Beyond COVID-19: the workplace of the future
“There is no doubt our working lives will be changed forever as a result of this virus. I think it was happening gradually and naturally anyway.” – Alexis George, Deputy CEO, ANZ
Beyond COVID-19: the workplace of the future
With so many people across the globe now working from home, many companies are starting to think differently about how their workplaces will be set up in a post-pandemic world.
ANZ’s Deputy Chief Executive Alexis George sat down with Group General Manager Property Kate Langan to talk about how COVID-19 has changed the way ANZ is thinking about the working environment of the future. How is the bank looking after those employees required to attend the office to work? And just what are thermal scanners?
Alexis George: People are starting to ask when and what an eventual return to the office looks like and what we're planning. Clearly we are not all going to be able to be back in the office as we were before – even when governments decide to lift some of the restrictions that are on us.
We need to make sure the return to the office is orderly and done in a manner where we can make sure our people are safe and healthy. Moreover, if people don't want to come to the office and they are working productively from home, why disturb them?
How are we doing this Kate?
Kate Langan: The physical workplace that we all come to is an important part of all our daily lives. Our property team in Melbourne was fortunate to be able to rely on some of the experience of those within the team - myself included - who had lived through SARS in the Asia-Pacific and had to deal with an epidemic there from a very physical point of view. As such, we were able to jump into action quite quickly even though we didn’t foresee the magnitude of what we were about to face here with COVID-19.
Meanwhile, governments around the world took different courses of action at different times. Our colleagues in Manila were locked down early and then our colleagues in India and New Zealand. So we've been pivoting as we go to try and help manage those situations as people were rapidly moving to working from home.
Here in Australia, we've been fortunate to still have some freedom of access and a bit more movement than colleagues in other countries. Our essential teams are coming in. They have been operating in a socially distanced way within a carefully managed safe work environment.
We’ve had to consider all the details from parking, to how we use lifts and facilities like kitchens and bathrooms.
Safety first wherever you work
Kate Langan: A primary focus has been branches, both in Australia and New Zealand, with different access regimes. To support them we actually set up a little logistics depot in our facilities here in Melbourne, so we could receive and dispatch large quantities of things like sanitiser and PPE equipment to our colleagues in branches who were facing into possible contagion from coronavirus on a daily basis.
We're into a regular rhythm now. Many employees have settled into a working-from-home regime. And for those experiencing difficulties in working from home or who have specialist needs, we're working to ensure we can get the necessary bits and pieces that enable them to continue working in a safe and healthy way. As part of our wider wellness program for colleagues, the ANZ Wellbeing Team has provided an app, the HealthyMe Digital App, to help our people stay on top of both their mental and physical health through COVID-19.
When restrictions are lifted we’re working to understand the best way to bring our employees back into the workplace and make sure they're still kept safe. The impact on cleaning and sanitation, staggered start times to mitigate queues for the lifts, how we might split shifts so that colleagues on public transport can avoid peak times with everybody else; there’s lots to be considered.
Pic: Clear signage at building entry points.
Workplace of the future
Alexis George: People are speculating about working life never being the same again and wondering if office work will be forever more flexible and remote.
I think there is no doubt our working lives will be changed forever as a result of this virus. It was happening gradually and naturally anyway. At ANZ, we have already made all jobs flexible and certainly were encouraging more working from home but I don't think any of us envisaged we would be able to get to the level of productivity working from home that we did over the last month. Outside our branch staff, 95% of our people are effectively working from home.
I’d like to think everyone will be back in the office full time in the future but I’m not sure when that will happen but with no vaccine yet it is not likely to be soon. Certainly it won’t be anything like it used to be, before COVID-19. I think all of us will want to at least have some flexibility in our working lives. Maybe the workplace doesn't look like a sea of desks anymore. Maybe it's much more about areas of collaboration.
Kate Langan: Absolutely. Progressively across different parts of ANZ we've been experimenting with new ways of working for some time. We’ve looked broadly at why people come to work. What is it that brings people together? What's the satisfaction of work and what helps people be productive in a workplace?
The traditional workplace necessitated a desk so we could have a place for or use the bulky equipment that our employer provided to get our work done. Today’s technology has shifted this need. Mobile devices and apps give us all far greater freedom and our workplaces have the opportunity to fundamentally change. Do they become places that we come to collaborate and to have those serendipitous encounters, to move things along as a group in a team environment - while focused individual work can be done elsewhere? Not necessarily at home but in any location that helps us feel comfortable and productive.
In the short term, however with COVID-19, will people feel safe coming together to actively engage? Will they want to come in? Will they want to collaborate face-to-face?
We have to address both of these realities. How do we strike that right balance? We need to provide workplaces that enable us to collaborate yet also enable us to be safe in a very different world. We need to move away from some of the old legacy things, but at the same respect and explore both physical and psychological safety as inherent human needs.
