Australia’s IT shops are casting a wider net in the search for talent, onboarding people whose physical location would previously have precluded them from even applying.
CIOs and other leaders from a variety of organisations - from Telstra and AMP to Flight Centre and REST Super - are recruiting talent from a national and, in some cases, international talent pool, having proven during the pandemic that a fully remote operating model is possible.
“We’ve really opened our minds,” nib Group CIO Brendan Mills told FST Media’s Future of Financial Services conference.
“We’ve made it work now for eight months. There’s no reason why we can’t make it work long term.”
Prior to the pandemic, “nine times out of 10” nib would have only employed someone that lived within a commutable distance from either the head office or a satellite office.
“They may have chosen to commute some distance, but there was a general understanding that whilst we’d be flexible and allow them to work from home because we had a policy around that already and we encourage that, that they’d be somewhere close to the office still so they could commute if required,” Mills said.
“I think now that barrier’s gone and it opens up a national market or an international market.
“We’re even having conversations about offshore resources where we’ve got some people exploring that right now.”
AMP has similarly expanded its horizons as it hunts for technology talent.
“The talent pool has widened significantly,” AMP’s group head of technology for modern enterprise infrastructure Abdullah Khan told the FST conference.
“Traditionally we wouldn’t look at people from other geographical locations to come and work for transformation programs [whereas] now we are doing that.
“It’s opened up [a] whole paradigm [of what] we consider as a viable option for us: people working on our programs who have never met each other physically but they’re working together.”
Telstra’s group owner for next gen people practices Julian Clarke told iTnews it took the pandemic “to fundamentally shift us from a workforce that sees home working as a nice-to-do, to a permanent fixture in the work-life juggle”.
“We’ve had a flexible approach to recruitment since we introduced All Roles Flex in 2014, but Covid has broadened this view to include roles that have traditionally been restricted to a certain location, like our contact centres,” Clarke said.
“During Covid we recruited thousands of temporary roles in our Australian contact centres and the location for many of these was flexible because we had accelerated the ability of our sales and service teams to work from home – a trial we had started before Covid.
“All of our contact centre team members in Australia are now fully set-up to work from home, with 80 percent working at home on any given day now.
“We’re looking at how we can expand this even further and make the location of more roles a lot more flexible, which we expect will also create more opportunities in regional Australia.”
For ING Australia’s executive director of human resources Fiona Monfrooy, the pandemic had shown that much of IT could be managed fully remotely.
“In the tech world we were trialling a distributed agile workforce anyway and that has been accelerated during Covid,” Monfrooy told the FST conference.
“For example we were trialling technology releases remotely but we’ve now moved to doing this fully remotely and a lot more frequently, and have proven that we don’t need people on the site.
“That means we can source talent from different parts of the world. It opens up the talent search opportunities significantly, especially in the tech space.”
Brisbane not-for-profit Endeavour Foundation is similarly breaking down geographic barriers as it grows the size of its IT team and, in particular, establishes an internal information security function.
“We're going through a growth phase at the moment, roughly about a 50 percent increase in terms of our headcount, and for the first time ever the organisation has now got a specialty Information security focus,” executive general manager of ICT Brendan Klasen told a Comscentre webinar.
“Everybody knows how hard it is to recruit security expertise, and [it’s] even harder when you're doing that from a non-profit organisation that isn't able to make the same salary offers.
“It's been interesting because my security manager, as he started to review applications coming in, is seeing applicants from other regions and in some cases, other countries like New Zealand.
“He said, ‘It looks like this individual's got a really really good skill set that would match, how do you feel Brendan about the concept of having somebody who's never physically in the office?”
Klasen said he was initially “queasy” and “uncomfortable” at the prospect, but had warmed to it.
“I recognise it’s something that represents a good opportunity for us because for that individual, they can contribute remotely, they can do virtually all of their work remotely,” he said.
“It's how you manage and balance that with the benefits that come with being part of an [in-person] team.”
The management piece at many organisations is still a work-in-progress.
Even prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, fully remote workers were often second-class citizens when it came to corporate system access, performance and user experience.
But this is changing, particularly as staff that would normally work from an office suddenly found what it was like to be on the receiving end.
“Pre-Covid, we used to have our fortnightly team meetings where we'd have everybody here in Brisbane sitting in one room together and we’d have videoconferencing to a couple of people sitting remotely,” Klasen said.
“Nine times out of 10, there would be issues with the audio quality or the video performance or whatever, but because the critical mass was here - and this sounds really terrible - we just went on with the show.
“When we [all] went into more remote working … I was on the receiving end of that experience with people on the other end having a really poor quality experience.
“It's made us have to think more inclusively about engaging with our workforce, particularly those who are remote.”
For REST Super, the challenges are similar.
“We’ve got a small number of people that pre-Covid were quite geographically diverse and they were always the poor cousins of what was happening in the meeting room onsite,” group executive of innovation and transformation Jeremy Hubbard told the FST conference.
“Covid made them very much equal citizens with everybody else.
“As we now move into a hybrid [working] environment I think that is one of the key challenges that we all need to face into, and I’m yet to see the meeting room tech as well as the ways of working come together in a seamless fashion.
“I dont have an answer for that one yet but it’s one we’re thinking about a lot.”
Flight Centre has also found itself dealing with the management side of remote teams.
"One of the concerns I have that we need to overcome is making sure that it's not 'out of sight, out of mind'," Group CIO Chris Locke told a Comscentre webinar.
"When you've got a team of seven and two of them are constantly off-premises, how do you make sure that they're included in everything that you're doing?
"I think there's some cool tech coming out at the moment and hitting the market that certainly starts to enable that but I think that's certainly a concern I have from a leadership perspective."