Citi is one of the world’s most global banks, with operations in more than 160 countries and jurisdictions. Accordingly, we get to view the impact of worldwide events like the COVID-19 pandemic from many angles. Across each of our localities, it has raised important questions about the future of work and challenged the way we think about traditional ways of working.
For me, as CEO of the Citi Australia and New Zealand business, three emerging themes are:
Is the traditional idea of ‘working from the office’ dead?
I have been blown away by the resilience of our team as we transitioned seamlessly to 93% of our employees working from home, while still ensuring our customers’ needs are met. The rapid move to remote working has certainly ‘busted a few myths’ around the effectiveness of working from home.
The pandemic will bring some introspection about the ways of working for many corporates. However, we’re not saying goodbye to the office just yet. There remains many benefits to coming together in our place of work, and these go beyond productivity and access to technology. It’s also connecting face-to-face with our clients, camaraderie with team mates and building relationships. There are also many benefits in terms of career development, and learning from each other under an ‘apprenticeship model’.
While the office isn’t dead, it has certainly changed. Flexible working will be even more important than it was pre-pandemic. We have known for years that employees want flexibility, but in practice we have found people often feel they need a justification, for example caring for children or elderly parents. In the future, I expect more employees to work from home simply because it suits their lifestyle. As an employer this is something we can embrace with great comfort, knowing flexible work is a win-win, allowing employees choice regarding work-life balance, while still ensuring productivity. .
How does technology need to shift to accommodate a new, virtual workplace?
While Australia and New Zealand are in a privileged position globally in terms of internet connectivity and access to technology, we still need further innovation to ensure we have the smoothest possible remote working experience. I’m sure many organisations face technological challenges such as stable network connectivity, ensuring fast access to files, addressing operational risk and providing stable system performance.
One of the things we miss in our work from home environment is the daily face-to-face interactions that shape our everyday roles. Video conferencing does go a long way to address this, but I’m sure almost every worker in Australia has experienced a moment of frustration as a video call freezes, they get disconnected, or a voice lags making it difficult to understand the conversation. This is another technological element that will need to improve, and is of critical importance as we strive to combat any feelings of isolation employees may have while social distancing from home.
From a customer perspective, Citi’s focus on being a digital bank gives us an edge. For example, our move to go branchless (we closed our last branch in February) means our retail customers are still able to access our services as normal, digitally. Additionally, we’ve seen an increase in use of the Citi Mobile banking app, Live Chat and email channels and we expect levels to remain high. This future-oriented approach has equipped us well to manage the challenges COVID-19 has presented.
What role should an employer play in the wellbeing of their staff?
The last couple of months have brought on new challenges for everyone, and understandably this can impact our mental health. Now more than ever, it is critical for employers to take a hands-on role in employee wellbeing. This extends right from CEO level, through to managers, and continues through peer to peer relationships in the office.
I am really pleased at how our office has come together as a resilient, supportive community during this pandemic, and I am confident this enhanced focus on wellbeing will be maintained into the future.
At the time of writing, we are beginning to implement our return to site plan. Through this plan we’re trying to ‘walk the talk’ in terms of proving our commitment to employee wellbeing. Our approach is slow and steady, based on data not dates, aligned with government advice and centered on employee health. We are respecting our employees caring responsibilities, feelings of personal safety, and encouraging each team member to work directly with their manager on a return plan that suits them.
In closing, those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic are in my thoughts and I am sure we will feel the effects for years to come. I do believe it has triggered a turning point for corporates not only in Australia, but globally around how we interact with each other, our customers, and the world around us. I hope a silver lining will be the increased innovation, focus on wellbeing and flexibility that will change our workplaces for the better.
Marc Luet, CEO of Citi Australia and New Zealand
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