Department of Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy Telework Forum, session 2, 3 August 2011 (Disclaimer: errors and omissions excepted)




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Department of Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy Telework Forum, session 2, 3 August 2011 (Disclaimer: errors and omissions excepted)


Well ladies and gentlemen it’s my great pleasure to kick off again to the second session of our teleworking forum today. Could you give yourselves a round of applause ‘cause we’re all back in and we’re starting a tiny bit early. I’m sorry I’ve got standards. Could you please welcome us back.

Just before we begin our panel in which we’re going to hear some stories of organisations who are grappling with telework and have considerable experience and are going to share with us some of the benefits and also some of the challenges and what lessons they would offer to others who perhaps aren’t as well advanced down this path as they are. The Minister had a video so I’ve got a video. Ladies and gentlemen this is what shaped my vision for the future when I was young.

JETSONS VIDEO PLAYING

Julie McCrossin:

The only thing wrong of course there wasn’t a computer on his desk did you notice that? But they had an awful lot else that was right and just for all the women in the room because I know there is, and gentlemen and fathers in the twenty first century, I know we have a lot of IT people here, in the Jetsons you could get your child really messy, put them onto a conveyor belt, they went through a piece of technology and they came out clean and dressed. If you could just work on that guys we’re just waiting for that development.

Well look what we’re going to do now as I said is to hear some examples of the experience of home based teleworking. I’d like to welcome to the stage and if you could wave as I welcome you Chris Menadue, the manager of HR Projects with IP Australia, Tony Wright, the General Manager of Infrastructure and Broadband with CISCO and also the Lead Smart and Connected Communities team leader Australia and New Zealand Tony if you could just wave thank you, and also Matt English who’s a partner with IBM Global Business Services and also the Australian and New Zealand leader of Smart Planet Initiative. Also joining us is Dan Turner and we might come to Dan first of all, the CEO of Unity4, a very major provider of at home call centre services. Now Dan I’m just going to move to a position where I can look down the barrel of a piece of technology and you can see me. Would you mind just quickly reiterating the Jetsons theme please.

Dan Turner:

I’ll give it my best shot. I am in Tinsel Town so I might get discovered. Meet George Jetson, do do do do, his boy Elroy, do do do do, daughter Judy, Jane his wife. How did I go?

Julie McCrossin:

Now I don’t want to mention cultural stereotyping but I just said to this gentleman whom I’ve never met just down the line could you sing the Jetsons theme, he just applied himself to the task. I put it to you that not all Australians grasp innovation with quite the same degree of enthusiasm so I thank you for it. But Dan can you introduce us to Unity4. Essentially what’s the sort of work that you’re doing and how significant a role does home based telework play?

Dan Turner:

Yes well hopefully I won’t be discovered while I’m here after that performance. Unity4 is probably the largest user of home based call centre agents providing outsourced call centre services. We’ve got approximately 300 people right the way across Australia in every state and territory providing the type of call centre services that you see in any organisation. So if you call a lot of Australia’s major airlines you may well speak to one of our people in a remote or regional location. If you, if you called up to enquire about where a polling booth was for a recent election you may well have spoken to one of our people. So we’re really providing call centre services for large global corporates but the big difference is every single one of our call centre agents work from home teleworking.

Julie McCrossin:

Can you just tell us first of all what difference is the NBN going to make to the work that you’re doing with home-based telework? How significant a development will that be for you?

Dan Turner:

It’s a fairly big game changer for us. We set the business up ten years ago and in the early days our agents were being connected by 56K dial up modems if those of you can remember those things so we’ve gone through a fairly aggressive growth curve from a technology point of view already. What the NBN does is really take it to the next level. It allows us to do some of the things that we can’t currently do in relation to screen capture and more interactive services with our agents. But it’s really about connectivity. It enables us to employ more people in more disparate locations. We are so dependent on a good quality connection to do what we do and we struggle at the moment with the disparate links. So the NBN really does enable us to grow the business dramatically and employ a lot more people.

