the business.

Alongside that too is making sure that everyone has access to the right tools, software, services and support needed to do their job well.

Offices will still have their place, and having the right tools and facilities available for people come together for training, collaboration, and connection, rather than outdated 9-5 work will be just as important.

At Telstra, we have invested in tools and technologies to help our people when working in different locations. This includes the supply of essential office equipment, from monitors to sit-stand desks with a self-service toolkit solution. Another internal tool we developed allows us to book hot desks, car spaces and meeting rooms when we want to come into an office.

To help support our people’s mental wellbeing, earlier this month many of us took a day of annual leave together, and we also gave a bonus annual leave day for our team who took that day off to take whenever it suits them.

The report found that when employees were provided a hybrid working policy that worked for them, as well as all the tools, technology and support needed, that not only did work performance improve, but so did mental health. I found these data points particularly telling:

  • 90% of those surveyed agree their mental health has improved or stayed the same
  • 54% consider hybrid working to be as or more important than a 5% pay rise
  • 83% agree their physical health has improved or stayed the same

It also found that an effective hybrid working policy leads to employees more likely to be proud of the organisation they work for, more likely to want to progress their career there and are more likely to contribute new ideas.

Hybrid working isn’t without its challenges and managing the experiences of employees from onboarding and cyber security to collaboration and even mental health considerations will be crucial to this new way of working.

As we come out of one of the most disruptive events in decades, it’s a rare opportunity for business’ to really take a step back. To think differently about how they operate and build a more resilient, digitally capable organisation that embraces the things that make us all different.


Busting the productivity myth: Hybrid working in Australia

Advice | Telstra Careers |

Five things for leaders to consider in 2021

By Alex Badenoch February 15, 2021

At Telstra we’re talking a lot about how COVID has fundamentally changed how and where we work, the way we live and how we stay connected with others. For many in 2020, morning exercise and family dinners replaced the daily commute. Home became our workplace, and for many families, the classroom.

With so many people forced to work from home, some enjoyed a level of flexibility they hadn’t imagined previously and some didn’t do so well as isolation, child caring and home-schooling, or unsafe domestic situations took their toll. Work more than ever is so much more about how you do it and how employers support you, than the place you go. Many organisations are now seeing the benefits of this shift with employee engagement levels high at a time when conventional wisdom may have thought they’d decline.

I do think employee engagement will at times be challenged in 2021 as people realise there is no ‘return to normal’ and learn to live in a world still shaped by uncertainty. As we plan for the year ahead, here are five things we’re encouraging leaders at Telstra to consider for leading a hybrid of virtual and on-site teams so our people can thrive.

Rethinking what it means to be a leader

In many ways COVID has been a great equaliser – it has shattered hierarchies and created much deeper connections across all levels. We have all gotten a better glimpse into each other’s real lives – our partners, kids, pets and homes. But while many have embraced the flexibility of hybrid working, it has also created a challenge for some – the need to shift from being managers to being leaders.

Leading a virtual team means being more personally connected to your team; spending time talking one-on-one with your people and as a team to check in on how they’re going, to ask what they’ve been up to on the weekend, and being more alert to their mental wellbeing than you may have been previously. It’s also about considering the impact of long stints of working at home and what that may mean for your team, from making sure regular leave is still taken (as some are reluctant to use leave when they can’t travel) to taking time out to get better if you’re sick – even if you’re at home.

Redesigning Agile for virtual teaming

One of the main advantages of Agile is its focus on outcomes – the process drives transparency and empowerment as teams agree priorities, timings and accountability. Early Agile methods favour on-site, face-to-face ways of working. In our emerging new world this is no longer possible so we must re-design some ways of working to suit geographically dispersed, virtual teams.

We designed our Agile model with our dispersed teams in mind so many of our Telstra leaders were already starting to lead this way. But as more people opt for hybrid working longer term, it’s important that organisations invest in upskilling their leaders in areas like virtual teaming, creating a feedback culture and building resilient teams. So too is creating spaces for leaders to connect and share tips so they can learn from one another – we do this through Yammer and regular leader livestreams.

Keeping the focus on mental health and personal connections

Physically we have never been further apart, but in 2020 often I felt closer to my interstate and international colleagues than ever before as we strove to show our care for each other and build connections on a much deeper level. The simple question “how are you?” (and really listening to the answer) was no longer a polite refrain – it became a symbol connecting us and looking out for each other.

