How TELUS redefined its own workplace

Other · Sep 4, 2019

Imagine you’re on a bicycle with 30,000 other people. Each person has their own seat and their own pedals, and their own handlebars. It’s a large tandem bike that stretches off into the distance. This bike represents a business. At the front you have the CEO and your board members, also on the bike you have sales teams, marketing, Finance, contractors, that sort of thing. But if you look at the people on the bike, you notice something. Not everyone is pedalling the same way.
The 30,000 person bike is the metaphor used to describe TELUS circa 2006.
We had relatively low customer satisfaction scores, low likelihood to recommend, we were feeling as though, in our market, we weren’t differentiating and our employee engagement figure was 53% meaning half of that workforce is pedalling really hard, and on the other half, some portion of them are not pedalling at all, they’re kind of coasting. And then there’s a portion that are actively disengaged. They’ve reversed their seats and are pedalling in the other direction. It was a big problem for us.
The tandem bike idea applies to pretty much every business.. The question this idea brings up is clear: How do you get everyone to - not just work together - but work better, in order to move the company forward through the coming period of massive technological disruption?
In TELUS’ story of its own continuing digital transformation, digital leadership continues to be at the forefront in the past decade of profound technological change, a period which saw the meteoric global rise of social media and mobile devices, just to name a few.
This journey of redefining how we work took us a number of years on the technology front and the cultural front.
Ultimately this led to TELUS developing an industry leading mobile work policy, which brought game-changing benefits, not just to the company, but to the customer, employees, and environment, referring to the working “triple-bottom-line” for making decisions. Here’s a quick by-the-numbers overview of the profound social, environmental and financial impacts that TELUS Work Styles has created.

72% of TELUS employees are now either mobile or work from home

Tangible cost savings

  • Roughly $50 million per year in real estate savings through consolidation
  • $63.5 million reduction in travel expenses over 13 years

Employee and customer benefits

  • Customer complaints decreased by 27%
  • 32 point increase in employee engagement (53% to 85%)
  • 45% drop in absenteeism
  • Emergency preparedness to work virtually when required

Environmental benefits

  • 16% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions since 2010
  • Over 1.3 million hours of commuting time saved
Having these impressive results all laid out can make you lose sight of just how much work it took to make it all happen. No one said that this was easy to become ranked as one of the top tech companies to work for in Canada by Glassdoor. It took almost a decade to get to where things are now, and the goal is to keep improving further down the line. So the question is, how do you start? 
Building a culture within the organization is the toughest thing to do but it’s the most sustainable competitive advantage.
The greatest theme behind the change at TELUS is flexibility. Gone are the days of having your own desk. Now a TELUS employee just needs to book a desk, cutting down on the need for physical offices. With that came changes in performance measures, evaluating employees based on objectives and goals rather than being judged by time spent in the office. This kind of cultural flexibility is integral to TELUS’ ability to attract top tier talent, leading to a 178% increase in resume submissions for the company.
On the technological front, TELUS deployed Google’s G Suite for the day-to-day work of word-processing, spreadsheets and presentations, etc. Managing that change from the Microsoft Office platform stands as a good lesson with regard to implementing change within an organization.
The big learning from rolling out G Suite, was the cultural change associated with it. It needed to be led from the top and the bottom at the same time. On the bottom you have the mavens, the people who jump into it… They’re the folks that help the others get set up quickly. But that wasn’t enough- it required executives to adopt it, and use it religiously.
And on the security side, TELUS uses a next-generation firewall, advanced password managers, and enterprise-level VPN. Without these measures in place, the flexibility to work securely from anywhere would be compromised. Along with the technological investment came increased “hygiene”- employee training that teaches how to recognize and avoid online threats, such as suspicious emails, while getting into the habit of keeping sensitive information safe.
The secret sauce is really the amount of collaboration you’re creating. For TELUS, it’s a balance… Working from home, coming into the office, staying connected to the culture. In short, it’s not enough to just give people these tools and hope they’ll figure it out. Deep-down, we all know people can’t be updated like software. Any workplace transition is going to create a new approach that requires managing that change appropriately.
Perhaps the main lesson to take away is this: Regardless of your business, your processes are going to be a balance of technology and culture working together. Finding your balance will not only be better for your customers, and employees, but it will be the key strategy for long-term success and business continuity. In the end, that balance means you’ll simply work better and be prepared in any event. Ignoring that need for balance in transition may mean you simply don’t work at all.

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Authored by:
Nicole Hylmar
Nicole Hylmar