The long-term impact of the pandemic
As New Zealand leads the world back toward normality, market participants are closely watching which aspects of pandemic living linger in the new world.
FORD The past year has been absolutely fascinating to watch from this perspective. When we first went into lockdown, I remember saying to my daughter that it would be a long time until we would eat in a restaurant again, sitting side-by side with other people. Yet the minute we changed COVID-19 levels we were all sitting in restaurants supporting our local businesses. The speed with which we reverted to previous norms was quite astounding.
One lesson this period has taught us is how much we appreciate the level of energy we absorb from being around other people. The atmosphere as people returned to the office here after Christmas was electric. You could feel the groundswell of people enjoying what they are doing. It is fantastic that we can work flexibly for a period if we need to. But we also know now that we cannot take the benefits gained from the office environment for granted.
In particular, we have learned the importance of this for younger people in our organisations from a career-development perspective. They need support to learn and progress in their careers, gained through in-the-moment learning from colleagues and via osmosis of sitting in an open-plan environment. I think people will return to the office environment more so than we anticipated part-way through last year.
The ability to reach a wider group of people via VC platforms, to become better connected globally, is something I am convinced will remain. VC has been a useful tool to help us drive diversity and inclusion, allowing everyone to be heard on an equal weighting. To ensure this share of voice, I think we will continue to use Teams or Zoom going forward in the same way we have over the last year.
Virtual platforms have been useful, but it is hard to beat face-to-face interaction. As soon as we are able, we will start to re-establish face-to-face connections. At the same time, we have really embraced the approach of remote working, we think this is a permanent change and we have now moved into a permanent flexible working arrangement.
FORD I think my colleagues will spend the greater proportion of their time in the office together but some portion of the time working flexibly. I think we will be more purposeful with our time.
In the office, it will be about collaborating, learning from others and supporting younger people in the workplace. Then we might be at home because we have a day of Zoom meetings with offshore customers or colleagues, or to focus on papers or balancing commutes and home needs.
DODDRELL Flexibility was already very much a part of working life at Westpac. However, COVID-19 has demonstrated the extent to which this can work in practice.
A colleague of mine has recently relocated to another city but there is no doubt about his ability to fulfil the role despite being outside a main centre. This a good example of the ability to make a beneficial structural change to how we work that the COVID-19 crisis identified.
I am lucky in that I have been at Westpac and in markets for quite some time, so my internal and external working relationships have developed to the extent that I know who to call. It would be harder for someone who is starting out. New people in the dealing room learn a lot through osmosis – so I cannot imagine an environment where everyone is entirely working from home.
NG I think Penny Ford described it very well when she said work becomes more purposeful. There is engagement and interaction to be gained from working with other people, and it is in this kind of environment that people learn.
While we have flexibility at ANZ, it is also about striking a balance with wellbeing, flexibility and maintaining the culture. As much as people may want to work more from home, it is also incumbent on us to maintain culture and help bring new employees through. Interactions in the workplace are hugely valuable for the learning experience.
The market has adapted well to virtual roadshows and conferences. However, the networking element of physical conferences is important. Moving forward, a blend of physical and virtual engagement seems likely.
LE QUESNE Our reflection on 2020 is that we, like everyone, had to adapt our working environments while at the same time also being human and concerned about friends and family.
Central banks were called upon to stimulate the economy and respond to severe market dysfunction by providing confidence and stability using tools and programmes that were new for us. This provided a management challenge in and of itself.
We had to stay connected as leaders to ensure staff felt supported as well as reminding everyone of the vision and the bigger picture of what we are here to do as public servants – and why this is so important to New Zealanders.
It was positive to see the way various stakeholders – including the industry, regulators and other parts of government – came together to support New Zealand. Everyone committed to working together to find the best solutions and to provide support to keep the economy running as best we could.
We think attitude change around flexible working will be long lasting. The past 12 months have demonstrated that people can be just as productive – if not more so – working from different locations, and that this comes with many benefits to life outside work.
Being genuinely open to flexible working also opens the door to a deeper, more diverse pool of talent that we think is essential for us to be the best central bank we can be.
On the flip side, we remain conscious of the impact flexible working can have on workplace culture. We want our staff to be connected with their colleagues and proactively looking for opportunities to collaborate and learn from each other. This takes conscious effort and thought when we are not seeing people face to face.
MARTIN Given 50 per cent of our investors are overseas, pre-pandemic I would spend up to eight weeks per year travelling. There are clear advantages to the fact that we now engage with investors virtually. As well as aligning with one of our core principles of even-handedness – meaning we can give the same level of attention to an investor in Europe as we can to one in Auckland – it clearly also reduces our carbon footprint. Logistically, it is also efficient for investors and ourselves, and reduces the time required away from the office and family.
Having said this, I don’t think virtual will ever completely replace the need for face-to-face meetings. Face-to-face remains important, particularly for initial meetings when we are establishing a rapport and trust, especially when engaging across cultures. A hybrid model is the most likely to emerge.
REEVES We feel exactly the same as it relates to interactions with the market. Virtual platforms have been useful but it is hard to beat face-to-face interaction. As soon as we are able, we will start to re-establish face-to-face connections.
At the same time, we have really embraced the approach of remote working, we think this is a permanent change and we have now moved into a permanent flexible-working arrangement. As a mother of three who works full time, flexible working means I have a much better work-life balance.
I have really enjoyed the ongoing tweaks to our ways of working, whether it be principles for how we communicate or agreement on which tools will do the job. It is an exciting space as we continue to adapt to a new normal.