Company name = NAB
Industry = Banking
No. of employees = 34,000
Sending a 30,000-strong workforce home
Like many organisations, the global pandemic radically impacted NAB employees’ ways of working in 2020. As one of the largest employers in Australia – and the largest business bank – NAB moved quickly to mobilise 85% of its workforce to work remotely, including call centre teams. Within weeks of the first lockdown, home became a place of work for some 30,000 team members – many of whom had never worked remotely before.
Across the organisation, the shift to remote work enabled NAB teams to discover new ways of connecting with customers. Employees used online chat and Zoom meetings, as parts of the workforce were reskilled and diverted into customer-facing roles during periods of high demand. The organisation became more agile as a result, which has translated into greater flexibility for NAB’s customers (in how they bank) and NAB’s employees (in how they work).
NAB’s Talent Acquisition teams pivoted quickly to digitally enable recruitment practices, as well as refreshing their digital onboarding to ensure new starters were set up for success from day one. To help them feel more connected and supported, new starters received regular check-ins, a consistent, structured set of welcome activities and clarity around their onboarding responsibilities. However, it soon became clear that the sudden transition to remote work wasn’t always easy for everyone.
Remote working brings new opportunities
Felicity Baumer, NAB Assist Customer Care team, Wagga Wagga NSW
Living in Wagga Wagga, NAB Banker Felicity never thought she could do a job traditionally based in Melbourne. Yet during COVID-19, more than 450 bankers were trained to support customers in other ways.
“In my 13 years at NAB I’ve done every role there is in the branch. Never did I think I would have the opportunity to work in NAB Customer Care. For me to have this opportunity from a country town has been great, I’ve learned so much. I’m so grateful and can’t wait to see where this leads me!” – Felicity Baumer, NAB Assist Customer Care team
A responsive wellbeing approach
To better understand the changing needs of the workforce, NAB implemented a new employee “listening strategy” to gather an enterprise-wide perspective on culture, engagement, and other topics (wellbeing, inclusion, leadership, etc) through quarterly surveys. Using employee insights and feedback, the employee listening strategy has enabled NAB’s leaders to identify issues quickly and take action more effectively.
Complementing the listening strategy has been NAB’s social collaboration platform, Workplace, which provides a 24/7 ability to communicate important messages. Employees use it for feedback and sharing of ideas, as well as a chat function to ask questions and seek answers.
Across the business, there were some early indicators that workload and work/life boundary concerns might be impacting employee engagement, as well as wellbeing and mental health over the longer term. One in four employees reported finding it difficult to disconnect from work during personal time, and 18% highlighted concerns around managing workload. NAB leaders responded quickly, checking in regularly with their teams and having conversations about how to sustain productivity and wellbeing whilst building optimism for the future. Critically, senior leaders committed to:
- support employees to have a digital detox outside of working hours;
- role model behaviour particularly across the holiday period;
- talk openly about returning to the office, the hybrid model and flexibility; and
- active workload management – utilising the tools of Distinctive Leadership, role model prioritisation, resource management and planning.
NAB used insights from the listening strategy (along with people leader insights and feedback/questions from the engagement survey) to build wellbeing offerings that supported the broad population base in context with what was happening externally with COVID-19 restrictions. Offerings included:
- Dramatically increased communication to employees and leaders, strongly promoting the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to them and their families;
- Tools such as the ‘Guide to Thrive – Working from Home’ and a ‘Working from Home’ e-learn to help employees work safely and productively at home, with small adjustments they could make themselves;
- Over 10,000 employees attended virtual wellbeing webinars focusing on managing work/life boundaries, coping with burnout and fatigue, plus practical tips on self-care;
- More than 50 proactive wellbeing sessions were delivered for teams.
The importance of leadership
Importantly, NAB recognised the critical role that people leaders play in supporting their employee’s wellbeing and this was especially the case throughout 2020.
NAB encouraged leaders to consider and look after themselves first, ensuring they were supported and empowered to then lead their teams.
To enhance and enable their leadership practice during the COVID-19 pandemic, the business ran fortnightly People Leader forums (weekly at the peak of national lockdown). Commencing in March 2020, the original purpose of these was to provide leaders with the latest information on how to respond to the evolving COVID-19 situation and effectively support their teams. Due to the high level of engagement and positive feedback, these soon evolved to become a way for senior leaders to communicate directly with all of NAB’s people leaders on priority issues, offer support and enable them to lead effectively.
For support, people leaders were offered “Wellbeing Learning Labs” on both personal wellbeing & team wellbeing as well as targeted webinars, learning modules and workplace live events with specialists such as NeuroLeadership expert Dr David Rock.
In addition to supporting tactical moves, NAB has been deploying a new enterprise-wide leadership program to build leadership capability more holistically. Starting last year with their senior executives to set the tone from the top – inspiring, role modelling and driving sustained behavioural change – every individual across the organisation will participate in the program in some form by the end of the calendar year. This means that even those who are not people leaders get exposure to what a good leader should look like at NAB and help hold leaders accountable to these standards.