Supporting our team’s mental health and wellbeing has been our top priority during COVID and we provided the resources and webinars to help – from juggling parenting and working from home, to building resilience and mindfulness.

But what really stood out was the grassroots communities that sprang help across our organisation for like-minded people to connect and spend time focusing on their wellbeing – from yoga, meditation and even virtual cycling. More than 90 per cent of our people working from home have said they value the way their teams actively connect and support each other.

As more people choose hybrid working, leaders will need to consider how they continue to nurture personal connections and a sense of team to maintain engagement and productivity, and combat isolation. And given the strong connection between physical and mental health, introducing symbols and role-modelling behaviours that encourage people to get away from their screens and reenergise throughout the day, will also be important.

This could be as simple as introducing meeting free times, which we did mid-last year to help our teams break-up long stretches on video calls and give them time away from their desk. People have found this a great way to take a guilt-free break and it is something we will continue doing.

Maintaining choice and flexibility

Having so many people across the country working from home has shown many of us that the work we do – and our achievements – are not bound by a traditional office. We found the transition to moving our office-based teams to full working from home arrangements was made easier given we had embraced flexible working back in 2014. From choosing where we work, to working a nine-day fortnight or changing our hours beyond the standard 9–5 – the options were there.

But it has taken this pandemic to fundamentally shift us from a workforce that sees flexible working as a nice-to-do to a permanent fixture in the work-life juggle. More than 90 per cent of our people feel they are either the same or more productive working from home. And many have told us they no longer want to spend Monday to Friday in a traditional office environment. Instead, many see themselves coming in up to two days a week to collaborate, see customers, and connect with their team.

We know our teams are not alone in feeling this way. The opportunity for leaders now is to look at how they make flexibility a standard offering by giving people choice when it comes to where and how they work.

Enabling hybrid working with technology and tools

Many organisations sped-up the rollout of technology platforms to help their teams stay connected in 2020. At Telstra, for example, we scaled from less than two million Teams calls a month in February to more than eight million by the end of 2020.

But as more people choose to work from home more often, leaders will need to consider how they can provide a hybrid of digital and physical tools and spaces that are tailored their people’s technology needs and preferences – and that provide a consistent experience regardless of location.

Technology is key, but so too is getting the basics right – like ensuring your teams have the essential equipment needed to work just as safely at home as in the office. We are doing this by investing in standard tools for anyone who works from home regularly, such as a desk, chair, monitor, keyboard, mouse and laptop stand.

Telstra News |

The future of the workplace post-COVID-19 – the new normal isn’t coming, it’s here now

By Andrew Penn August 31, 2020

It is business, but it’s far from usual. COVID-19 has transformed our ideas about how and where we work and put flexibility, adaptability and technology at the heart of the workplace. The way we work and how successful businesses in the future will be defined has changed forever – here are three thoughts on how.

Firstly, there is no “normal” when it comes to the workplace, what matters is maximum flexibility.

We’re all different. Some people are more introverted, some are more extroverted. We all have different personal circumstances and the organisations that will be successful in attracting and retaining talent will be those that can offer their employees maximum flexibility. In developing our thinking around flexible working Telstra is developing six personas based broadly around our people’s different role types, their technology needs, communication preferences along with individual considerations, challenges and expectations. This is about identifying the right solution for each person in our workplace, not a one size fits all, so our people can choose to work in a way that best suits them. Managing across personas increases complexity and adds more challenge to how leaders must manage but when you get it right, the payoff is so much higher.

Second, the humanity of our people will re-shape our culture.

Workplace culture has changed enormously during COVID and all for the better. The usual shields of business – the clothes, the offices, the hierarchies that we sometimes hide behind – have been stripped away and we have all got a better glimpse into each other’s real lives. It has certainly been a great equaliser as we all get to see each other’s partners, kids, pets and homes. The connections are real, the links genuine. The businesses that will be successful in the future will embrace their humanity and make it the foundation of their culture.

And third, our technology, tools and property plans need to supercharge our ability to do our best work.

