• PwC Australia moved its 8,000 strong workforce to remote working in just two weeks to get ahead of restrictions brought by COVID-19.
  • This way of working brought significant challenges, such as ensuring connectivity and security, enabling adoption and prioritising staff wellbeing.
  • Fast-tracking technology adoption means people are well placed to use these programs once they return to the office.

When social distancing rules and government restrictions loomed in March due to COVID-19, PwC Australia went on the front foot and transitioned its more than 8,000 people to work remotely. Home offices, lounge rooms, and kitchen tables around the nation quickly replaced corporate offices — and all in the space of two weeks. 

Technology helped enable us to serve our clients remotely and connect teams with minimal interruption. But we needed to ramp up the use of our existing technologies, and fast-track the rollout of new tools to meet the demands of a remote workforce and clients.

Over the past two months, the changes brought by the pandemic have taught us some crucial lessons about fast-tracking technology that we can take forward in the post-COVID-19 world. Here are some of them.

Connectivity
is king

In the shift to remote working, the most important challenge was ensuring that everyone could connect to the network as easily as they do in the office. We upgraded our VPN access and worked with providers to ensure that there was enough network bandwidth to accommodate everyone connecting to it at once. In just a few days, we moved from 15 percent of our workforce connecting remotely via VPN daily to an astonishing 95 percent. 

Two months down the track, we continue to monitor network capacity every day using a dashboard that gives us a view of the number of people connected and the types of devices they’re using. Ensuring that we provide for a broad spectrum of needs, we’ve provided 4G data cards to those having difficulty connecting to the internet.

Embrace
imperfection

Remote working has forced some people to take a crash course in how to use digital tools. Without the ‘safe’ option of face-to-face meetings to fall back on, many PwC teams have quickly shifted to regularly hosting large team conference calls and webcasts. For some people, this has meant diving headfirst into using tools they’ve never experienced.

Through it, they’ve weathered the occasional frozen screen, dropout, or awkward silence. But they’ve discovered the tools are easier to use than expected, and are now equipped to use them in the future to serve their clients. The takeaway here is to encourage people to embrace the learning opportunity that comes with ‘messiness’ and imperfection. There are multiple opportunities that teams are finding from being outside their comfort zones that they can bring forward beyond the imposts brought by a pandemic. 

Boost adoption
of existing tech 

As with many organisations, PwC has technologies that some people aren’t aware of or don’t use to their full potential. For example, we have a suite of collaboration tools including internal social media channels, team chat rooms, video conferencing, and virtual whiteboards. 

Getting our workforce regularly using and comfortable with existing collaboration tools was vital in our transition to remote working. We built a central collaboration site showcasing ‘which tools to use when’, and host regular webinars that give tips and demos on using the tools, as well as providing remote support. This is critical since video conferencing calls nearly tripled compared with the same period last year, while webcasts jumped 325% since December. 

Fast-track
new tools

The disruption from COVID-19 has created an opportunity to introduce new tools and have people adopt them more quickly than usual. At PwC, we are implementing more digital whiteboard options to allow virtual collaboration with clients and have reimagined our tech support model to replace face-to-face support with video sessions. This model was rolled out in just a few weeks, and we are seeing it effectively support people in their new ways of working — we are tipping this will continue once our teams get back to the office. 

With the amount of technology available, however, prioritising just a handful of services that make the biggest impact is essential to enabling quick implementation.  

Stay cyber
secure 

Moving to more tech-enabled working is a silver lining of COVID-19 but it brings new cyber security risks. COVID-19 phishing attacks are rising, and new ways of working bring new vulnerabilities for cyber criminals to exploit. Free online collaboration tools may seem like an easy way for your people to set themselves up for working remotely, but unapproved tools can present significant cyber risks. At PwC, we require our teams to use PwC-approved software and tools that have completed stringent security and risk assessments. 

Maintaining your organisation’s usual security and risk policies when fast-tracking the introduction of new tools mustn’t be overlooked. Agility should not come at the expense of security or data protection. 

Mental health
and wellbeing

Another challenge with new digital ways of working is managing health and wellbeing. Setting clear boundaries is more important than ever when people work, sleep, eat, and relax in the same space. Many of our people benefit from the ritual of turning off their laptop and storing it out of sight at the end of the day. It makes it easier to ‘switch off’ and separate work from downtime.

Our teams have also taken to walking meetings, virtual coffee catch-ups, online trivia, and team stretching sessions via video conference to stay connected. 

Remember the
big picture

It is understandable for businesses to stay cautious through the duration of COVID-19, but there are significant opportunities to innovate by looking beyond your immediate technology needs. PwC is boosting people’s digital skills by offering virtual ‘Digital Academies’  where staff complete online training in data manipulation and visualisation, while participating in virtual team workshops to apply new skills to projects. It’s a chance to equip people with new skills and improve our ways of working for the future. 

When we come out the other side of COVID-19, I believe that it will be remembered as the time Australia really learned what it means to be operating in the digital world, when people built new skills, and we changed our ways of working for the better. 


What have been the biggest technology challenges and learnings for your organisation during COVID-19? How do you think this time will shape your organisation’s technology and ways of working in future? What are you doing to maintain the health and wellbeing of your people? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

 

Digital Pulse: Vishy Narayanan

Contributor

Vishy Narayanan

Vishy Narayanan is the Chief Digital Officer at PwC Australia.

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