Lessons from Optus: Disconnect Dilemma

Yesterday, 10 million fellow Australians and I woke up to an unsettling reality. Optus, our nation’s second-largest telecommunications provider, suffered a major national outage. This disruption affected trains in Victoria, strained hospitals, interrupted thousands of businesses, and left consumers like me in the lurch.

With a busy schedule ahead, I swiftly sent emails to reassure everyone that I was still committed to our appointments. But there was a catch – if I happened to be late for any reason, I couldn’t communicate. The world had seemingly gone silent.

At first, the break from incessant phone calls felt almost serene. I found solace in listening to the radio, a rare moment of calm. However, as time went on, the yearning to reconnect with the world grew stronger. Frustration set in as my podcasts refused to play, online news failed to refresh, and my Whatsapp groups remained eerily quiet (no… not the 300 Whatsapp groups wahhhh).

Today, investigations are underway to determine the causes of the outage and to glean lessons on how to handle such situations better. No doubt, there will be discussions about how the outage affected the 4,000+ businesses involved and how they might be compensated. I sympathise with my fellow communication professionals at the major telco who must be working tirelessly to support both their teams and customers.

While pondering my own inconvenience, I couldn’t help but reflect on how much more profound this outage was in our present online age compared to a decade ago. It reminded me of the Disconnect Dilemma I often discuss.

The Disconnect Dilemma at Work

You might be wondering, what is the Disconnect Dilemma?

It’s the connection conundrum we face today: that we’re better connected than ever, yet we’re at a greater risk of disconnection than before.

Why is this happening?

Firstly, we’ve shifted our workplace rhythms from the physical office to the digital platform. Technology has moved the center of gravity from the workplace to the technology and communication platforms that shape how we work. This monumental shift has transformed our work lives, comparable to the industrial revolution.

Secondly, we’ve increased our communication channels without a proportional increase in team coordination and cohesion. The past few years have seen a 30% surge in communication channels. For geographically dispersed teams working predominantly online, this expansion has led to miscommunication, a sense of isolation, and misaligned relationship rhythms.

Lastly, we’ve moved into a world where virtual presence sometimes amplifies the feeling of physical absence. As teams adapt to new modes of interaction, many are missing the spark of connection that used to come from incidental interactions and in-person collaboration. In some cases, there’s a lack of bonding, relationships, chemistry, or connection to the business’s culture. And oh boy, didn’t we miss that yesterday in the radio silence.

I delve into these challenges in detail in my Leading in Hybrid report, which you can find here if you’d like to explore further.

So, how do we Rehumanise Connection?

How do we refresh and rebuild relationships and human connection in our online world?

Rebuilding connection in our workplaces involves addressing a couple of key aspects:

  1. Rhythms of Relationship: We must reassess the structures supporting our connection, what I like to call the “rhythms of relationships.” It’s essential to align the place and practice of our connections effectively, and not assume the old way works, it doesn’t! The world has changed.
  2. Chemistry of Connection: We also need to examine the chemistry of our connections. How can we engage and motivate our teams in new and meaningful ways? What interpersonal communication and connection adjustments are needed?

The recent Optus outage serves as a potent reminder of the critical role of connection in our lives and workplaces.

While technology empowers us, it’s vital not to lose sight of the fundamental human bonds that underpin our interactions and collaborations. In this ever-evolving digital landscape, the challenge is to strike the right balance between the virtual and the human, and that’s where rehumanising connection becomes paramount.


Kirryn Zerna is passionate about rehumanising connection in the digital age to cultivate high performance, revitalise culture and help put people’s passion into action. She would love to help you imagine and create a remarkable and unforgettable experience for your business or leadership event.