Pandemic fatigue is real, and it’s taking a toll on all of us. Whether it’s the uncertainty of lockdowns, being separated from family and friends, or juggling working at home with remote learning or caring responsibilities, COVID remains ever-present in our lives. I have seen how lockdowns have affected our teams, with many people feeling the pressure from trying to balance their work and home lives, or just another layer of resilience being torn away with each lockdown or the uncertainty of when this will end.

As COVID and its impacts have evolved so has our response – and the health and wellbeing of our teams has been central to what we do. When COVID first hit we were one of the first to move 25,000+ team members to work from home, the first to offer paid pandemic leave and we kept the more vulnerable members of our frontline teams out of harm’s way by moving them into suitable alternative roles.

Later last year, as some of us started spending a bit of time in the office it was clear that people’s expectation of the workplace had changed, so we took the concept of flexible working to the next level by giving individuals choice with where, when and how they work. And more recently we’ve been doing our bit to get our people vaccinated – to keep ourselves and others safe and to get us on a pathway out of the severe lockdowns so many of us are facing.

We know many of us are feeling a sense of fatigue from the pandemic and that it is impacting people’s health and wellbeing. So we’ve been thinking about small ways we can show care and help take a little pressure off at a time when people need it most:

1. Reducing our workloads

One of the many benefits of our T22 transformation is the rollout of Agile at scale across the company and our ability to plan and allocate work in a way we haven’t been able to before. We now have a better ability to scale our work up and down, pause it, re-prioritise it to a later date, or stop it all together. Our aim is to reduce the overall amount of work across the company so we can help relieve some work pressure and support our people – while still delivering the big outcomes we need to achieve.

We’re in one of our busiest times of the year, so we know that our teams are feeling the load. So we’ve also reminded our people to talk to their leader if they’re struggling with their workload. It sounds straightforward and common sense, but calling these behaviours out helps remove mental barriers and makes it easier for everyone to live them.

2. Putting boundaries around meeting times

Working from home has plenty of benefits, but we’ve all seen meetings creep into our personal time – particularly when we can’t go anywhere. So we’ve asked our teams to commit to keeping calls within our new standard meeting hours. We’re also encouraging our people to bookmark their working days with clear start and finish times, especially when working from home where there’s no opportunity to wind down on the commute home from the office. And we’re role-modelling this from the top down.

Of course, there will always be some exceptions, like being available to help with customer issues, and managing the multiple time zones we all work across can make this a tricky task, but we’re committed to making it work.

3. Blocking out meeting free times

Real-time collaboration is important, but back-to-back video calls can be draining and it can make it hard to get work done or even get away from your screen – to get some physical activity in, grab lunch or help with home-schooling.

We have blocked out meeting-free time in everyone’s calendars to carve out a quiet hour twice a week – and made it clear people can block additional screen-free time during the week if they feel like it’s needed. Our teams in different time zones can move this time to one that suits them – and anyone who gets a meeting invite during these meeting-free times is encouraged to say no!

4. Taking annual leave to get away from work together

At the end of the day, getting away from work altogether is what we need to rest and recharge. We know there isn’t much incentive to take annual leave at the moment with borders shut and areas in lockdown, and that another disincentive is coming back to the virtual office to find more work on your plate than when you left.

To address this, we’re asking the majority of our team to take an annual leave day on the first day of October, which will also give them a bonus leave day to take whenever it suits them. We’re also mandating another annual leave day at the start of November. By doing this, we’ll ensure that we’re all able to take some annual leave to recharge and refocus without worrying about the work we’re coming back to.

And our customers need not worry – our frontline teams will still to be on hand to answer your calls and keep you connected – whether that’s with an in-home or in-store visit. We’ve got different arrangements to make sure they can still take a break, just not all at once.

5. Relieving the pressure during these school holidays

With school holidays across Australia to mark the end of Term 3, we’ve been moving out work and cross-company forums that can wait to help our teams take some time off to spend with their families or to better balance work and caring. We’re also asking our leaders to do the same within their teams and encourage people to consider what leave or additional flexible working arrangements they might need to feel rested and well.

We’re here to help our people

We’re all in this together, and I have been buoyed by hearing some of the stories about how we’ve connected in innovative ways to help ease stress and share the collective burden of living through these uncertain and emotionally challenging times. We’re all struggling in one way or another, and we all have our own stories about how COVID has impacted us personally.

We’re committed at Telstra to doing the best by our people, and we’ll continue to make the necessary changes to help take some of the pressure off however we can.