NSW Lockdown Brings Fresh Challenges For Employers

29 Jun 2021

Paul Heath, chief executive of independent wealth management firm Koda Capital, admits to “a little bit of eyeball rolling” when NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian put four local government areas into lockdown on Friday.

Koda’s Sydney office is in the same building as a Fitness First gym, which was designated a hotspot a week earlier, so all 45 Sydney employees were already working from home when the announcement came.

In any case, Koda, like hundreds of other businesses, has been dealing with rolling lockdowns in other states for nearly 18 months and Mr Heath, who lives in the city’s northern beaches, was caught up in that targeted lockdown in December. For the Koda boss, last week was a case of: Here we go again.

It was a sentiment widely shared across the NSW capital. Major employers reported minimal numbers of employees going to the office.

Commonwealth Bank said of the 20,000 people that normally worked across its three corporate offices in Sydney, only about 1100 went in yesterday. PwC Australia’s Barangaroo and Parramatta offices were both closed, with all staff working remotely.

EY has closed its NSW offices and all 3500 Sydney staff were told to work from home, although provisions could be made for people to access the office in exceptional circumstances.

Law firm Ashurst said it had asked all staff in Sydney to work remotely and not to attend the office unless absolutely necessary. King & Wood Mallesons chief executive partner Berkeley Cox said all staff were “effectively” working from home.

Mr Heath said all Koda staff were working from home but he added that assuming staff adhered to NSW health restrictions and guidelines, they could go to the office if they needed to.

“We are really discouraging people from moving around,” Mr Heath said.

Ghost towns

The CBD and North Sydney resembled ghost towns on Monday. Pauline Vamos, a director of Chief Executive Women and Mercer Superannuation Trust and who lives in North Sydney, said that apart from a couple of cafes and restaurants serving takeaways to local residents and construction workers, only supermarkets were open. By far the busiest business was the North Sydney Post Office, where parcels were stacking up.

Business leaders said the transition to the lockdown had been smooth.

“We know that our systems work, how to run meetings with clients remotely, and how to interact with our colleagues remotely. You know what to watch out for,” said EY Sydney managing partner Andrew Price.

Mr Heath noted that one of the challenges of this lockdown was the timing, with the end of the financial year on Wednesday.

He said it was often harder for clients to make major decisions about tax and resetting their investment portfolios for 2021-22 over Zoom than in a face-to-face meeting, particularly if they did not have a longstanding relationship with the adviser. There were also issues over obtaining signed documents.

“Staff challenges are one dimension. Client challenges are another really important dimension. [Lack of in-person meetings] slows down timelines,” Mr Heath said.

Another challenge was the heightened threat of cyber attacks. Mr Heath said Koda had invested further in cyber security systems, but the firm was becoming increasingly aware of the potential for clients to also be hacked. Over the past year, several high-profile businesses including the Colonial Pipeline in the United States, meat processor JBS Foods and Nine Entertainment, publisher of The Australian Financial Review, have been victims of cyber attack.

“I think we have all got a greater awareness [of cyber crime],” Mr Heath said.

A third challenge was the fact the current lockdown coincided with school holidays. Mr Heath said Koda was responding to the added pressure this put on parents by being flexible about time frames and deadlines wherever possible.

“You have got to be flexible to allow people to get the work done when they can, rather than in some arbitrary time frame. If you can’t adopt flexible approaches, your business won’t be effective,” Mr Heath said.

Westpac is providing a range of flexible working and leave options to help employees balance their work and personal commitments.

Read more at afr.com

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