Julie McCrossin:

Can you tell us folks in particularly on the home based telework what are the benefits to you as an employer? Give us a sense of what you’ve gained out of it and then some of the challenges you’ve faced and how you’ve overcome them.

Dan Turner:

Sure. Well look if you, if you think about the specific challenges of running a call centre you know it’s a very straight forward challenge it is to find good people. Nobody, sadly nobody when they’re asked by their careers teacher at school when they say what do you want to do for a living some people say bus driver, some people say train driver, they might say doctor or lawyer, people generally don’t say I want to work in a call centre. So attracting people is hard and attracting good people is hard. And if you have a physical call centre that’s located in, in, you know, downtown Sydney for example, your geographical catchment area if you like for employees is probably 45 minutes travel time max which of course in Sydney is not very far at all.

What the home working model allows Unity4 to do is to recruit people irrespective of geography. We have a tagline in our business which is called know no boundaries and that really sums up our business. We can recruit the best people irrespective of their location and of course irrespective of their personal circumstances. So we access not only a greater pool of people geographically but we access a greater pool of people from a workplace participation perspective. So we access mothers returning to the workforce, we access people with physical disabilities who may struggle to get into a normal call centre, we access people who are going through a tree change or a sea change. It really is about access to better people.

Julie McCrossin:

Okay you’ve clearly got your primary emphasis on the quality of the staff. Are there any other benefits to you around I guess cost and productivity?

Dan Turner:

There are. I think we gain a fairly significant productivity lift. We know that people working from home are generally more efficient. We’ve estimated by benchmarking ourselves against other call centres we get somewhere between a 20 to 30 per cent lift in productivity. We also maintain a much, much higher level of staff retention. So our staff turnover is very low. That in a call centre business is absolutely fundamental as well because it changes the cost base dramatically of running, of running a call centre. Our recruitment expenses are much lower and our training can actually be the training you want in a business which is about up skilling people rather than just trying to maintain basic standards. So rather than if you like spinning the wheels with staff turnover and staff training we’re able to maintain a very stable base of people who we can up skill and afford to up skill on a regular basis because of those efficiencies.

Julie McCrossin:

Tell us about some of the challenges you’ve faced. You know some of the sensitivities that have been raised to me are interoperability that when you’re dealing with video conferencing there can be issues around not having technology that speaks to each other. Some people have talked about occupational health and safety concerns, some about supervision and trust concerns around productivity and work. Area any of these things that you’ve grappled with and if so what lessons can you share with people in the room and on our webcast about how you’ve approached them and overcome them?

Dan Turner:

Look I think all of the points you mentioned there Julie are perfectly valid. Again speaking from a, purely from a call centre experience every business process that you have running a normal call centre you have in a home based agent environment too but each of those processes have to be adapted. So the way we recruit staff has to have been slightly changed to match the fact that we can’t bring people in for a physical interview necessarily. Training of course has to be done in a much more virtual way so we have to use tools like we’re using right now to connect to people. Everything from, you know clocking in and clocking out from a payroll perspective has to be done electronically and can’t be done, you know, in an old fashioned way. So every part of our business has had to be adapted but they’re small changes that take, you know, a little bit of thought and a little bit of application but they’re very achievable.

Probably the biggest issue is one of management psychology. People have to get their head around the idea that people working from home are just as valid as people working in an office, that they can be more productive possibly than people in an office, and I think there’s still a management culture particularly in Australia that is probably a little bit cynical of people working from home. I think people have this fear that if they let people work from home they’ll be off at the beach and I think people, the business community has to mature past that. You know if you look at the United States and you look at the UK people work from home on a very large scale and management structures have moved past command and control to a level of trust. So it’s as much a management challenge as it is anything else.

Julie McCrossin:

Look I’ve got a question from Peter Price. Peter do you mind coming to me here so that Dan can see you because I’m on a camera link to him and this gentleman raised an issue with me in the break that I thought it might be good and it deals with team psychology. If you could move with a little bit more speed and alacrity in a physical kind of a way thank you. Do you want to just introduce yourself and what you do and your question about teams?

