The past two years have been incredibly challenging for CIOs and their teams. Coronavirus pandemic-related lockdowns and other restrictions have forced long overdue changes in work environments across Australia\n\nJohn Sutherland, CIO at aged care provider HammondCare, and Angela Coble, CIO and director, business technology at Johnson & Johnson share what they learned about hybrid work and attraction and retention of tech talent during the pandemic with CIO Australia.\n\nWhat Johnson & Johnson learned about flexible work during COVID-19\n\nCoble says that when COVID-19 first hit in early 2020, Johnson & Johnson was in a good position from a technology perspective with cloud infrastructure and remote networks already in place. But there was work to be done to assist staff who were used to working in an office.\n\n\u201cFor me, it was really about the \u2018time-space continuum\u2019 really imploding during that period. We [Johnson & Johnson] needed to be clear about the boundaries that we would set for how we needed to work in a [hybrid] environment,\u201d says Coble.\n\n\u201cFor the team, it was about helping to create those boundaries; we weren\u2019t working 24x7 \u2026 staff need to get a break. That was a big lesson for me.\u201d\n\nCoble says Johnson & Johnson has done some work around what a flexible model of working looks like and what is right for different individuals, teams, roles, and the wider organisation.\n\nShe says that staff alternating between their homes and the office, for example, two and three days per week, sets a tone for how an organisation needs to operate but outside of that, it\u2019s an individual choice.\n\n\u201cSome [people across] our organisation are fully remote and always have been \u2026 they are helping our surgeons, healthcare professional and patients every day. For them, any kind of policy that the company has put together is irrelevant because their role is very different. For me, it\u2019s about the individual, it\u2019s about assessing the role and understanding how we can all best work together,\u201d she says.\n\nCoble says she always had a choice about where and when she worked, which was determined by the needs of that particular day.\n\n\u201cWhat I saw occur during COVID-19 was the choice was taken away. If you previously worked remotely that was fine, but in some cases, you would come in [to the office] so you had that connection in person. So, no matter if you were comfortable with working anywhere, like I was, your choice is completely removed. So that kind of swung the pendulum the other way,\u201d says Coble.\n\n\u201cWe don\u2019t need to swing it all the way back, we don\u2019t need people in the office five days a week. That is counterproductive to the way we would work best but we do need to find that happy medium somewhere within that spectrum because the choice needs to be there in a very considered way. It will be different for every organisation, for every role and for each individual,\u201d she says.\n\nTechnology has a long way to go in aged care\n\nTechnology has played an important role in helping teams at the front line of Australia\u2019s aged care sector do their work remotely and to connect patients, residents and clients with their families when under state or facility-wide lockdowns, says HammondCare\u2019s Sutherland.\n\nBut when it comes to adopting technologies that support hybrid work environments, the aged care sector is lagging. This was highlighted during the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, he says.\n\n\u201cTo quote from the final hearing closing submissions by senior counsel assisting, Peter Gray, \u2018the sector remains in the dark ages when it comes to digitisation,\u2019\u201d he says.\n\nIt\u2019s also a sad reality, Sutherland says, that while the findings of the royal commission are confronting, large parts of the sector are loss making and lack government support and incentives to become more digital.\n\nSutherland says that much of the discussion on hybrid working environments are typically from the perspective of organisations that do not provide frontline health services to their customers. HammondCare has fronted up to support people who have needed care throughout the pandemic and staff working in aged care do not have the luxury of doing their jobs from home, says Sutherland.\n\n\u201cHaving said that, people at head office and in administrative supporting roles, like the technology team, have embraced hybrid working environments. We expect these flexible arrangements to continue, and this has become even more important due to tight labour market conditions. Flexible working arrangements for those who can carry out their work are now considered part of the employee value proposition,\u201d he says.\n\nHow to attract and retain tech skilled workers in a hybrid working model\n\nThe lack of skills across every area of IT, particularly cybersecurity, and data science, is potentially putting organisations with lower budgets to spend on workers at a disadvantage against companies with much deeper pockets.\n\nIn September 2021, Sutherland moved from for-profit healthcare provider, Ramsay Health Care to HammondCare, which operates in the not-for-profit charitable sector. \u201cIn making this change, I was quite concerned we would be at a significant disadvantage in the marketplace to a commercially driven organisation in attracting and retaining high calibre staff. To my surprise, and relief, I\u2019m finding quite the opposite to be the case,\u201d he says.\n\nSutherland says that while talk of the \u2018great resignation\u2019 is overstated, the organisation is finding that a good section of people in the market are keen to join the \u2018for-purpose\u2019 sector and bring their skills and experience in helping make aged care more progressive and digitally-savvy.\n\nResearch firm Gartner recently revealed that if hybrid working was implemented well it could improve \u2018intent to stay\u2019 across organisations.\n\nAs HammondCare becomes more technically sophisticated, following on the successful implementation of its data analytics practice, the organisation will also be increasing its cybersecurity maturity to mitigate the associated risks. While the technical controls for cyber-risks are well understood, greater consideration to the impact on those at the front line of care is essential and must be weighed up when balancing security with operational performance, says Sutherland.\n\n\u201cHybrid working arrangements will certainly make it easier to attract and retain talent in these and other areas. And while this is the case, I was reminded recently in a Harvard Business Review article published three years before the pandemic hit \u2013 quoting a study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, which concluded that people were 34 times more likely to get an agreement on a proposal when meeting face-to-face as opposed to using electronic means,\u201d he says.\n\n\u201cWhile many of us enjoy the flexibility of the current working arrangements, we must remember we also have a responsibility to work in a manner that supports our colleagues, staff and customers, and not what suits us individually.\u201d\n\nMeanwhile, Johnson & Johnson\u2019s Coble says that since she started her current role in September 2015, nobody has voluntarily left the technology team.\n\n\u201cThis is phenomenal because that doesn\u2019t happen in most tech teams. For me, the skills shortage is real \u2026 we [tech execs] are well sort after for the skills that we have,\u201d she says.\n\nShe says that in a post-pandemic environment, competing on salary alone is a \u2018downward spiral\u2019. \u201cI don\u2019t care how big your organisation is, you can\u2019t pay $300,000 for a junior software developer in Melbourne. Then what do you do? Every year, I reflect on where I am, but I ask the team the same question, \u2018What keeps you here, what do you need? How do we continue to keep you engaged?\u2019\n\n\u201cIt\u2019s really about understanding the individual and their needs and then wrapping around the things that mean the most to them. When you get to a particular stage in your career, it about learning, development and being stretched,\u201d she says.