Stick with great and not the grind – what we are learning from COVID-19
It’s been nearly five months since we very quickly mobilised 4,000 of our people to safely work from home when COVID-19 hit domestically. In times of crisis there is a certain sense of adrenalin that comes with it, and I haven’t quite worked out whether it’s felt more like 4 months or 4 years!
Whilst I hope we never see anything like COVID-19 again, it's been the ultimate team building exercise and a great leveller. Working from home, as the suits and jackets were replaced with more casual clothes, the work ‘façade’ has come off and we’ve seen our people show more of their ‘whole self’, and who they are ‘outside of work’.
While everyone is physically apart, it's been more critical than ever to be in touch with the sentiment of our people during this time. We have been regularly asking how they are feeling and our most recent feedback shows that they are feeling more connected, engaged and productive than ever.
So how did we get here?
During this time, we’ve tried to be true to ourselves as a business. We dialled up our anchors of Medibank’s culture - being committed to health and wellbeing, being inclusive; values and purpose driven and remaining customer obsessed.
There's also something about bringing it back to the basics of human connection. We're seeing people genuinely care for and check in on one another. This time has been quite personal for everyone. We’ve seen our people take time to ask about someone’s sick parent or a loved one in an aged care facility that they may not have been able to visit, or call a team member to see how they're coping with home schooling.
This has been across the organisation – different business units checking in on one another, lots of Zoom ‘virtual’ catch ups, group trivia, executives calling our customer facing employees and many people offering a glimpse into their lives and what they care about. It may sound simple, but it can be very easily overlooked.
Communication has also been key. Our CEO Craig Drummond and our Executives have been continually engaged with our people and have provided regular updates as things progressed, through weekly all company emails, Yammer posts, video’s and Zoom coffee connects across the group. Importantly, not everything was serious - we made sure to find that balance between formal and informal with some laughs along the way.
At Medibank we've always championed flexible working to support our people to balance work and life - whether that be reaching fitness goals, or parenting and carers’ commitments. Before COVID, 76% of our people were working flexibly, so the transition was quite seamless. Most of our workforce working from home during this time has added a different level of sophistication to our flexible work culture. I’m a big believer that success isn’t just transferring how we worked in the office to now working from home. It is challenging some of the ways we have worked traditionally and embracing a better way – where people can be engaged and productive in all aspects of their life.
Corporate Australia has always grappled with how to build workplaces where the health and wellbeing of their people can thrive. As employers we absolutely have a role to play here and the current crisis has really showcased this, by taking away many of the supposed roadblocks and boundaries. This includes physical and mental health of our people and their loved ones and supporting people impacted by domestic violence.
Most of our people have told us that they want to continue some form of working from home, even when this is ‘over’. The past 4 months have been a valuable pilot in better understanding the factors that can strengthen engagement, collaboration, health & wellbeing and productivity. At present, we are embracing a state based approach to opening our office spaces, primarily based on what works for our people and their choices.
And as the situation has developed further in Victoria and many of our people once again in lockdown, we are very aware of the impact this second period of stay at home orders may have on mental wellbeing. It’s understandable that many of our Victorian people may be feeling emotionally burnt out and isolated. Checking in with each other and staying connected throughout the business has never been more important.
It’s also incredibly important that our people have access to trusted mental health experts who will listen, understand and provide the support they need. We just introduced our Employee Mental Health Line for all employees and their immediate families, which is in addition to our Employee Assistance Program. It provides expert support from mental health professionals, is confidential and available 24/7.
One thing that is very clear is that our people want us to embrace new ways of working for the longer term. The real work now sits with us to design a way of working that supports what our people are asking for and continues to build engagement, health and wellbeing, collaboration and productivity, and is sustainable beyond this period.