Remote Working: The VERTO Experience

By Ron Maxwell - CEO

At VERTO, our mission is to positively impact the lives of the individuals and communities we serve and, when COVID hit, this community-focus became critical, with so many more needing our services, from employment to tenancy advice. So, when it became apparent that we, alongside most businesses, would need to work remotely, it was essential to maintain continuity of service.

While I knew our team could pull together in tough times – we live in and serve communities that have experienced the brunt of droughts and bushfires – this was a new challenge. I wanted to share with you some of the things that worked for us, the learnings we've had along the way and my thoughts for what's next in remote working.

The right technology is critical

Whether good luck or good management, VERTO invested heavily in upgrading our IT infrastructure and cloud-based technologies in 2018/2019 and while we believed then that it was important for the future of our organisation, we didn’t realise just how critical it would turn out to be!

Still, like all businesses, shifting suddenly to a remote environment had its challenges. A key one for us was setting staff up with the right equipment, such as laptops and phones. Of course, we were amongst thousands of businesses in the same boat and the equipment was hard to come by.


We also had to shift processes quickly to suit the new environment, and for us, that wasn't just about where we worked – but how. The Australian Government rolled back contractual obligations for job seekers, and while this was very welcome, it involved rapidly changing the way we did things. Our technology supported this, and it really reinforced how critical the right technologies are to every business.

For us, and, no doubt, most businesses, today's challenges will prove a catalyst to continue to invest in technologies that strengthen outcomes for both the business and the markets they serve.

Living your values pays off

Our leadership team really try to live our guiding principles and model them in leadership behaviours and decisions. It's easy to say that you value integrity, for example, but it actually needs to be part of your organisation's DNA, and that can be difficult to measure.

During COVID-19, the vast majority of our people did the right thing by the organisation, our clients and each other, many going above and beyond, and we saw the true power of these values in practice.

One of the things that was heartening to see, was staff checking in on each other. Our culture is very much a people-focused one, and many of our team members know each other well. This played an important role, as they knew who might be more vulnerable due to personal circumstances, and they made sure to check in and provide support as it was needed.

To further support our people, we bolstered our Employee Assistance Program and, at the height of restrictions, we saw increased uptake. This pleased me, because it showed that our team were comfortable to reach out for support and that we were investing in the right services to support them. 

Focus on what's important

For us, what is important is all about people, in our team and in the communities we serve. While we have always been an outcomes-focused business, COVID really reinforced that. With little to no face-to-face contact, our leaders needed to trust people to get the job done. And when you are supporting vulnerable people and communities, the stakes are high, so naturally, there were some insecurities about how this would play out.

Overwhelmingly, we saw our team deliver. While I've always believed you are paying your staff to deliver results, not to sit in a chair, it does take a mindset shift to focus solely on outcomes. It's a shift leaders everywhere have had to make, and, in my opinion, one we will all be better for.

The future is about balance

I've been talking to other CEOs about remote working and whether it is here to stay, and most conversations I've had agree on one thing – it will play a big part moving forward but it won't be the be-all and end-all.

In the early days, remote working was a novelty for many. But as the months passed, we saw people looking to make face-to-face connections again. VERTO is now running on a Yellow Team/Blue Team alternating arrangement and we are finding most people really value the balance – working from home some days and in the office on others.

Our staff who are considered high-risk for health reasons have been asked to continue working from home, but we are seeing many asking to return. At the heart of it, humans are social creatures who thrive on personal connections that can't be replaced by video calls.

It may boost our regions

Many of the CEOs I've talked to are also rethinking the need for their staff to be in CBD offices (and their high office rents!) and this may prove a boost to our regions. Firstly, we may see more city dwellers making the move to our regions for the lifestyle and lower cost of living while still being able to work for city-based companies.

Secondly, there may be more job opportunities for locals, as companies spread the net wider to find the right people. In this way, we may see a reverse in population decline in many areas, and a boost to local economies, particularly those with good road or flight connections to metropolitan areas.

Love it or hate it, remote working will play a role for some time to come. It will be interesting to see how it plays out in practice, as many industries find themselves at a tipping point. It's often been said that we are living through history, and that's also true for how – and where – we work, so it's certainly a case of watch this space.