Operationalising the workplace of the future means drawing together the threads of flexibility, adaptability and technology. It is a cross-functional, cross-company task and Telstra’s leaders from property, networks, IT and HR are considering our infrastructure, technology, tool and skills requirements through the lens of our employees’ experience, needs and expectations. The businesses that will be successful in the future will be able to think through flexible working in all its dimensions, and bring it to life through technology.

A new normal

Not long ago the biggest catalyst for workplace change was advances in digital technologies and connectivity. Many were alarmed jobs would be replaced by artificial intelligence, automation or robots. Those things have not gone away but COVID-19 has taken the future of work in a totally new direction, a direction that is increasingly virtual and remote rather than physical and centralised, a direction where a 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday workday (physically at the office, for many of us) is suddenly hard to imagine.

The “new normal” for work will be flexible, geographically dispersed, and offer a choice of a hybrid of digital and physical tools and spaces that are tailored to your role and your technology needs, preferences and expectations. Work will be something you do, not somewhere you go.

At Telstra, this concept of flexibility will include our office-based staff but also extend to the many thousands of Telstra people who work in stores, install or repair connections at homes or businesses, take E000 calls or provide other critical services at secure facilities.

When COVID first hit, we moved our 25,000 Australian-based office employees to work-from-home to get ahead of things. We did that in a single weekend, more or less without a hitch. That was nearly six months ago and most – myself included – have not been in the office since.

Video meetings are now standard at Telstra. In July, as just one example, we ran more than 8 million Microsoft Teams calls. Management meetings, Board meetings, team meetings are now virtual including this year’s Annual General Meeting – a first in our 160 year history.

It is hard to imagine a bigger disruption to traditional work practices and yet the appetite for this type of flexibility is extraordinary. A recent employee survey showed more than 60% of our people believe they are more productive working from home and, on average, they would prefer to work from home around 3 days per week, compared to an average of 1.7 days prior to COVID.

We introduced All Roles Flex in 2014 but it has taken this pandemic to fundamentally shift us from a workforce that sees home working as a nice-to-do to a permanent fixture in the work-life juggle.

The top reasons our people cite for embracing this change are no commute time, greater flexibility on working hours and more time for exercise and family. There are still challenges (issues like mental health and domestic violence are very real) and we recognise that some people will want to return to the office as soon as they can while others do not have the choice such as those serving customers in-store.

Before COVID we trialled an agent@home model for Australian-based sales and service consultants from our call centres. Now all consultants can potentially work from home, shifting the conventional thinking on customer service roles.

There is no way to know exactly what the world will look like a year from now so we must accept this is our new normal and prepare for it.

Humanity in all its colour

If work is like the blood that flows through our veins then technology and collaboration tools are the connective tissue. However, as vital as they are it is the purpose, values and culture of a company that defines who we are. Through COVID this has been enriched by the humanity which we are now seeing on high-beam.

In two weeks’ time it will be six months since I set foot in the office. I certainly miss all those informal interactions – the opportunities to bump into people in the coffee shop or the side conversation before or after a meeting. Their absence cannot be replaced by technology alone. We all have our own small rituals and COVID has enabled us to better understand their bigger role in our psyche. In uncertain times, rituals give us comfort and confidence.

Working from home has truly broken down hierarchies in a way we could never have imagined previously. Teleconferencing means we are bringing people into our homes every day and they are seeing us in a way they never have before – with all of our issues, challenges and vulnerabilities.

In our efforts to keep connected, we are also asking each other how we are in meetings – and actually stopping and listening to the answer. The simple question “How are you” during a health pandemic is no longer a polite refrain but a symbol central to connecting us and looking out for each other.

From these simple acts of humanity, mental health, safety and wellbeing are now a foremost concern in how we manage our workplace and evolve our culture. Providing a safe work environment has always been fundamental but the increased focus on mental health is rightly pervading our outlook and is a key component of our new normal.

We need to be part of a tribe, to feel connected to each other and something bigger, with a purpose. The opening of the window into our humanity during COVID only enriches this.

Supercharging our best work with technology

Telecommunications networks and digital technology have been critical during the lockdown period, and the acceleration of the digital economy is now not only crucial to a fast economic recovery but is supercharging our people’s ability to do their best work.

The basics are obvious: what are the connectivity, applications and tool requirements – in the office, at home and on the move, for voice, for video and online collaboration?

