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A home run for human resources

How Human Resources helped the ATO stand and deliver

Like all of us across the APS, when COVID-19 struck, the ATO and its 18,000-strong workforce were faced with the challenge of how to continue delivering crucial support to Australians while managing the impact on their own operations.  They knew it would require not just a phenomenal effort but a pivoting of their workforce, resources and priorities, which meant that their HR team had to play a starring role.

The first challenge that emerged was managing the transition of a huge workforce to working from home arrangements. While IT delivered the technical solution, it was HR who had to consider the implications on areas such as policy, working arrangements, and occupational health and safety.

“Those first few weeks we were really working round the clock,” said ATO HR professional Gavin Wright. “It wasn’t something we would ever have predicted, but it was awesome to see so many different teams jumping on board and being solution focused to make it all happen.”

Their hard work has paid off, with over 10,000 staff now working from home. For ATO officer Nicki Gregg, having access to those arrangements so quickly had a big impact: “There was a lot of uncertainty in those first few weeks, but knowing the ATO had a plan in place and was prioritising our wellbeing made a big difference to me and my team.”

The second challenge lay in making sure the right workforce arrangements and resources were in place to support priority areas. For example the delivery of some important government support measures (and the associated surge in web and phone traffic) meant that it was all hands on deck to meet the increased demand.

To manage this and get Australians the support they needed, ATO HR facilitated the transition of 3,800 existing staff into roles supporting the new measures – all in just a matter of weeks. 2,000 more were sent to priority roles on the frontline, along with approximately 1,600 casuals whose commencement at the ATO was fast-tracked by the HR team. 

For Nicki, whose role in the ATO’s website management team saw her working tirelessly to keep the public informed as new measures like JobKeeper emerged, changing priorities so quickly was hard but rewarding. “It was a challenge unlike anything I’ve experienced in my career,” Nicki said. “But everyone pitched in to help each other, and we knew we were playing an important role in getting this support to those who needed it.”

It was an impressive effort, but it wasn’t just due to a few month’s work. As Gavin pointed out: “We couldn’t have gotten the job done without the willingness of our staff. And that’s thanks to an ATO culture of commitment and client service that we’ve worked really hard to build.”

It’s a culture that the ATO has built deliberately over time, making sure that putting the client first is central to the way the organisation and our people approach their work. That culture has shone through over the past few months as staff have gone above and beyond – working through nights and weekends – while facing their own personal challenges, to deliver that crucial support to Australians.

Another key factor that has helped the ATO deliver during the crisis, was remembering that their work is only a part of the broader APS effort. While we all play different roles, we all have the same end goal, and by keeping that in mind we can better deliver for Australia.

At the ATO, with its membership on key working groups and committees, such as the APS HR Professional Stream and the Chief Operating Officer (COO) Committee (responsible for overseeing the COVID-19 response across the APS) they have been able to keep that firmly in focus, even helping to launch a Hotline that can be shared and accessed by HR and SES staff from all agencies needing HR advice during this unprecedented time.

“What’s really important – especially in times like these – is that we focus on that common purpose we all share: serving Australians,” said Jacqui Curtis, ATO COO and head of profession for the APS HR Professional Stream. “We achieve that better by working collaboratively as one united APS.” The role ATO HR has played in these cross-government initiatives and the work they’ve done to help the ATO deliver for their clients is just another great example of public servants pulling together to support Australia through this crisis. As Georgia Caesar, one of the ATO staff redeployed to the phones in recent months told us, “we’re all here for the same reason: to help Australians. By working together, we can make that happen.”