Making personal connections and spending quality time together at work are key to sustaining values and culture, especially for large enterprises with multiple teams across the globe, according to an executive of Australia’s second largest bank.
For Kathryn van der Merwe, Group Executive - Talent & Culture and Service Centres at ANZ, having a healthy workplace is essential to enabling these personal connections to grow, which may have been challenging when remote work arrangements became the new normal.
Staying connected with everyone was especially difficult during the pandemic, she said, but it also made people rethink the value of the workplace. This assessment was crucial when things were getting back to normal and people were coming back to the office.
“ANZ strongly believes in the value of the workplace. When we started thinking about connecting in person (our program to return our people to the office), we agreed on an approach that would work best for our employees (me), the team (we) and the bank as a whole (us),” Kathryn said.
“We also acknowledged the workplace plays an important part in defining our culture: it’s where we see people come together to collaborate, solve problems, and enjoy each other’s company.”
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Overall, ANZ has more than 28,000 employees across the world, from Asia and the Pacific to North America and Europe. As part of that workforce, there are some 2,000 employees based in Manila, serving institutional clients and doing customer support roles.
In May 2022, Kathryn and several other Australia-based leaders travelled to the Philippines to hear the thoughts of their people about returning to the office. She recalled staff telling them about how remote work arrangements allowed them to be more flexible in terms of time management, while some shared that working at home was full of distractions for them, especially when members of the family needed their attention.
The majority, though, shared their sentiments about the importance of returning to the workplace, how they believe it can further increase productivity, and how it can allow them to connect once more to people outside their homes.
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“From being able to get different viewpoints during a face-to-face team huddle, to catching up about work and personal lives over coffee, to having the opportunity to ask a question or bounce off an idea by simply showing up at a teammate’s workstation,” Kathryn recounted.
“For me, being back in the office also means harnessing the potential of nurturing our relationships with colleagues, fostering a more engaging culture and maximising all the benefits of human connection.”
Kathryn has been with ANZ for over five years now. Before that, she spent 11 years in leadership roles at business consulting firm Bain & Company, and a couple of years as director at Blackdot Consulting.
With over a decade of experience in managing teams, Kathryn continues to learn much about how her work is done by interacting and connecting with the people.