The Pandemic Wakeup Call for Digital Workplaces

Image credit: iStockphoto/Nadzeya_Dzivakova

Tabcorp, Clubs Australia, and CBRE are three very different organizations with something in common: they are all well-established organizations in their fields, with legacy processes and ways of doing things challenged by the pandemic.

Digital leaders from the three organizations shared some views at the recent CDO Trends Australia Digital Summit in a panel session on “Leading the way to the digital workplace.” The similarities were apparent.

Addressing resistance

CBRE is one of the world’s largest and well established commercial property companies, and Stephanie Chung – the senior director of digital and technology – told the summit how, despite already having much in the way of new technology installed when the pandemic hit, CBRE’s people were resistant to use it.

“We’ve been trying to get the agents on board to use the technology, and it took COVID-19 to do it and prove that it actually works,” said Chung.

She described how the real estate culture was a barrier to technology adoption. It is a very relationship-driven industry, yet people were unwilling to collaborate because they were highly competitive.

By necessity, the pandemic broke much of that down, and people began to use tools such as video conferencing, the office studio, and virtual tours.

“All of a sudden, there was a lot of concern about the performance of the microphones in the conference room, and they’d almost never been used before,” said Chung.

She said a lot of her work was in change management around digital technology and that one of the big phrases in her office in the last 18 months has been “digital inclusion.”

“We needed to make sure that everyone had access to the same tools so that we could all communicate, and no-one was disadvantaged,” said Chung.

Pandemic push

At Tabcorp, the company is a well-established player in the sports betting industry and relies on a network of franchised retail outlets around Australia.

Mohan Aiyaswami, Tabcorp’s general manager of technology, said the pandemic forced the development of an omnichannel approach to the customer, which required new tools and new training for many who had been in the business for a long time.

There was also a crisis when COVID-19 outbreaks saw the closure of two major contact centers in Sydney, which forced all the staff to work from home. This required a technology response and clearance with regulators in what is a highly regulated industry.

“We had to source 250 laptops in a hurry for people who were never used to this, and we had to teach them to log on to a VPN and essentially start from scratch,” said Aiyaswami.

“It was a logistics and regulatory nightmare, and we had to be ready for the Spring Racing carnival, which is our busiest time of the year.”

The third panelist, David McGrath, is the first chief digital officer appointed at Clubs Australia, representing over 2,500 registered clubs covering around 6,500 venues around Australia.

According to McGrath, working in most of the clubs is a “pretty analog experience,” and he saw his task to “drag them into the 20th century.”

Changing behaviors

The digital workplace response during COVID-19 was about moving from the desktop world to the world of remote devices and collaborating with the membership digitally to impart information and plan the pandemic response.

A CRM system was installed before COVID-19 to utilize data in new ways to understand customer behavior, which required significant cultural change and education.

The implementation approach was to work with first movers and use their experience to show others the benefits of digital technology.

While all three organizations are very different, there was a consensus among the digital leaders that there was “no going back” to pre-pandemic days.

“I think people understand they need to change, and a lot of that is around sharing,” said CBRE’s Stephanie Chung.

“I no longer have to wave the flag about digital, and the good thing is that we can move on to the next thing, and that helps us to be more strategic.”

Lachlan Colquhoun is the ANZ correspondent for CDOTrends and HR&DigitalTrends and the editor of NextGen Connectivity. His fascination is with how businesses are reinventing themselves through digital technology and collaborate with others to become completely new organizations. You can reach him at [email protected].

Image credit: iStockphoto/Nadzeya_Dzivakova