COVID-19: Looking at the opportunities that come with technological transformation

From

Nathan Patchett

The modern workplace is increasingly flexible, collaborative and dynamic, and new technologies afford us the opportunity to collaborate and communicate effectively while working from home. However, for many employers and workers, that parity between effectiveness in an office environment versus a working from home scenario had not been fully tested until recently.

That all changed on 11 March 2020, when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO). In only a matter of months, the outbreak of the pandemic upended the daily lives of many Australians and, in particular, the way we work.

Businesses have had to adjust the way they operate to continue to deliver exceptional outcomes for customers. The impact on working structures has meant that working from home is now commonplace and flexible working arrangements have ultimately helped protect public health as well as ensured the continued success of many businesses.

For businesses and individuals alike, this transition may have proven challenging, especially as some had not previously embraced or even considered remote working models. Thankfully, advances in communication technology have enabled many people to perform their jobs entirely from home with a reassuring ease that will undoubtedly change the way we all work forever.

Over six months on, there is so much we have learnt and can continue to learn from the experience. It is clear that our ways of working and how we approach our work, have changed forever. At TAL, we have discovered things about flexible working, new uses of our technology and new ways of engaging with our customers and partners that will improve the way we deliver in the future and benefit the whole community.

Adapting to emerge stronger

At TAL, it was important that we adapted quickly in order to remain well placed to service the needs of our customers and partners, in particular those customers on claim. When the COVID-19 situation began to rapidly escalate, TAL’s Infrastructure & Operations team, within the broader Technology team, responded quickly to help ensure our people could work from home effectively and efficiently.

Reacting within extraordinarily short timeframes to fulfil and align to the rapidly changing business and industry IT requirements has allowed us to emerge as a stronger organisation. We moved 2,000 of our employees to a full-time working from home set-up in the first five weeks alone, which coincided with a surge of customer and adviser enquiries totalling 250,000 incoming phone calls over the initial three months. Throughout this transition, we prioritised our customer facing teams to ensure continuity of our service to our customers and partners. For example, through the COVID-19 situation we took a number of actions to strengthen our cyber monitoring and controls.

Our Cyber Security team were able to assess and approve solution designs and implementations in a reactive and timely manner and this is a major reason that TAL has been able to maintain robust cyber security in a challenging environment.

We also further strengthened our email defences and we are regularly communicating to our employees about the importance of cyber safe habits while working from home.

Reacting swiftly

Working with key suppliers and partners to ensure any issues are resolved as early as possible has also put us in a good position to feel that we can overcome issues that are outside of our technology team’s control, such as internet speeds and mobile phone drop outs.

COVID-19 has required leaders to quickly put into practice dynamic problem-solving and decision making for challenges and issues they have never faced before.

In response to the pandemic, our team more than doubled the capability of VPN licenses in a very short amount of time to allow people to connect to TAL systems from home, and acquired hundreds of additional monitors and laptops to ensure everyone could operate from home. This may not seem significant, but for many this was a major shift in platform and application performance as many of our people had never been configured to use a laptop before.

Given the in-person meetings were either removed or reduced, we deployed Microsoft Teams ahead of schedule to help our people connect with each other via video meetings and implemented a Microsoft Teams focused phishing test campaign.

We worked with the People & Culture team on a new COVID-19 ‘onboarding and offboarding’ process to ensure remote working would not impact anyone starting at TAL or leaving TAL. At a time when our customers needed us, I was proud to see our people make an active commitment to come together.

Rising to the challenge

For me personally, this is a great reflection of how a team can work together on a focused objective to drive results, regardless of the aspects of that challenge that are beyond your control as a team.

Now more than ever, it is important for businesses to think strategically about their technology and digital capabilities in order to continue meeting the expectations of their customers and their people. Research by the Global Workplace Analytics predicts that up to 30 per cent of people will continue to work from home several days a week post-pandemic.

What is certain is that the challenging COVID-19 situation has transformed our future thinking and use of technology. Technology advancements are crucial if organisations are to remain competitive and resilient in the post COVID-19 environment.

To that end, it is crucial that we continue to invest in and develop systems to ensure our people can work effectively while shifting between spaces, while maintaining the highest level of service for our customers. Our technology team is continuing to identify and work on actions to further improve everyone’s working from home experience, and this will continue and be a new baseline of performance for those who continue to work from home in the future.

The COVID-19 pandemic is certainly one of the defining events of recent years. We are proud of the way our people have responded, our ability to come up with innovative solutions, and our commitment to our customers and partners in the face of uncertainty.

By Nathan Patchett, General Manager, Infrastructure and Operations

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