After experimenting with it for a few months, leaders are now getting real about hybrid work models and redesigning policies, challenging the current practices and working norms, and accelerating the work tech adoption to create a more collaborative and efficient workplace. The wave of change was driven not only by the pandemic and ongoing restrictions in Australia and few other countries, but also by the shifting talent priorities and their demand for flexibility.
With 47pc of New Zealand workers likely to resign if not offered flexibility on working hours and work-from-home arrangements, working with cloud company Nutanix to bring in additional digital capabilities such as Clusters – a multicloud extension tool between public and private cloud environments – Suncorp NZ is setting itself up to reposition work from a fixed-location to a consumable activity, accessible anywhere at any time for the long-term.
In an interaction with People Matters, Jane Brewer, Suncorp NZ’s Executive General Manager Technology Transformation shares how organisations are building a sustainable hybrid organisation with the help of technology.
If those working remotely are not effortlessly connected with those in the office, there will inevitably be disparities, silos, and knowledge loss. To ensure seamless connectivity organisations are heavily investing in technology. How are you witnessing the trend shape up?
Hybrid working is definitely an ongoing trend, and it has been building up from many years in one way or another.
At Suncorp New Zealand we have a dispersed workforce with team members in many locations within New Zealand as well as partners offshore and our parent company based in Australia. COVID-19 may have exacerbated the need for flexible working, but we have been working towards seamless connectivity and consistent experiences for a dispersed workforce for some time.
We’re seeing different organisations approach this trend in different ways. At Suncorp NZ we’re using the Nutanix platform to enable a hybrid model of cloud and server-based technology. But other organisations are taking different approaches to how they host data and manage their infrastructure based on their budget, risk appetite or other factors.
There doesn’t seem to be any real pattern but what we think is important at Suncorp is to maintain a really strong focus on what we’re trying to achieve – that our workforce are able to collaborate seamlessly irrespective of where they work – and ensure that our technology infrastructure will support that.
As organisations invest in new technologies to improve connectivity for the hybrid work model, what are some things they should keep in mind before investing?
I think the most important thing is staying nimble enough to shift your approach, and keep up with the latest offering. In technology there’s always the next thing, the next leap forward and it’s an industry that sees massive acceleration in change compared with many others.
Our infrastructure is based on technology that is quite modular, so we can keep adding nodes or removing them to scale things up and down. That’s quite important in a big business because change takes a long time, and you need to ensure that you’re not over-investing, while maintaining the ability to keep up with change.
Another really important thing to keep in mind is that you have to match your investment in technology with investment in the capability, behaviour and culture of your people.
In today’s businesses, making any technology successful is not just about putting the platform in place – it’s about transitioning your team to new ways of working and it’s important not to underestimate the impact that technology changes can have on your employees.
How can HR leaders tackle the tech adoption challenge and make sure their investments are empowering both business and people?
Technology and people are so tightly coupled and it’s critical that those teams and leaders work closely together.
At Suncorp New Zealand, Ways of Working is one of the focus areas for our strategy and we have a programme in place that brings HR and tech together to make decisions. This enables us to continuously improve our people's experience and support our people and leaders to get the most out of the technology we have on offer.
How are you at Suncorp NZ enabling people, processes and business with tech and ensuring that the entire organisation is well connected even in the hybrid work model? Which areas across the entire employee lifecycle have you particularly invested in?
Keeping up with the pace of technological change requires continuous investment and uplift every year. But making the most of your platforms requires them to work well with your physical space and ensuring you’ve invested enough in your people – communicating with and upskilling them to use the technology we have to deliver value.
One of the things that we’ve identified is a real opportunity to upskill our leaders to help them support a dispersed workforce. We’re now offering new training, coaching and support to leaders to help them to maintain connection and collaboration and ensure consistent experiences for their teams, even when those teams are working with various degrees of face to face connectivity or working in dispersed locations.
This is a new skill that hasn’t typically been a focus for leaders and is a really critical part of building a successful hybrid work culture.
What challenges do you face in building a digital workplace and how did you overcome them?
One of the biggest challenges at the moment is fatigue. The environment, with COVID-19 and high levels of uncertainty, is exacerbating fatigue and resistance to change globally.
Hybrid working does seem to make that change harder to cope with for some people and increase the resistance to new platforms, and ensuring our people feel connected, and helping them understand how the new technology or new way of working will better enable them and make their job easier, is one way to combat that.
Another challenge in the technology space is that so much of success comes from underlying infrastructure – but that’s something that many people don’t notice or care about until it doesn’t work. Ensuring that you’re advocating for continuous investment into your tools and platforms and keeping them up to date is really important, to make sure the wheels don’t come off in a crisis moment.
For example, when New Zealand went into lockdown in March last year, we had 48 hours to get all of our people equipped to work from home. Our technology was already in place to allow that, so we could focus on supporting our people’s wellbeing and providing them with equipment rather than needing to make any urgent changes to our technology infrastructure or suffering the productivity loss that we could have faced if we hadn’t done that successfully.
In the next six months, how do you plan to improve better coordination of work across teams? What would be your key priorities?
Some of our focus in this area is in technology, but mostly it’s about ways of working.
For example, as part of our technology work we are now rolling out Microsoft Teams to create greater functionality and collaboration, and we’re also beginning a roll out of equipment to support people to work from home in a more standardised way.
But a bigger focus is how we plan and collaborate. Suncorp New Zealand has developed a scaled agile delivery model that will improve the way we identify and prioritise work and support our people to focus on delivering value to our customers faster.