An office complex is hardly where you would expect to find some of the city’s best coffee culture, but at Optus’ Macquarie Park headquarters, the numbers don’t lie.
“We serve around 1 million cups a year,” says Andrew Parker, national manager of employee experience at Optus. “We wanted to emulate the coffee culture you’d find in a city here on our campus.”
The plethora of cafe and food options is only one aspect of Optus’ efforts to turn itself into “a little city” for its Sydney employees. Starting in 2007, several satellite offices merged into one sprawling, custom-built campus. With this move came a challenge for Parker and his team: How do you create a sense of community in such a large business? The answer lies within the workforce; encourage diversity, but retain and support the talents and personalities of individual employees. Parker’s title is a testament to this commitment – as far as he knows, he is the only employee experience director in Australia.
“It was a natural association for us,” he says. “My team and I are advocates for the employee experience to bring people across the organisation together.”
Creating the tools for employee engagement initiatives is one thing – whether or not they get used is another. Parker and his team spend a lot of time thinking about building community through initiatives that play on the strengths of team members. Grants allow workers to share their passions with colleagues, whether that’s a hobby, special skill or knowledge, some aspect of their culture or a philanthropy that is important to them. Various events throughout the year, including Project Snapshot (an employee-led photography class and showcase) and Yestival (a huge yearly festival thrown on the campus grounds for employees and their families), go further to tighten the knot between workplace culture and community.
Employee engagement also extends into the fundamentals of keeping the business functioning. After moving to Macquarie Park, transportation became an issue for employees. To combat this, Optus invested nearly $2 million in sustainable transport options, including ride share programs and bicycles. Seventy percent of employees use flexible work arrangements and onsite childcare options to take some of the stress of commuting off their shoulders. Add to this an emphasis on health and wellbeing that includes gyms, physiotherapists and masseuses, and it’s safe to say that employee engagement here means more than giving perks for the sake of perks – it’s just good business.
“We alway ask, ‘How does this tie in with what employees want?’,” Parker says. “It’s our job to make 10,000 people happy everyday, so we always engage them to better understand what we can do for them.”
All of this is part of what Parker refers to as the three-year master plan to grow the company’s employee engagement levels and establish a unique culture that’s edgy and exciting. Leadership buy-in is important to realising this vision, says Parker, but so is employee involvement. The company conducts employee engagement surveys regularly to gauge how people interact with what Parker and his team offer every year, and the completion rates are high – close to one-third of employees respond to each survey. This gives him real-time information about what employees want and need, which is the main ingredient for any successful employee engagement initiative.
“If you can harness people and their ideas, then you don’t have to deliver everything for everyone,” he says. “Give them the permission and the resources to express themselves, then just ask questions and listen to what they say.”