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Health Matters - The Aspen Medical Podcast: Technology in a hybrid work environment

In this episode we chat with Aspen Medical's General Manager - Technology and Innovation, Sanja Marais, about the role of technology in a hybrid work environment.

Transcript

Eamonn Quinn

Welcome to Health Matters, the Aspen Medical podcast. I'm your host, Eamonn Quinn, from the Aspen Medical Marketing and Communications team. Today I'm joined by a friend and colleague, Sanja Marais, our General Manager of Technology and Innovation. Sanja brings that expertise across the Aspen Medical organisation and to our team in Global Advisory Services. Today we're going to talk about how technology and innovation are helping to retain and support employees post-pandemic and reverse what has been called the 'great resignation'. Now, before I let you get in there and start talking, I know you can talk. This is what happens when an Irish-Australian and a South African-Australian get together. This podcast which should last 10 minutes, could go on for hours. I'll just briefly tell people what we're going to talk about. So, the words the 'great resignation'. You may have seen them around a little bit in the media recently. The great resignation was first noted in the US when a record number of workers resigned in April 2021. Then again in July and August. In August alone in the States, 4.3 million workers left their job. This was reported by Forbes. Recent surveys polled 1000 US employees to determine why job changers left their previous roles and what attracted them to new ones. So, in essence, that is what the 'great resignation' is about. So Sanja, first of all, welcome,

Sanja Marais

Thanks, Eamonn.

Eamonn Quinn

Let's get straight into this. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on the way we work here in Australia and around the world. How has technology's role changed during that time?

Sanja Marais

Well, if you think about how you literally had to take your office home, companies like Zoom and Microsoft had such booms and had to scale and accelerate their pipeline of development. We've all seen how teams have had a lot of new futures coming along. We know that even in Australia, how difficult it is for the Medicare benefits schedule to release a new item, yet they have had a brand new telehealth item set up just during COVID-19 so that our GPS could actually reach their patients during this pandemic. I don't know if any of you went to office works at the beginning of the pandemic, trying to look for a monitor or even a headset or office chair, it looked like Office Works was raided. So, technology was everywhere and anywhere. If you didn't have the right scalability or the right platforms in place, you literally couldn't work. So everything was driven by technology in this pandemic.

Eamonn Quinn

I can certainly relate to that. You know, in the old days, if you were slightly late for a meeting, walking down the corridor talking to someone, you'd walk into the meeting maybe a couple of minutes late. These days on Teams and Zoom, people are texting you 10 seconds after the meeting is started if you're not there. Are organisations and their people worn out from using technology to connect and communicate because we don't do that naturally? We're personable and we like to see others. Are we getting tired of all this technology we need to use?

Sanja Marais

I think the pandemic had an overall impact on our mental health and our wellbeing. But I don't think we can blame technology for that. I just think that companies actually realise that employees can be productive, it doesn't matter whether they're in the office or not. Technology was the enabler for this big shift to remote working. I think the way we fused our home environment and office into one meant that people are always on. When your office is now in your home, you're working more hours, you don't get up for lunch. You don't have water cooler conversations with your friends at work. So it is being fatigued by this major disruption in our normal days and routines. We are also bringing technology into every space in our house, even with our children. I mean, we had to do home-schooling. Some people go to the office to get away from their children, so having to be the teacher and navigating home-schooling through online technology, that has definitely brought some fatigue. I don't think it's technology necessarily that was the cause of that. I just think that the pandemic had an overall effect on things. We've all seen the pantless Teams blunders, always being on mute while you're talking. There are some good and bad situations. I think that technology has brought about a huge amount of change for us in the way that we can now shift our workforce into a hybrid environment, working almost from the office and home. So good on technology. I think we will see a lot of innovation and a lot of developments in platforms that will enable us to continue to work this way.

Eamonn Quinn

You're absolutely right about not being on mute. I was once feeding my dog. Not that I wasn't not listening to the important conversation but my dog happened to be hungry and was biting my feet. So, I forgot to go on mute and had some stern words with him. I then grabbed some bones out of the fridge, all whilst engaging with the senior team at Aspen Medical in our weekly meeting and so on. So yes, absolutely go on mute. If you don't need to be speaking. Do you think there's a sense for people that they are afraid that technology has begun to dominate what they do? You've kind of intimated in that answer there, that people get up in the morning, they're probably still in their pyjamas, it's because their office and everything else is quite blurred. People haven't yet put technology in the box marked 'this is good for me, it allows me to be more flexible, and are becoming a slave inadvertently to themselves, that they're not defining where those lines are themselves and that it's incumbent upon people to do that?

