How TELUS redefined its own workplace | TELUS
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How TELUS redefined its own workplace
How TELUS redefined its own workplace

How TELUS redefined its own workplace

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 Craig Thornton, Vice President of Business Solutions Marketing at TELUS, used to describe his own company, 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… Our employee engagement figure was 53%,” said Thornton, addressing a packed audience at ITW Canada’s annual DX Awards at The Globe and Mail Centre on August 8th, 2019. 

“Think about that for a second. 53% of our workforce classified themselves as “engaged”... Half of them are 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 telling TELUS’ story of its own continuing digital transformation, Thornton was able to hold up the company as an example of digital leadership 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.“We set out on a journey to basically redefine how we worked,” said Thornton. “It took us a number of years to affect that change both 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%) reporting there were engaged at work

  • 45% drop in absenteeism

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? 

Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” quipped Craig Thornton. “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.

“It wasn’t too long ago [TELUS was] mandating things like BlackBerrys,” remembers Thornton. “If you look at the stats... by 2021, half of the workforce is going to be Millennial.”

It would be hard to imagine competing for talent while forcing them on a technology that was once ubiquitous a dozen years ago, but has become more-or-less niche in terms of market share. “You don’t want to have to force somebody to go on a mobile device they don’t want to or have to carry two devices. It’s not very convenient,” he added. 

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. “For us, it’s been a game-changer. I just love it,” said Craig Thornton of the Google switch-over.

“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. What you needed was your executives to start using it, right? And I mean using 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 talk wrapped with questions from the audience, and one of the most challenging questions came from a man who claimed that, from what he’s seen at his organization, flexible work initiatives saw a loss of productivity of 17%. His concern is valid. So how did TELUS avoid that? 

Acknowledging the question, Thornton replied, “We’ve actually seen it go the other way.”

“To me, the secret sauce there is how and what you measure, and the amount of collaboration you’re creating,” he said. “For us it’s a balance… Working from home, coming into the office, staying connected to the culture,” adding that TELUS also increased its employee review from annual to quarterly, effectively quadrupling the reflexive give and take between employees and managers.

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 from the DX Awards 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. In the end, that balance means you’ll simply work better. Ignoring that need for balance in transition may mean you simply don’t work at all.

If you’d like to learn more about how TELUS can help redefine your workplace so that it’s mobile, flexible and future friendly, visit 

To better understand how your business compares to its peers when it comes to digital transformation, take this quick survey and uncover what to focus on in order to accelerate growth.

Authored by:
Nicole Hylmar
Nicole Hylmar