Hybrid work: 2 Australian CIOs share lessons learned

Apr 20, 2022
Healthcare Industry

Angela Coble and John Sutherland share what they learned about hybrid work in healthcare and how to ensure staff were comfortable with the COVID-19-imposed reality and how they moved forward once restrictions lifted.

healthcare technology / medical data
Credit: Metamorworks / Getty Images

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

John 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.

What Johnson & Johnson learned about flexible work during COVID-19

Coble 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.

“For me, it was really about the ‘time-space continuum’ 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,” says Coble.

“For the team, it was about helping to create those boundaries; we weren’t working 24×7 … staff need to get a break. That was a big lesson for me.”

Coble 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.

Angela Coble
Angela Coble, CIO and director of
business technology at Johnson & Johnson

Johnson & Johnson

She 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’s an individual choice.

“Some [people across] our organisation are fully remote and always have been … 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’s about the individual, it’s about assessing the role and understanding how we can all best work together,” she says.

Coble says she always had a choice about where and when she worked, which was determined by the needs of that particular day.

“What 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,” says Coble.

“We don’t need to swing it all the way back, we don’t 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,” she says.

Technology has a long way to go in aged care

Technology has played an important role in helping teams at the front line of Australia’s 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’s Sutherland.

But 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.

“To quote from the final hearing closing submissions by senior counsel assisting, Peter Gray, ‘the sector remains in the dark ages when it comes to digitisation,’” he says.

It’s 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.

John Sutherland
John Sutherland, CIO at HammondCare


Sutherland 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.

“Having 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,” he says.

How to attract and retain tech skilled workers in a hybrid working model

The 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.

In September 2021, Sutherland moved from for-profit healthcare provider, Ramsay Health Care to HammondCare, which operates in the not-for-profit charitable sector. “In 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’m finding quite the opposite to be the case,” he says.

Sutherland says that while talk of the ‘great resignation’ is overstated, the organisation is finding that a good section of people in the market are keen to join the ‘for-purpose’ sector and bring their skills and experience in helping make aged care more progressive and digitally-savvy.

Research firm Gartner recently revealed that if hybrid working was implemented well it could improve ‘intent to stay’ across organisations.

As 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.

“Hybrid 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 – 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,” he says.

“While 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.”

Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson’s Coble says that since she started her current role in September 2015, nobody has voluntarily left the technology team.

“This is phenomenal because that doesn’t happen in most tech teams. For me, the skills shortage is real … we [tech execs] are well sort after for the skills that we have,” she says.

She says that in a post-pandemic environment, competing on salary alone is a ‘downward spiral’. “I don’t care how big your organisation is, you can’t 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, ‘What keeps you here, what do you need? How do we continue to keep you engaged?’

“It’s 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,” she says.