Is WFH working for Australia’s banks?

Remote working panel
L-R: Tim Hogarth (ANZ), Mariam Fox (CBA), & Denis Fuelling (Police Bank)

Will hybrid working prove merely a stop-gap relic in a post-Covid world or will it continue to be a permanent fixture of the modern workplace? What did remote workers gain or perhaps lose in the shift to WFH? And, how have leaders balanced their duties with exployees’ flexible working demands?

We’ve taken a snapshot of the Work from Home panel discussion featured at FST’s 2022 Banking Summit, with senior banking sector leaders revealing their organisations’ current work from home policies, benefits realised and lessons learnt during prolonged Covid lockdowns, and unresolved gaps in remote working technologies and processes begging for a solution.

Featured panellists:

  • Tim Hogarth, Chief Technology Officer, ANZ
  • Mariam Fox, General Manager in Human Resources, Commonwealth Bank
  • Denis Fuelling, Chief People Officer, Police Bank

Moderated by Luke Hannon.

Moderator (Hannon): Let’s start at a fairly high level around hybrid working.

What’s your remote working policy current? What’s worked with your hybrid working arrangement, and what hasn’t? And, what does your team use to support remote working and how, perhaps, does that differ from the rest of your organisation?

Hogarth (ANZ): At ANZ, we’ve been working from home, obviously, for the last two years. We went home pretty snappily in April 2020 and, initially, we found the existing technology for remote working didn’t work at all. We then pivoted to a Teams-based environment and we’ve been working very effectively since then. Now, we’ve started to go back to a hybrid model.

But our general expectations are that we’ll be in the office three days a week as a hybrid experience. And that’s across all of the businesses and technology as well.


Fox (CBA): At CBA, it’s slightly different because we’re not mandating any days back in the office, so we’re very much still fully hybrid at the moment. And allowing much more flexibility for our teams to decide how and when they work.

I’m actually one of the lucky people. I took the opportunity to relocate out of Sydney as a result of Covid and moved back up to Queensland.


So, my leadership style has definitely had to change as I’m no longer in the office. I’ve got to be much more flexible around when I am in the office, when I see my team and what that looks like. But it’s been a great opportunity for the business to really see that it can work; people can remote work in a different environment, still deliver, and be much more outcomes-focused in the way that we’re all achieving that.

Fuelling (Police Bank): Like CBA, we’re also not mandating anything [with regard to WFH] at the moment at Police Bank. We’d originally planned to come back to the office for a minimum of two days a week in mid-April, but as the pandemic progressed, we decided to put that on hold.

We have a situation where if people want to go into the office, they can we don’t stop them.


We’re happy for people to go in for meetings if they want, and they do. When we went to a working from home arrangement right at the start, we were in a fortunate position that the technology actually worked for us. Right from the get-go, we were doing fairly well in terms of being able to communicate with one another via Zoom. There were a few hiccups, as you can imagine, and there always will be when something’s new for everyone, but we’ve worked through that.

I’m very fortunate that the people on my team are flexible. They know if they need to be in the office, they’re there. They know that I’m very happy for them to work from home. I live very close to the office in Surry Hills, so it’s easy for me if I need to go in. But for a lot of the team, they live further away and I understand that there are challenges. By and large, though, the arrangement that we’ve got at the moment is working really well for us, and we’re very pleased with it, particularly around the productivity outcomes.


Moderator (Hannon): Mariam [Fox], you mentioned that you took the opportunity to move up north to the Sunshine State. How important is it to lead – and how have you ensured that you’ve led – from the front?

Fox (CBA): Every role is different and every opportunity is different. I’m really fortunate being the HR partner for technology that my clients absolutely understand that you can work remotely and that we’ve got the technology to be able to support that. It helps that I also have good, deep relationships; I’d spent a number of years in Sydney building those before I moved. And, also, I’m here [in Sydney] often, as you can see today.

It’s about being flexible both ways. I get the opportunity to live in the Sunshine State, but I also then make the effort to be back at the right time for the right people. They’re definitely using me as an experiment at CBA to see what it’s like and whether it works and could be rolled out further.

As a result of what I’ve done, others have taken the opportunity, both within the HR function and the technology function. And one of my clients, the Chief Security Officer, has also moved to the Sunshine Coast. We meet in Brisbane nowadays, not Sydney, which is quite nice. So, I definitely think it’s something we have to be much more open-minded towards.

We’ve proved in the last two years that you don’t have to be in the office to deliver, to be successful, and to be productive.


(We can get into a debate about what productivity looks like and how you measure that later). But I definitely think gives us a broader opportunity to identify talent and be more open-minded to what we could do in the future.


Moderator (Hannon): Tim, I know ANZ’s made a number of big investments. They’ve got a sensational, shiny, relatively new building. How’s the transition to hybrid been? Are there some leaders that aren’t coming in?

Hogarth (ANZ): No, no. We’ve had a lot of dialogue internally and the belief we’ve got is that we can be effective in the office and there are a lot of activities that just don’t occur in a virtual sense.

Serendipity’s really hard to digitise, that opportunity to just bump into somebody. And you see a lot of research around that the networks inside of the organisation in a virtual world are really strong within your team.