“The way we work has changed and this is about creating environments that help our people bring their best to work so that we can best serve our customers. Hybrid working is the new normal for most of us, with more flexibility in how we work, and our CBD offices remain crucial for collaboration and problem solving, as well as adding to the vibrant culture of Australia’s two largest cities.” – Susan Ferrier, Group Executive, People & Culture
With support systems in place, NAB was able to weather the height of the pandemic, with their employees showing strong resilience and ingenuity without compromising on productivity. In fact, more than 83 per cent of employees felt their productivity had improved during the pandemic. The employee listening surveys also measure People Leader advocacy, and this has continued to be a top-scoring metric throughout.
83 per cent of NAB’s people felt their productivity improved during the pandemic.
With many roles across the business being performed in a hybrid operating rhythm, this has allowed employees with carer or family responsibilities to balance their needs. It has also enabled NAB to attract new candidates from broader talent pools and given people in regional communities access to opportunities they may not have had before. For example, NAB increased its ability to find talented bankers by sourcing candidates located in SA who will largely work from home, with a goal of having 150 people working largely remotely in SA by the end of 2021. The learnings from this endeavour will grow NAB’s capability to do this more effectively moving forward, enhancing career opportunities and flexibility, particularly for regional and rural Australia.
Giving your all with flexible work
„Having that work life balance right means that you can put 110% into your actual role and be just as productive, if not more so, than in a traditional working situation. I think the expectation is that you do give your all, whether someone is looking over your shoulder or not. People generally want to do a good job and take pride in themselves and what they do. If you take your work seriously and act in a responsible manner, then you will have no problem meeting or exceeding expectations set for you.“ – Joni Carthew, Service Advisor, Personal Direct team, Adelaide SA
Hybrid and future ways of working
Through NAB’s regular surveys, employees have indicated they’re eager to explore more flexible work options, with 80% of employees indicating they didn’t want to come back the same way they left. However, the majority of employees also made it clear that they didn’t want to work remotely 100% of the time either.
As a result, NAB has implemented a hybrid model informed by employee insights allowing for a blend of both times spent in the office and time spent working remotely (for roles suitable to hybrid). From their external research and NAB’s internal data they know that flexibility is the number one thing their employees – and the market – wants.
Balancing employee needs with customer and business needs has been the key to hybrid and flexible work, which ultimately means rethinking how work is done and defining new ways of working.
“At the heart of this new way of working is meeting the challenge to find solutions that provide flexibility for our colleagues to work and collaborate in different ways, while providing banking services to our customers and the community,” – Susan Ferrier, Group Executive People
Hybrid working has certainly provided greater flexibility and helped NAB’s employees better balance their work and personal commitments. However, the business recognised that hybrid working is complex, and leaders and team members have accordingly sought additional guidance. NAB responded by producing a Hybrid Handbook and Hybrid Leaders guide to provide guidance for team-based conversations to agree on a team level hybrid operating rhythm.
The organisation continues to seek employee input to co-design and co-create the future of work at NAB. In many respects, the pandemic has allowed NAB to accelerate the direction they were already heading in, with flexibility a key pillar of their talent attraction and retention strategy. As the bank continues this trajectory, the benefits from new ways of working will no doubt continue to grow for their employees, customers, and organisation.
Changing perceptions on working flexibly
Rob Cardone, Manager Branch Performance for SA, NT & WA, based in Adelaide
Last year Rob was living in Perth with his family when COVID-19 hit. Previously, his role required him to visit branches and deliver on-site coaching, making flexible or remote working difficult.
“I never really worked from home pre-COVID as I held this view that it was harder to connect and therefore it was difficult to progress work requiring input from others. Initially, there was a slippery period where the flexibility of WFH allowed me to work later and on weekends which then meant I was sending work to my team at these times. I started reflecting on this and learnt more about managing a geographically diverse team and put some guidelines in to manage that better. I also now track and manage workloads more formally which helps me understand the capacity of my team and manage the distribution of work which helps to set the right work expectations. What I’ve also found is that we can now leverage the strengths in each team member to the areas they can influence the greatest and that is not only bound to the region. This has resulted in greater collaboration within my team and the corresponding teams around Australia.”
The silver lining to COVID-19 has been greater flexibility and work-life balance. For eight months Rob worked from home with his wife, Cait, and two young children before they moved back to South Australia to be closer to family, with Rob continuing in the role there.
“What’s changed dramatically for me is the ability to see my children when I step away to take a break or even if I forget to close the door and I have a little plastic dinosaur delivered to me from one of the kids to keep me company. It’s worlds apart from leaving for a train at 7am before the kids are up and getting home with 1 hour of family time before they are in bed.”
The 2021 FlexReport bridges the gap in expectations between employers and employees. It examines how new hybrid ways of working are being used to enable growth out of the adversity faced through the pandemic. Growth, both in the corporate sense as employers redefine the future of work inside their organisations, and on an individual level as employees reprioritise the different parts of their lives – inside and outside of work – and how they want to grow personally.
Download the full report here.