Cultural change required for Australia to overcome COVID says CEDA panel

MANAGING an ‘open Australia’ will require a re-evaluation of city and workplace design. That is the consensus of an expert Pandemic to Endemic discussion series panel recently convened by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) and sponsored by GSK Australia.

The panel discussion, titled Proofing against future pandemics, focused on how health, smart cities and resilient workplaces should inform Australia’s success as the Australian public and business leaders learn to live with COVID-19.

GSK Australia and New Zealand head of human resources, David Fitz-Gerald said building resilience into the workplace required a change in culture. 

“GSK is known as an innovator in medicines and vaccines. The COVID-19 pandemic prompted us to take further steps forward as an innovative workplace,’’ Mr Fitz-Gerald said.

“It prompted us to find new ways to support our people to thrive. We have applied a new philosophy of ‘flex-pathy’, providing our workforce with ‘maximum flexibility’, coupled with clear and consistent communication. This philosophy was embedded while also ensuring a sustained focus on our company goals.” 

Mr Fitz-Gerald also said companies that apply lessons from the pandemic would reap the benefits when it comes to attracting talent in competitive labour markets.

“Looking to the future, we created a framework, called Performance with Choice, which is brought to life in our culture, not in policy. We encourage our people to have open conversations to identify ways of working that support their performance and their team and to feel safe and secure knowing that this flexibility is available to them.” 


Arup's Australasian Cities leader and panellist, Malcolm Smith said re-evaluating Australians' "approach to the way we design our cities for work, education and leisure" will be important in the management of pandemics into the future.  

“Cities are not just about physical structures, they are representations of our social and economic aspirations," Mr Smith said. "When we have our cities disrupted, it affects all of those aspects.

"We need to understand re-integration of those aspects as we come out of disruption and model new scenarios with the lessons we’ve learnt.

“This includes seeing an increase in local trends, provision of services and changes to the composition and concentration of city centres. This has consistently played out in the pandemic as we saw inequitable access to open space across the world," Mr Smith said.

“We now have the digital capacity to monitor the impact of disruption and its social effect on our cities – and we need to use it. We need to model our cities for multiple-use scenarios and have a conversation about making this a requirement for city design, like some countries in Europe.” 


Siemens ANZ CEO and panellist, Jeff Connolly emphasised "smart technology as a critical lever" to address the global challenges of pandemics.

“We used to be bricks and steel only, but now we've got fully intelligent buildings and infrastructure. Pandemics require the real-time response that technology can provide, helping us to address the challenges of future pandemics," Mr Connolly said. 

“At the start of the COVID-19, we used a lot of preventative measures with some of them proving unnecessary later. This was all because our environments were not designed to contain a virus like COVID-19. We now have an opportunity to use smart technology so we can design these environments with purpose.

“Digitalisation is at the heart of the solution. Smart technology is already being used in purpose-built locations like the National Gallery of Victoria. Solutions like increased filtration, UV lighting and ionization mean we’re able to address the challenges of the disrupted cities we now live in.”

The CEDA panel discussion was facilitated by Deloitte Access Economics partner Mel Miller and was the second in a series of three sessions that focus on Australia’s post-pandemic future.

The next Pandemic to Endemic panel discussion will be held in February 2022.


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