Sanja Marais

I think so. I think you have to have clear boundaries. We see it with our teenagers and our children today, they've become absolute slaves to technology. I think it's just going to increase and they make it so easy for us. It's so easy to be a slave. You have your TV on your phone. You can watch Netflix, Amazon, Disney, whatever, it is really hard to get away from all of that. You can even read your books on your phone. You don't have to have a paper book anymore. So we definitely need to put the boundaries down. I know it's much easier to say that than to do that. You hear your phone ping and you have your emails, your work emails mixed in with your personal emails. It is really hard for people to draw the lines. I think companies, especially now that we are going to continue to have this working environment, means where you do have the flexibility to have employees both at home and in the office, they will have to be really strong around those rules from employers and managers to say when it's after hours, we just don't contact our employee. You know, things like that. I know that I've read on the news that there is actually a country that is outlawing companies to contact employees after hours. So you know, with great freedoms and great technology, I think there has to be more governance in how we act with each other, especially after hours because technology just makes it so easy for us.

Eamonn Quinn

Yeah, thank you for that. We started by speaking about the term 'great resignation'. Does technology have a role to play in managing this?

Sanja Marais

You know, I'm very pro-technology

Eamonn Quinn

I hope so.

Sanja Marais

I think technology and the way we use it will have a massive impact on organisations' future retention strategies, and we will definitely need to tap into it. In Aspen Medical, we are implementing robotic process automation or RPA. We're doing that to remove mundane tasks that employers or employees have to do. So, if you think about somebody who has to do manual data entry, somebody in a help desk who has to reset passwords and maybe in training, just issue certificates. So we are trying to support those types of mundane tasks by replacing them with robotic process automation. The robots are not coming to take other people's jobs. We just want to ensure that we give people more meaningful work. If you talk about the great resignation and what your retention strategy looks like, if you are going to give your employees more training opportunities, upskill your teams, give people meaningful work, technology can play a very positive role as a retention strategy. I also think some of the things that we do in Aspen Medical is try to make accessing systems easier. So, removing fragmented systems, creating new user interfaces, making it easy for employees to have a relationship with technology and to work with technology. I think that companies that lag in innovation and flexibility will quickly find that they will just not retain the employees. We used to say that flexibility and work from home was a perk in many companies, that has just fallen away. Companies that use that as a retention strategy will realise that they are not unique in the market anymore. So what we do then is we look at how technology can enable working from home to be easier. A market leader in new types of innovative working, that is where employees will go. I think technology will support remote work a lot and will have a big impact on how companies retain their employees.

Eamonn Quinn

There was something you mentioned in there. I have this vision of you as some kind of Darth Vader with these, you know, legions of robots ready to take over the world.

Sanja Marais

Mine is little robots, and they are all named after matrix characters. We've got Morpheus running already.

Eamonn Quinn

With Aspen Medical, we have project Neo as well. Now I'm beginning to figure out how it all works. There's a lot of talk about employee experience in this pandemic affected the world of work. What do employers really want and is that in conflict with what employers need?

Sanja Marais

I think and the pandemic has just highlighted some of these areas where organisations and employers will have to improve on employee engagement. You do not have the watercooler conversations that you used to have. You do not have the big old boards in the kitchen and in the hallways. Email is no longer the preferred way of communication. I don't know if you guys noticed but platforms like Slack, Teams and Zoom all have chat functions. That is how employees want to work with each other. So how do you get an informal conversation going without having to email? You go to your chat function and it's becoming more and more important that we do provide employees with those platforms. I don't think employers always want that. I know we had some conflict where we said it's too easy for employees to use teams and be a little bit more inappropriate, there are gifs and you can have emojis and all of those things. But that is the way of the world and that is how employees want to interact with each other. I think if companies want to retain and engage employees, they will actually have to look at how they support this hybrid remote engagement and design their platforms or procure platforms that can support the employees to work like that. I think that the casual approach is not always about employers. Why? Because employers think that all corporate communications with each other need to be more formal. I just think that your technology stack can be built out. Things like Yammer, things like Teams chat, and we are Microsoft house at Aspen Medical, so I'm using those terms because that's what we use. We've worked out how well it works for us to communicate with employees that way. So with that, then obviously comes adapting your policies and your procedures to support the use of these more informal ways of working. So that employees know that there's still an acceptable use policy and appropriate workplace behaviour even when you work from home. It enables us to communicate more effectively. Just say 'hi' through Teams rather than having 'dear so and so, kindest regards' in a long email. So, yes, I think that employees want quick and easy, employers want more formal but there's definitely a mid-ground between that.