Peter PRICE:

Thanks. My name’s Peter Price. I’m with Crime Stoppers and I’m totally supportive of the NBN and we’ve been working as a virtual task force in the criminal world for a very long time while finding criminals. But the issue that I was thinking about this morning is very intriguing is I was thinking we’re all talking about dispersing our workforce and probably the last ten or 15 years, 20 years, we’ve been talking about team building and sending our workforce off to, you know, these sort of offsite locations to get them to work together and problem solving and things like that and I wonder if this disbursement of our workforce is going to come back and bite us in 15 or 20 years time and we’re going to go back to the same room here we are saying wow I can’t believe we didn’t really think about that. And I’m not from HR perspective, I have no training in that area, but I’m just interested in what the view of some of the organisations is on this particular subject.

Julie McCrossin:

So what’s your key concern?

Peter Price:

My key concern is that, you know, what’s going to happen to our team. You know an organisation is an organisation of people working there as a team with a mutual understanding and a mutual goal and now we’re dispersing the team, how does that team play?

Julie McCrossin:

Thank you so much because I thought I’d hear from Dan but alert the other gentlemen when we come to your examples. Dan, your thoughts on that?

Dan Turner:

Look I think it’s a really valid question and one that comes up a lot when I speak to potential clients or people looking at engaging our services. How do we keep groups of people that are working on the same project as a team motivated and feeling part of a team and part of a community? The answer, as with all these things, is not a particularly simple one—it involves multiple steps but technology plays a large part in that. We use online chat rooms, we use real time chat, we use a lot of interactivity, events like I’m connected through to you here from LA, this type of technology, enables us to integrate staff very much into a team environment.

The other thing is if you think around what a team is it actually doesn’t have in a corporate environment any relation to the physical environment we’re in. You know the idea that we can’t work closely together in sync if we’re not in the same room for me is a fairly farcical position. I think then, you know global organisations all over the world run large global teams from offices in lots of different places and we’ve got very good at doing that. I think we have to move past the idea that everybody has to be in one room to work effectively.

Julie McCrossin:

And Dan are we in the middle of a revolution that’s so profound that it’s, my iPhone 4 already lets me have what they call face time with other people with an iPhone 4, that we’re going to actually have a change in the way humans deal with each other digitally. That this is actually as big as the wheel or fire or railroads, that’s my question.

Dan Turner:

Yeah I think, look I’m a bit wary of analogies to things like railroads and so forth because I remember reading and somebody telling me that canals were going to change the world in Britain and they were obsolete in three years. However that being said ...

Julie McCrossin:

What was being changed in Britain? What was that?

Dan Turner:

Well canals were going to be the solution to everything but then the railways came along so I’m not prepared to buy into those types of analogies. What I would say though is that I do think that the world is changing. I think the idea that everybody has to come together into a physical office to work is moving on. I think the agrarian revolution in the United Kingdom, you know, took people from living where they worked into the factories and I think we’ve probably come full circle and it wouldn’t surprise me if we start to see more and more people starting to work from home. You know I won’t be buying any commercial real estate very soon that’s for sure.

Julie McCrossin:

Look I had another question brought to me and I might ask Suzanne Colbert to respond to it first and then I might get a reaction from Dan as well. Dan mentioned that he’s already employing in his call centres people with disabilities and I had a question I think from Leah, where’s Leah? I’ll come over to you if I may Leah and you’re actually, do you mind just standing up and could you introduce yourself, I’ll hold the mic.

Leah Hobson:

Sure I’m Leah Hobson from the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations and my query was really about the fact that although we have a lot of people with disability who are very adept with technology and very passionate about it and can use it very effectively to participate in workplaces we also have statistics that show us that 40 per cent of people with disability hadn’t accessed computers, that’s not the internet, that’s computers, in the last 12 months at all. So I’m wondering how business and government can work better to include disadvantaged groups like people with disability who are facing that barrier.
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