Others are more complex and can involve anything from identity management to cyber security and our property portfolios. These are all important considerations with critical consequences if not managed well.

Like other large organisations, we operate large office buildings in CBDs around the country, many of which are now either largely empty or much-reconfigured to accommodate social distancing measures.

Our employees have told us they no longer want to be there Monday to Friday, that they see themselves coming in around two days a week to collaborate, see customers, socialise and build relationships with colleagues and to learn. There are many ideas around how this might work, from modifying existing facilities to cater for collaboration to a “hub and spoke model” that puts more office facilities closer to where employees live, including in suburban or regional areas rather than centralised in the CBD.

But in the new normal, more deeply understanding our people means we can enable them with technology, connectivity and physical space options to do their best work where and how it suits them.

This is the new normal

I have been in the workforce for more than 40 years and I have seen how work and the workplace has evolved. I have seen how roles change, how some have disappeared and how new technologies have brought forward new thinking around productivity, flexibility and engagement. I have also seen many changes in the nature of what constitutes a successful company.

Even before COVID it would have been naive to think technology was not going to continue to drive changes in our lives and in our workplaces – the real issue then is how do we respond and how we prepare ourselves for the future.

What COVID is showing us is that we are at our best when our workplaces offer maximum flexibility, when they enable us to let our humanity into our culture and when they combine the power of technology and connectivity. When they do that we will create a workplace that not only survives the new normal but thrives.

Telstra Creator Space Render - Melbourne Connect - University of Melbourne
Tech and Innovation | Telstra News |

Building Australia’s technology future through education

By Alex Badenoch July 13, 2020

We’re committed to playing our part in building a pipeline of technology talent in Australia. So we’re partnering with a number of universities to equip graduates with the skills and adaptability they need to succeed in our rapidly changing global environment. Our latest partnership is a $5.14M investment in the Telstra Creator Space (fabrication lab) at University of Melbourne’s new Melbourne Connect technology and innovation precinct and 10 scholarships in STEM that focus on diversity and inclusion.

Having a highly-skilled, diverse and practically trained technology workforce is critical to the success of Telstra and of the nation. And yet, we have an estimated shortfall of 60,000 skilled ICT workers in Australia over the next five years. More of these skills must be developed locally.

As one of the country’s biggest employers and a major driver of the digital economy, we’re committed to playing a part in the solution. Investing in STEM is required to transform Australia into an innovation hub and support businesses that are themselves transforming. To that end, our partnership with the University of Melbourne is our next education investment and part of our ongoing collaboration with five Australian universities to build a strong foundation for STEM skills education for the future.

As part of our partnership with the University of Melbourne, a new Telstra Creator Space at the Melbourne Connect technology and innovation precinct will give students, start-ups and industry access to an onsite fabrication and prototyping facility, running workshops, events and industry-based projects. Our partnership will enable research and development between Telstra and the university focused on technology, engineering and innovation concepts. This laboratory will support open innovation using world-class equipment, letting students gain practical experience and a real-world understanding of highly technical concepts.

To further demonstrate our long-term commitment to boosting diversity in Australia’s digital economy, we will also offer 10 Technology and Innovation Scholarships for University of Melbourne students in a program that aims to increase the number of women and Indigenous Australians in STEM, particularly from rural and regional areas. We’re starting these scholarships with two awards in August 2020 to female students or students of Indigenous descent intending to become professionally qualified engineers or technology professionals.

Why developing technology talent is such an urgent issue

Technology skills shortages in Australia were already an urgent issue before the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. We now need to boost numbers at a much faster rate to support our nation’s transforming businesses and the digitisation of our economy. Fewer new students in Australia currently enter STEM degrees than in other OECD countries, and we need to change that.

We’re working with universities to enhance student learning, implement industry placement and work experience, research and career opportunities. This includes innovation in curriculum design and delivery, particularly to support the continuous learning or reskilling of those already in the workforce. Micro-credentials are a great example of this and it’s encouraging to see the government also recognise the importance of these qualifications.

So far we’ve partnered with RMIT Online and the University of Technology Sydney on new micro-credential programs covering software defined networking, data analytics and machine learning. These programs are helping to upskill our own teams, but are also open to anyone who is interested. Such partnerships are an example of how business and education providers can collaborate to jointly develop the critical technology skills Australia needs.