A lot of people are engaged indeed, really, really engaged. But those connections sideways are a lot harder to create. They’re okay to maintain, but they’re hard to create. So, a lot of in-person activities are starting to come back.

I was in Melbourne just last week, we had a barbie and next door to us… I bumped into all these people I’d never physically met before. And then that started triggering, ‘Oh, what about this other thing…?’ That [engagement] is really hard to find online. In the office, there’s a great opportunity for that.

And the other part I really missed is whiteboarding.

It’s a bit sad, but I actually missed being able to sketch something with a few people. The [online] tools just haven’t really replaced that!


Moderator (Hannon): Denis [Fuelling] let’s keep going with that theme. Team management, flexible working schedules, and productivity. Let’s peel back the layers on that.

Fuelling (Police Bank): As I said, fortunately, my team has adapted pretty quickly to the arrangements that we have in place. We just have simple rules. If I call one of them and they’re not available, I don’t leave a message; they know to call me back. And equally, if they call me, they don’t need to leave a message; I know I need to call them back.

We have Zoom meetings regularly. We have a weekly team meeting via Zoom where I try as much as possible to get the team engaged with one another on what’s happening. Our major focus is for a people team, some of you might be surprised by this on how business is going. And then we talk about the things that we’re doing to support the business to grow. And I don’t have any problems within my team around that level of engagement at all.

It’s about setting the standard and having my team know that they can challenge things if things need to be challenged and know how to do that and know when to do that.


And I think we’ve got that into a bit of a rhythm. It’s very much a personal thing. We do our best to return emails promptly. I’ve got part of my team in the office today dealing with the rate hike from yesterday. I’ve just been looking at how that’s been travelling via email. They’re organising things remotely, getting the communication sorted out, working out what needs to be done. So, I’m very heartened by the fact that, at Police Bank, our team has adapted really well to what was, for us at the beginning, a reasonably confronting situation, and we’ve made it work to our advantage.


Moderator (Hannon): Around that education piece, do you find that it’s certainly not a one and done deal? Are you constantly having to work with the teams to instil, ‘This is what we want to do. Don’t feel that you have to leave a message. The door’s open anytime,’ for instance?

Fuelling (Police Bank): It’s important that, as a leader, you give people the framework that they need to operate in and then let them get on with it and keep you in the loop. One of my team texted me today to ask, ‘We formed this working group to look at the interest rate increases. Do you want to be involved or do you want me to keep you informed?’. I want to be kept informed; I’m not there and can’t be involved. I expect that that will be done properly and that it will be done well, and I expect that we will debrief that tomorrow and work out what worked and what could have been done better, and we’ll keep moving forward.


Moderator (Hannon): We can’t necessarily measure time in the seat, so a different mindset is needed for productivity. As we transition slowly back to the office, what lessons will you take from the remote world?

Fox (CBA): I think, for me, if you’re going back into the office, you’ve got to have a purpose. So, what is the reason for going in? And if it’s connection, great, go have coffees, go have a barbecue, whatever it is that you’re going to do, but create the time.

I personally don’t feel there’s any point going into the office to sit next to the people on a Team’s call or a Zoom call on a screen and not actually talk to anybody.


So, for me and I’ve really learnt this with my own hybrid way of working when I come to Sydney, I try to clear my diary of meetings, unless they’re meetings where I’m connecting with people, innovating, whiteboarding, creating something things that would be harder to do if I was remote over a screen. I absolutely get my energy from being around people.

It’s about changing the way you manage your time, to think about what the outcome is and what your effectiveness is, which has become so much more important. As a leader and as someone in HR, that’s something I’ve definitely noticed has shifted in the last two years.

And when I am working from home, I try not do the 30 minute back-to-back Teams calls, because, again, that’s not effective and I don’t actually get time to create, write, and synthesise everything that I’ve heard in those connection meetings and do something with it.


It’s definitely shifted the way I think about work, the way that I work personally, and how I try to work with my people.

Hogarth (ANZ): There’s one thing, and it’s a call to any of the vendors out there. I actually think there’s a challenge we need [to resolve] in the industry. We’ve been incredibly effective at video calls. Remember how we thought, ‘There’s no way we could work from home, right? That’d be impossible!’. And we did it in three weeks. We were fully effective and we got pretty good at it. The various pieces of software enabled us to put our hands up and to go on mute. We generally get it going. We go on camera. People were polite. And if the kids wander in, no one gets freaked out anymore. But I’ve got to tell you, the industry of video in-person, in the office, has stood still for two-and-a-half years.

You are always going to have people [working] remotely. And from my organisation, where we operate with massive teams in India and in New Zealand and in Singapore and small teams in many other places, we’ve got to get good at this because we also need talent from around the world.

One of the things I’d love for people to do is to spend a dime trying to improve in-person video technology.


Because when you go into these meeting rooms and everyone’s at the end of a camera, it’s like they’re all wearing a really bad suit; it’s like they’ve just shown up and not taken any care. We can’t see their faces, we can’t hear them speak, they can’t vote, they can’t participate in the chat, they can’t share documents. It really is a third-world experience. And, unfortunately, they get the same experience in reverse. So, I think we’re going to rapidly return to in-person [working] if we don’t fix the in-person technology.

This is an edited extract from the What does Back to Work look like in 2022? panel discussion featured at FST’s 2022 Banking Summit.