Eamonn Quinn

Just a personal issue, I suppose. I am getting into my early 50s. So, I do find it quite unusual, I guess when there are so many platforms within which to contact me. So it's become more obvious to me over the last few months, people will ping me on teams, and I'm not ready for that. It's not that I'm that old. It's just I now have to keep an eye on teams chats for people who are pinging me, plus I have my email, plus yesterday I received a couple of pieces through WhatsApp. Now I have this dashboard of ways that people can contact me that I have to keep my eyes peeled on because to that person, they're sending me something important but to me, I gravitate towards email. That's where I like to see all my stuff. I'm noticing a bit more of that traffic is now coming. Yes, it's casual or in some cases, people are flicking me a link or doing something else. But I'm now having to keep my eyes peeled on several different ways to contact me. I don't think that's a bad thing. I think it's just a matter of retraining my mind into remembering that there are all these ways to contact me.

Sanja Marais

I think just that's where technology is so important. When you do provide this to employees, make it an integrated platform, make it easy for employees. So make sure that your Teams, your Outlook, your SharePoint, everything works together so that it is easier for employees to not miss any important messaging.

Eamonn Quinn

What have we learned about balancing cyber security with easy access to information when we're not in the office? And can we have both?

Sanja Marais

Now, this is a topic that I can talk about the whole day, and I will

Eamonn Quinn

I just saw the words cyber security in there and I'm just warning you, this could go on for quite some time.

Sanja Marais

I promise you, I'm going to be succinct. I've got only two bullet points here.

The threat landscape has just widened with the pandemic and with us having this remote and hybrid working environment. Can we have both? Yes, we can. I just think that maintaining cyber security work practices in a hybrid environment is all to do with organisations preparing and upskilling their technology stack and infrastructure and building it out to make sure they fill the gaps. A lot of it has to do with end-user education and training. It is really important that we look at new ways to train our teams in cyber security. In Aspen medical, we use things like identification and breach simulation exercises. You know that you get fished quite a lot by the TI team. It is about changing the way that we look at cyber security. It's no longer the IT department that manages cyber security, it becomes something that you want part of your culture. So it's building cyber resilience within your organisation. Talking to users about it, information is key here. Letting them know when there are cyber threats so they can share it with their families, because we see a lot of family members being impacted by cyber breaches. So yes, it will get worse because there's so much money. It's so lucrative for hackers to steal information. Having ransomware attacks, it's rife at the moment but we can try our best to educate our users and make sure that people are aware of what's going on. If it doesn't look right, it's not right. Stop clicking is my message to users.

Eamonn Quinn

I have to say, I do enjoy your test phishing attempts with the team. I pride myself on being a good proof-reader and having attention to detail. I do enjoy trying to figure out what you've tried to trick me with this week. So it keeps me young, thank you very much. Finally, as an expert working closely with our Global Advisory Services team, how can Aspen Medical help other organisations to adapt to this new way of working and to the changing workplace?

Sanja Marais

Well, I can say that we have a multi-skilled Global Advisory team and there is so much expertise in that team. We can assist organisations with a wide range of services, including workplace assessments, gap analysis and development of plans and frameworks. I did speak about how we need to adapt our policies our procedures to be able to put better governance around the hybrid way of working. The Global Advisory Team have a lot of experience in developing plans and frameworks. We can even look at your cyber environment and do a bit of a gap analysis there. So depending on what organisations need, we can always have a consultation with them and work out how we can support them.

Eamonn Quinn

Sanja Marais, General Manager - Technology and Innovation at Aspen Medical. I've got to say this in my best Afrikaans, baie dankie.

Sanja Marais

Groot plesier.

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