A new innovation precinct for Melbourne

This is an artist’s impression and does not represent health and safety standards of the Telstra Creator Space.

Melbourne Connect is the University of Melbourne’s new technology and innovation precinct. It will bring together world-class research, industry, government and higher-degree STEM students in a space that will foster engagement, collaboration and networking.

Our investment in this new precinct will help realise its potential, fostering Melbourne Connect as a hub of technology innovation. We and the University of Melbourne share an ambition for transformation and an appetite for collaboration – we both want to grow Australia’s technology talent pipeline and to equip graduates with the skills and practical experience they need to succeed.

Melbourne Connect is expected to be completed in late 2020 and open to students in 2021. We look forward to the opportunities it offers to Australia’s brightest science, engineering and technology students, and for our industry and education partners to bring innovation to life.

College students studying in library
Telstra Careers | Telstra News |

Investing in Australia’s future technology talent

By Andrew Penn October 16, 2019

As we look at the future of our business and the work we will be doing, we are confronted with a growing problem. It is one that many other businesses are also facing – demand for highly-skilled technology talent is vastly outstripping supply.

But we are not sitting by and watching this problem unfold. We are partnering with Australian tertiary institutions to help widen the talent pipeline for the future of work.

Work, redefined

When I was 15 years old, I worked as a shipping clerk in London. My job saw me using pen and paper, punch card and computer tape. People even smoked in the office!

Last year marked my 40th year in the workforce, and as I reflect on that first job, I am reminded that it no longer exists. This is a stark reminder of the impact technological convergence, digitisation and globalisation have had on the nature of work.

I have had a front-row seat to see how technology has changed the workplace. Some roles evolve and others disappear entirely. At the same time, overall employment has increased along with productivity and efficiency, with the advent of cheaper computing power and better connectivity.

Technology will continue to drive changes in our lives and in the workplace – the real issue, then, is how we respond and prepare ourselves for the future.

As we confront the realities of a workforce that is changing faster than ever before, we must think hard about the talent pipeline for our current and future business needs.

Widening the pipeline

The problem we face as a business is a numbers game: today, we cannot find the skills we need in Australia at the scale we need them.

It is estimated Australia will have a shortfall of 60,000 skilled ICT workers in the next five years. For more global context, Australia had around 1,200 new software engineers in the last 12 months, compared to 44,000 in India. That means for every new software engineering graduate in Australia, there are 40 in India.

Australia must build more of these skills locally and as one of the country’s biggest employers we are committed to play a part in this.

One way we are doing this is by establishing a partnership program with five Australian universities to jointly develop the technology skills and capabilities Australia needs for the innovative workplaces of the future.

We have signed Memorandums of Understanding with RMIT University, University of Melbourne, UNSW Sydney, University of Sydney and University of Technology, Sydney. Under these agreements, we will work with each university to enhance student learning through placements and work-integrated experiences, research and innovation opportunities, and more development including early access to career opportunities.

By investing time, money and energy into these partnerships, we aim to provide clarity on the skills we need and create real-world opportunities for students to develop them. Together with universities, we can boost the supply of diverse technology graduates for our own workforce and the nation.

These memorandums will stay in place for at least two years and we are currently working with our university partners on the first set of priorities under the agreements.

Ultimately, we want to develop useful opportunities for students to learn from industry experts and to gain real-world experience. We want to help graduates become skilled ICT practitioners who are prepared for the workforce of the future from the moment they are handed their degree.

These partnerships will exist alongside our employee training program. Through a $25 million investment this year alone we expect 10 per cent of our workforce to develop new skills which are critical as we transform.

A diversity of talent

As we look to the future, we also have an opportunity to support greater diversity in all its forms.

The technology industry is a male-dominated space, but we are committed to ensuring the pipeline of future talent is diverse from its beginning. To do this, the partnerships will look at ways to build curiosity in technology careers and engage a broad range of people before they reach university, including high school student outreach programs.

This early outreach extends to work we are doing through our summer vacation program, and our partnership with the Pathways in Technology (P-TECH) program to give more high school students the opportunity to develop an interest and skills in technology.

Building the workforce of the future is an urgent challenge. We do not have time to be idle. Telstra is determined to be part of the solution. We look forward to a successful relationship with Australia’s top universities and the technology industry graduates that we meet through this program.