In the depths of the pandemic, TELUS served clients by looking inwards

How leadership in remote work translated into better service for clients

In the depths of the pandemic, TELUS served clients by looking inwards

In the early days of Canada’s COVID-19 pandemic, Jose Dino was spending hours on the phone talking to his clients about how the office is organized at TELUS. Dino, General Manager at TELUS Employer Solutions, was dealing with clients who had never considered taking their operations entirely remote. Luckily, TELUS’ Work Styles program had already been in place since 2006 and Dino could pull from his own organization’s experience to support his clients.

In those crisis days, TELUS Employer Solutions stepped up for their clients. They drew on internal experience, innovated new solutions, and rethought models of flexible work to guide and support their clients. They did it all while managing the internal challenges posed by COVID-19. All the while, they were able to think big picture and ask how organizations could do more than just manage through those days, weeks, and months of the ongoing crisis.

“We found that working with our clients, the biggest demand more than anything was coaching them and advising them on how we actually have employed our flexible work solutions,” Dino says. “We're used to this type of environment, it's something we've had to practice for well over 10 years. So a lot of our clients were calling me asking what our flexible programs look like and how they’ve served us.”

The TELUS team, for the past decade, has operated on a flexible office model where offices, shared workstations, and collaboration spaces could be reserved by team members. The baseline for most employees is remote work. The whole team were already experts in collaborating and delivering on objectives from wherever they were in the world. What’s more, they had developed a culture that thrived in a remote-work environment. Their people could stay engaged at a time when organizations were seeing their cultures dissipate. In March and April of 2020 Dino knew they had a wealth of experience and knowledge to draw upon.

That experience was crucial, he says, in providing solutions for clients who weren’t as ready to pivot to a remote workforce. Clients were asking Dino for more than just tech platforms and software solutions. They asked him how TELUS managed issues like collaboration. Dino and his team became coaches for HR professionals across Canada.

Dino says in those months, his “mission critical” was payroll. Clients were cutting staff and putting in temporary layoffs, taking advantage of emergency government measures which also hugely complicated their payroll processes. TELUS Employer Solutions processed payroll and benefits administration for some of large public sector clients. Thanks to the seamlessness of their team’s transition to 100% remote, though, Dino says he and his team were able to navigate these new payroll challenges for their clients.

TELUS’ technology was also on hand for Dino’s clients. He says that many client organizations that hadn’t invested in remote communication technologies were able to access pieces of TELUS technology that made their communication and collaboration efforts far easier to manage.

Pulling from their experience managing remote work internally, Dino and his team were able to highlight issues that clients might not immediately foresee. Where clients got excited about a new communication platform, Dino and his team were able to tell them to pump the breaks and see where the new platform might expose them to security risks. Dino parlayed organizational experience into sage advice, desperately needed in a time of crisis.

As crucial as any tech tool was to helping these organizations through the crisis, Dino and his team knew that culture would be key. In their support and coaching of client organizations they stressed a supportive workplace culture, reaffirmations of organizational purpose, and the bigger human picture. These are lessons TELUS had learned in their time as a remote-first workplace that they were passing on to clients whose cultures were tied to physical space. Dino and his team explained how successful changes made in these crisis days, with culture in mind, could set the tone for these organizations’ futures. They would focus even more deeply on culture as the year went on.

Giving that advice to organizations in crisis, Dino learned a great deal as well. He says that different organizations are still at vastly different points in their journey towards remote work and workplace flexibility. He learned, as well, that even in a crisis HR leaders need to look past the tools towards their wider organizational and human impacts, how they can improve or weaken security, foster connection, or create isolation. He also saw the importance of leadership, through a crisis and beyond.

“It's the role of leaders to manage change and transformation in this environment,” Dino says. “Some organizations need to focus on their leaders. Every organization has business objectives and to meet those business objectives, you need to ensure your employees are engaged, that they're feeling supported by their organization, that their organization is listening to how they feel.”

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