How today’s virtual teams can tackle tomorrow’s climate challenge

Can the great work-from-home experiment lead to greater engagement around the looming challenge of climate change? Rodney Hanratty from Swiss Re and Ben King from Finder think so.

One of the world’s largest reinsurers, Swiss Re has been a CitySwitch signatory since 2010. The firm’s 200-plus Australian staff normally head to work at International Towers in Sydney’s Barangaroo each day. But with Covid-19 fast-forwarding the future of work, Swiss Re flipped its team to remote working almost overnight.

“To help our team adapt, we mapped out an eight-week engagement plan to maintain momentum and keep everyone motivated,” says Rodney Hanratty, Swiss Re’s Head of Human Resources ANZ.

Each week has emphasised different engagement activities: sharing recipes, pet photos or innovative ideas that connect with clients and colleagues, for example. Rodney says the ‘green your home’ week was particularly popular and reflects Swiss Re’s commitment to climate action.

“We made our COyou2 program – which subsidises employees’ investment in initiatives that reduce their private carbon footprints – the centre of the week’s activities. Employees shared blog posts and tips about the best way to invest in solar panels or choose an energy efficient washing machine with the help of COyou2. Other colleagues taught us how to maintain a bike or grow a mango tree from seed.”

Swiss Re has embraced new digital collaboration tools to build the “virtual workplace culture”, and Rodney expects many of these new channels to become business-as-usual.

“When restrictions lift and it is safe to do so, most people will be excited to head back to the office. But the world of work has changed forever. People will work from home more, travel less, and I think they’ll actively look for ways to reduce their footprints.

“The ‘we’re all in this together’ attitude we’ve fostered during Covid-19 will carry through to our efforts around sustainability. And that team spirit will help us tackle other big challenges, like climate change.”

Comparison site Finder, based at 99 York Street Sydney, was in the perfect position as lockdown loomed.

“We have 150 people in our Sydney office, and a team of 400 around the world, but 43% of us work remotely on any given day – so it was easy for us to adapt to working from home,” says Ben King, Finder’s CSR & Public Affairs Manager.

Finder was already using Slack, Zoom, Google Docs and other cloud-based tools, although Ben admits usage has skyrocketed since the CitySwitch National New Signatory of the Year moved to remote working.

“We’ve seen a 62% increase in the use of Slack alone in recent weeks, as people embrace this tool instead of email,” Ben explains.

New activities to build a virtual workplace culture are already delivering dividends, he adds. Wellness-focused Slack channels with cooking and virtual fitness classes and a platform to connect parents have been very popular with staff.

Transforming Finder’s flagship green awards into an online event was also a smashing success. “We had loads of positive feedback, more people dialled in than would have attended in person, and we had a much smaller impact on the environment.”

While Covid-19 has attracted all the headlines and headspace in recent weeks, Ben says his company won’t step back from climate change.

“We’ve put the world on pause for three months and global emissions are forecast to fall by 5.5% for the year. But the IPCC target is 7.6% every year this decade to stay below 1.5°C of warming. This demonstrates how big our task is.

“Moments of change like these are when we can have the most influence. Every company is looking at its business carefully – and now is the time to get in front of the people making decisions in your organisation to make your case for sustainability,” Ben concludes.



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How today’s virtual teams can tackle tomorrow’s climate challenge Jun 3, 2020
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