Understanding the new normal: MetLife Australia's CEO Richard Nunn explains the company's approach to looking after its people, customers and partners during COVID-19.

MetLife Australia’s priorities when the pandemic began

Our first priority was our people and their families, making sure they were well, safe and taken care of. Next was letting our customers know we would continue to support them during a time that was particularly difficult.

We also needed to make sure we could continue working throughout the pandemic, and continue caring for our customers, business partners and people.

Our business continuity plan helped us quickly adapt to COVID-19

We take business continuity seriously. Although there was no way we could have predicted we would be 100 per cent working from home while dealing with the pandemic, we quickly adapted to this new reality and the business was able to continue.

It was made easier by the fact everyone was digitally enabled and had laptops with Virtual Private Network access (VPNs) .We just sent everyone home, and business continued as usual.

Flexible working arrangements and everyone working from home – what’s the difference?

Flexible work is all about us encouraging our people to have work-life balance. Before the pandemic it generally meant flexible working arrangements for our people. COVID-19 is different because all our people have been fully working from home.

We  trusted our people would continue to provide our customers with the empathy and care that MetLife is known for. What was really interesting was how quickly people adapted.

I’ve been impressed with the way everyone has delivered on our purpose of navigating life together. People just got on with it and took on the responsibility of looking after each other and our customers.

Months later the business is going well and the feedback we’ve had has been good.

MetLife’s values create positive experiences for its people

The onset of the pandemic coincided with MetLife announcing its global New Horizon Strategy. A big part of that strategy is our success principles:

  1. Winning together
  2. Build tomorrow
  3. Owning it

What’s great is our team has really run with those principles, especially ‘Building tomorrow’. I think we’ve built a stronger base for our business and our people have owned the situation.

Considering our other principles, 'Winning together' and 'Owning it', what I’ve seen is a huge amount of support for each other. People are checking in with each other, and we’ve won contracts and opportunities requiring a lot of collaboration.

Leadership creates a strong support base for staff working from home

In times like these leadership must be highly visible. There are plenty of ways to be involved and visible with your team, such as checking in on people regularly. That goes for all levels of the organisation.

Our team has organised several great initiatives to make sure people aren't isolated, like virtual cooking lessons, wellness sessions and social events. We take that connection very seriously, because while it’s fine to send people home, you can’t leave them isolated — particularly new starters.

Our team is positive about the support it has received during COVID-19

We made a huge effort to communicate with our people during this situation and so we put out daily emails which I know a lot of people appreciated. I’ve also had a lot of feedback about how people feel the MetLife leadership team really cares about them.

COVID-19 has been a real test of company values and I think we’ve done a pretty good job and our team has really responded.

Constant communication means partners respond positively to business operations

We’ve had more opportunity to connect with clients and partners simply because people are working at home and are more accessible. Speaking personally, I've had regular video meetings with the CEOs of all our key partners and clients.

The thing is, you can either drop the ball during times like this or you can rise to the challenge, and we’ve really made it work.

The human experience means working from home is a net positive

Working from home has been fascinating. I’m operating out of my bedroom and for the first eight weeks the kids were at home and there was no escape. They would make special guest appearances, sometimes when I didn’t need them to, but I wasn’t the only one.

You get a real insight into people, how they live and their hobbies and interests. I believe working from home has brought people closer together and helped us understand more about each other.

Extra safety measures for staff returning to the office

The decision to bring people back to the office isn’t one we took lightly as mental health and wellbeing is really important to us. We’ve got a Return to Office Committee and the most important thing we’ve done is manage the number of people coming in.

We have 30 per cent of our people coming in as Team A, and rotating with Team B, while the remaining 70 per cent are working from home in Phase 1. The 30 per cent coming in will notice things are very different – there’s space between desks, the floors are empty and there’s no hot-desking.

We’ve got all the cleaning supplies we need, there are masks and everyone has hand sanitiser everyone's desk and entry points.

We’ve demonstrated that we can make working from home function and we will continue being agile, following guidance provided by the respective Premier and health authorities.

My commitment to supporting our team, partners and clients

We put our customers at the centre of everything we do and we put a lot of effort into understanding what their needs are. So regardless of whether it’s a regular customer catch-up, or winning new opportunities, our teams, the leadership team and all our people, have been involved in maintaining that effort.

I don’t know how long working from home will last, but I don’t think it’s going to end in a hurry. We must embrace new ways of doing things, and learn from the experience.

I’ve asked our people to increase the intensity with which we interface with customers. That’s my commitment: that we’re not going to drop the ball during this time, and I think this will position us really well when we come out of this.


Understanding the new normal: MetLife Australia's CEO Richard Nunn explains the company's approach during COVID-19.