Change is a given
Kate Langan: The workplace is changing. We've been taking baby steps towards it across ANZ in different countries and in different places with different levels of success. We’re seeing a shift from only face-to-face meetings to more virtual gatherings using intuitive technologies. And while the pace of change is slow, we are seeing how different types of spaces, new wellbeing spaces, space with fittings that end-users can shape and change themselves, are helping us work in new and different ways.
COVID-19, by necessity, has accelerated changes that may not nor could not have been previously embraced. Technology tools, networks, even regulation in some countries, have shifted to enable remote working. COVID-19 has given us all a push to think about how we not only build for the immediate future and return to our workplaces, but how we might reshape our environments in quite a different and exciting new way going forward?
Alexis George: What about the practice of sharing desks – what are your thoughts on that?
Kate Langan: It’s important to understand all the aspects of working in what I would call a flexible way - not having one desk per person. When we review access data – information from turnstiles or entry swipes, we see how many people actually come into a workplace on any given day. We compare this with headcount data and desk allocations and then work with our business leaders to understand and provide the right fit – that’s to say the right number of desks to accommodate the number of people that come in every day. The people in the business unit may be a different combination of people each day so, as a team, we ask them to share desks vs leave unattended desks empty for large amounts of time. By sharing a number of desks across a group of colleagues, in a neighbourhood, you get a chance to change which desk you sit at or who you sit with, giving everyone more choice on how and where to work when you come in.
Sharing space also helps us keep the workplace clean and tidy; it helps with our clear desk policy to protect information and enables us to work most efficiently as groups and not just as individuals. There are some really interesting dynamics that come through when we look at overall attendance data over a period of time.
Interestingly, Tuesday is our peak day in Australia when most people come in to the office and Friday is predictably, our lowest day of occupancy. Between Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, the numbers bounce around a little, but they're pretty consistent giving us a good sense of the total number of people we need to accommodate.
We definitely appreciate there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach and given our scale and the diversity of our business, it’s important we work with all the different business units to understand any unique needs and get the right allocations. We also understand that things change and we have to continuously work with different parts of the business to help accommodate growth or changes in organisational structure to get the right teams physically together.
Sharing desks is sometimes called hot-desking or hoteling – technically these terms relate to smaller environments where people can sit anywhere in the organisation. These ways of working very often have apps that help locate empty desks. Our structure, however, is much more one of communities, encouraging sharing, respectful and collaborative behaviours. We recognise people like to sit with their team and often work most productively in a neighbourhood setting. We also recognise we need to provide quiet spaces for focus and concentration; the balance of the different types of space is one of our challenges – this perhaps is where our wider COVID-19 work-from-home experience may help reshape what’s provided centrally in the future.
I think there’s a lot of upsides when we look optimistically at the way we can use space and the right thing to do for the organisation, which is obviously using our space and our physical furniture assets as effectively as possible.
In many cases the Coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can last anything from 3-5 days on certain metal and plastic surfaces. Facilities Managers are looking into the use of nanoseptic surfaces; these are self-cleaning surfaces for high touch locations. Powered by light, nanoseptic skins and mats use mineral nano-crystals to oxidize contaminants.
Maintaining a social distance
Alexis George: How does social distancing change the way the workspaces are set up?
Kate Langan: We have set-up the workspace – as much as possible – for people to sit at least every other desk apart, providing 1.5 to 2 metres between people. We’ve also tried to avoid sitting people directly opposite each other or at clusters of desks.
In our kitchens and collaborative spaces, we are discouraging groups of people gathering and asking our colleagues to be extra vigilant with hand washing or sanitising before and after using the kitchens. Whilst we have heightened cleaning for communal areas, to be fair on our cleaners, we’re asking folks to stack their own dishes into dishwashers where possible. We’re continuing to provide access to milk, coffee machines and microwaves – we just need everyone to be socially responsible and keep things clean and tidy.
In lifts and areas where people may have to wait, we have marked-out the places to stand or queue. We’ll help manage lift capacities until we all get used to the new lower numbers allowed in on any journey and we're working with the business to stagger start times to avoid lifts and stairs becoming too busy.
Pic: Areas marked to assist with the management of social distancing, including entry points, reception, and lifts.
Hot or not?
Alexis George: We’ve introduced thermal camera screening in a few of our offices in Melbourne and Sydney. What is the purpose of them?
So the thermal cameras, secured by our Group Security Team, are a great way to take temperatures without being personally intrusive. They're not a failsafe system as you can be asymptomatic with COVID-19 - but they will detect if you are running a temperature. The cameras are calibrated and positioned to read people’s temperature as they enter the building, you just walk in front of them and they're able to read your body heat and give a read out directly on a screen to Security.
It is amazing how your temperature can rise very quickly, if you’ve been walking fast or have just run up the stairs. If you do register a temperature, Security will just ask you to sit aside for 10 minutes to give you a chance to relax and then repeat the walk through. So far our ‘hot colleagues’ have all registered normal on the second pass.
Pic: Thermal scanners installed at ANZ Centre, Melbourne.
How we’re adapting during COVID-19