Working from home no barrier to innovation at BPAY Group

- By Collaborative Media & Publishing
When the coronavirus pandemic hit in March, some BPAY Group staff assumed the organisation would slow down its innovation drive. Instead, it doubled down, holding its first ever remote and organisation-wide Innov8 hackathon just one month later.

"The feedback we're getting is that it's the best one we've had," according to BPAY Group Product Manager Brendan Townsend. "The problems that we were focusing on were important, the teams’ group work was interactive, and teams achieved some of the most advanced outcomes, like building an app in just two days."

There were 11 teams in total who participated and one team built a proof-of-concept API to allow Financial Institutions using real-time payments service Osko to report via a streamlined API. Another team built an app that allows BPAY Group employees to seamlessly order coffees that debits the company account, to potentially produce greater company-wide expense processing efficiencies.

The undertaking was made possible through the support of the Leadership Team, who had a clear message: innovation remains a priority, even when 'business as usual' becomes unusual. 
Remote working: Staying innovative from afar
The shift to working remotely has been seamless. Technology had been tested ahead of the need to work remotely, which allowed the Leadership Team to quickly focus on the well-being of employees and maintaining the culture.

Fostering a sense of community and transparent communication was critical – and was implemented from day one. "People were nervous in the first day or so, but it became quite apparent very quickly that the technology, culture and our leadership team's transparency and support allowed us to adjust really well," said Townsend.

The Innov8 hackathon used the company’s established remote working tools creatively, which included Zoom's breakout room functionality that allows a host to break meetings into separate sessions. Microsoft Teams was also used to store project information. 
How organisations can foster innovation remotely 
The move to remote working has given BPAY Group the opportunity to pause and reflect on its culture. “It’s at times like these, when we are faced with adversity and challenges, that we become more resourceful and creative in our thinking, and innovative ideas thrive,” said Lucy Lithgow-Constable, General Manager of People and Culture at BPAY Group.

“Fostering an environment where people feel empowered to think creatively is critical,” said Lithgow. “During crises, leaders need to avoid the temptation to jump in and take over. If they do, it can make people feel less in control, and ultimately inhibit creativity.”

Within a week of BPAY Group’s decision to work remotely, communication was ramped up and leaders were being coached on the important role they play in ensuring their teams feel empowered (able to influence what happens to them), connected (feeling part of the broader community) and capable (knowing that they can, and do, add value). 

Encouraging everyone to think creatively and come up with ideas on how to make life simpler, in line with BPAY’s purpose,  is fundamental in driving an innovative culture. “Innovation shouldn’t just sit within one team; it needs to be embraced by everyone,” said Lithgow. 

“Providing people with the opportunity to come together and explore and refine their ideas across the business is key. Recognising the ideas they generate and all the things they’ve learnt along the way is also important.”
Tips for working from home
Turn cameras on during every meeting
There has never been a BPAY Group mandate that cameras should always be on during meetings but it became the norm from day one. It helped maintain the same strong culture that already existed within the company.

"Organisations that don't have their cameras turned on think we're a bit weird," Townsend says. "But it drives a level of interaction that, while not as good as being there in person, is a lot better than staring at a blank screen."

Schedule non-work interactions online 
Organic interactions that foster collaboration can't happen when organisations stick to a standard meeting agenda. BPAY Group's technology department has a daily virtual stand up meeting to co-ordinate work but a significant portion is dedicated to non-work discussions. 

"We'll do 'themes of the week' – this week the person running the theme has asked us all to kick off our update by telling each other about an icon who's influenced the way we think about the world, and then tell us about the work stuff that we’re doing."

Hold virtual social events such as Friday drinks
Strong organisations invest in social time where new bonds can be formed and reinforced between colleagues. Those same social traditions, such as Friday drinks, can be replicated online.  

"I'm having regular social interactions with people in teams that I don't work directly with and that leading to conversations about work, which inevitably leads to 'what's happening in your space'." 

Leadership is crucial 
Culture is set by the Leadership Team who hold weekly video conferences where they let all staff know about the state of the business and their priorities. 

"They're really open and honest about the state of the business. There's not a lot of other organisations where you hear from the CEO directly once a week. We have learned a lot about our culture and how we innovate during this time, and not only has this assisted us while working remotely, but we are sure that many of these learnings will persist once we return to the office."

This article represents the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of BPAY. Published by BPAY Pty Ltd.  BPAY is offered by over 150 Financial Institutions. Contact your Financial Institution to see if it offers BPAY and to get the terms and conditions. This is general advice – before using BPAY please review the terms and conditions and consider whether BPAY is appropriate for your personal circumstances.

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