White notes that managing work-from-home workers “is not terribly different to managing other employees” – in that the managers are still responsible for their team’s risk and safety management. “We take that very seriously and we have policies to support it. Employees working from home complete OHS checklists of their workspace if they have a formal work-from-home arrangement, and we have an OHS team to support leaders through the process. If it’s a whole team, as we’ve had in some of our business where employees only work from home, then we take it to another level and go out and do site inspections and make sure everything is ergonomically set up and all the right technology is in place. For the ad-hoc arrangement employees complete the checklist and must provide photographs of their workspace.”
Why has the company invested in this ability to work flexibly? A number of reasons, but chief among them is that it acts as a “differentiator” in the market. White says Suncorp views it as a “key attraction and retention tool” which helps to tap into the most talented people from the widest possible pool.
“We particularly want to ensure we’re including people who for whatever reason don’t want to work a full-time working week. We want to attract that talent irrespective of what their circumstances are.”
Last year, when the flexible work initiative was trialled in the property claims department, it allowed people to be hired on a permanent part-time basis to work around peak operational times and also allowed people to work from home. These were employees such as a former financial planner who wasn’t able to achieve flexible hours in his previous career, near retirees who wished to reduce hours and live in sea change locations, and even an Olympian training for London.
“What was really interesting about that trial was that department achieved one of the highest engagement scores in the whole of commercial insurance last year, and also high customer service scores. From there we’ve rolled it out more broadly,” White explains.
There was another, unexpected benefit: business continuity. When the January 2011 floods decimated Brisbane, the Suncorp Milton office was also flooded, but the work-from-home team was able to continue providing service, and the flexible hours allowed the team to boost worker hours to cover the spike in claims – a massive boon for panicked customers.
“The technology allows people to log straight onto the server, hook into the telecommunications and call customers and manage claims – a great help in times of crises,” White says.
It seems the flexible work initiative is also paying off in terms of employee engagement. White says their latest annual engagement survey revealed that 72% of Suncorp employees feel the company does support them to have work-life balance, which is well above the global financial services average.
“It’s something we work very hard on. We are a financial services organisation and there are pressures on us, as there are other financial services organisations, but we try to ensure our employees have that work-life balance,” White says.