Telstra tells all Australian-based office staff to work from home

Things are escalating quickly in Australia with Coronavirus. Today felt like a real shift in the situation. While Australia’s official number of infections still sits around 200 and deaths at just 3, it seems Australia is now doing everything it can to avoid being the next Italy.

The Formula 1 Grand Prix is one of Australia’s showcase events to the world and this morning it was cancelled. This was followed by the cancellation of a number of other key sporting events, until this afternoon Prime Minister gave a speech.

In the speech, he announced an outcome of today’s COAG meeting, a convening of all of State and Territory leaders. The announcement essentially banned all non-essential events in Australia with more than 500 participants. This sent shockwaves through the country and shortly after we had The Comedy Festival and the Sydney Show cancelled.

In the past 2 hours, we also learned that the Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton has tested positive to having Coronavirus. This set off alarm bells about his close proximity to the Prime Minister and members of parliament.

Now the corporates are making their own decisions about how to respond to the threat of Coronavirus.

Telstra have announced that they are moving to a full, work-from-home mode for all office staff in Australia. That’s massive.

While most medium-to-large businesses have probably already begun planning for a worst-case scenario where nobody could come into the office, Telstra have decided they’re at that level now.

Being a technology company, and well connected, Telstra are perhaps one of the best placed to push the limits on working from home and see just how well the business can continue to function without face-to-face conversations or meetings.

Of course a large portion of Telstra’s staff are actually out in the field, fixing issues or building out infrastructure, so it’s not possible for everyone to work from home. It’ll be interesting to watch how Telstra minimise the risk to these employees.

Telstra’s full statement is below.

As governments and agencies around the world move to contain COVID-19 (Coronavirus), we’re also taking the right precautions to look after the wellbeing of our people.

With global events now unfolding very quickly, we’ve made the decision to move to full work from home arrangements for Australian-based office staff effective next week. These arrangements will remain in place until the end of March at a minimum.

We want to highlight that this is not due to a case of COVID-19 within our team. This unprecedented situation requires decisive action, and it’s important we are flexible and ready to adapt to this evolving situation. Getting ahead of things now will mean we are prepared should the issue escalate quickly. We need to maintain our focus on serving our customers and the essential role we play in connecting Australians. 

To be clear, this step is not an action or represent a point of view from Telstra on the medical nature of the health risks. It is a practical response to decisions and guidelines from experts being made around us.

It is important to note there are some essential operations which cannot be fulfilled remotely, including store and field teams, call centres, and some other functions. We will continue to have additional procedures and safeguards in place for teams not able to work from home. 

Other changes implemented from today include cancellation of all events and meetings of more than 25 people, effective today, including the remainder of the Telstra Business Women’s Awards events. We will also be cancelling domestic air travel unless absolutely necessary. 

In the meantime, we encourage both our people and our customers to follow the guidance of the Federal Health Department on how to protect yourself and limit the spread. 

That last section is interesting. While the Government’s advice was to cancel large gatherings of 500 people, Telstra are clearly being extremely careful with a restriction of 25 people in an event / meeting.

Telstra had been part-way through a roadshow called Vantage OnTour, but it looks like that’ll now be cancelled.

Ultimately Telstra will still have staff in stores for people to buy product, so it won’t impact you on that level. If you are a business that interacts with Telstra, having employees work from home, may reduce your level of service or extend wait times.

This new policy is an escalation of their support for staff announcement, just 2 days ago, demonstrating just how quickly things are moving. It is interesting to note that the work-from-home policy comes into effect as of Monday, while most staff would have left the office on Friday expecting to be back in the office next week. For staff to work from home, there’s technical requirements that need to be accommodated, like laptops, mice, headsets, docks, monitors, chairs and connectivity to name a few.

It’s one thing to get by on a laptop for a couple of weeks, but to be able to operate even anywhere close to what the office setup enables, it’s going to be an expensive exercise, or employers should just straight up plan for a dramatic drop in productivity.

What will be interesting is if the company can make this work really well, then it begs the question, why not enable working from home more often?

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Jason Cartwright
Jason Cartwright
Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis. Disclaimer: Tesla Shareholder from 20/01/2021

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