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Moving? How about staying put?

by Kathleen Wright
Forget about Getting Wellington Moving. We should think more about how workers can stay put and build more resilient and sustainable communities in the places where they live.

As Wellington’s population is growing, transport systems are becoming strained, and the cost of living is rising, it’s time to think differently about how we keep our much touted “Best Little Capital in the World” title. The future (and the present) of work needs to be thrown into the mix.

Workplaces are changing

“Telecommuting” (which ten years ago was the buzz word and fell flat on its face) is taking off again, mostly unsupported, all around our region. It is now called “remote working” or “working from home” and an increasing number of Wellingtonians are doing it either all week or for part of each week.

Online working, fibre internet and video conferencing that actually functions properly means we can work anywhere and at anytime.

Large organisations and government departments (not necessarily publicly) are recognising that working from home is a great cost saver in the age of soaring rents in the CBD, made worse by lack of supply following the recent earthquakes. Introducing remote working can also help them to meet their flexible working agendas by allowing people to work from home.

International corporates, most recently Shopify, are now operating in Wellington. They base their business model on remote working. This means employing people who arrange their own place to work.

Add the hundreds of Wellingtonians starting businesses, mostly from home, every year, and you have a growing cohort of mostly invisible workers hidden away in their homes.

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Photo from Unsplash

Social change in the way we work has given birth to a new player in the workplace market. The co-working space. A shared space (usually quite stylee) which provides everything you need to get your work done. In some places this includes a social life and networking. All you need to do is rock up with your laptop and phone. Voila – instant office and workmates. How easy is that! People who co-work are usually individuals or small teams. What started with just one major player in the Wellington CBD 5 years ago with Bizdojo (the grandaddies of the co-working movement) has now gone ballistic.

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Roland from flickr

Co-working spaces are popular because they are easy, but most importantly because people are beginning to recognise that working alone can have a detrimental effect on their mental health as well as the growth of their businesses.

What has that go to do with Welly staying put? Bear with me.

Co-working costs money. Membership is usually at least $500/month plus the cost of transport. For a lot of workers this makes it financially out of reach. Add the need to stay local because of family commitments it’s just not a happening thing.

Our suburbs are increasingly disconnected. In the morning they are briefly a hive of activity. People jump into their cars or buses (and on to the odd bike) and rush into work, dropping their kids off to childcare or school along the way.

For the increasing number of people “left behind,” the suburbs become a seriously lonely place during the day. And finding somewhere to work at home can be a real barrier to being engaged in remote economic activity – not to mention the lack of professional and personal development that results in working alone. It’s not just older people who suffer from social isolation.

A new type of community centre?

In Wellington we talk a lot about the need to build resilient communities in our suburbs. We talk about great places to live and play but ignore that these places are where people also try and work. Throwing economic activity in the “community” or “social” basket is a no-no. It’s time for a change.

With central government’s new enlightened focus on wellbeing, we need a partnership between the Council and suburban communities to provide for local economic development in an innovative and inclusive way.

The existing community centre model should be opened up and a new “village square” in the form of a community-run co-working space or “business community centres” considered.

Let’s think about how we can stay put, at least for some of the week, and work alongside each other in our own communities. Imagine what connections and changes we could make together. And there might be savings to infrastructure along the way as well.

Side note: I started SubUrban Co-Working, a not-for-profit social enterprise, four years ago. The mission was developing a local workplace and catalyst for collaboration for business people, and a kickstarter for enterprise projects that benefited the wider community. The space was closed at the end of January this year. But that’s another story.

This article by Kathleen Wright was first published by Talk Wellington.

2 comments:

  1. David Mackenzie, 11. March 2019, 9:02

    Although all my work is done on-line, I would be at a loss without my colleagues and associated teams around me. Human company, not just any human contact, but with the right people, those who know me, the work and the issues, is essential.

     
  2. Tony Jansen, 11. March 2019, 9:34

    Great Idea. I work in total isolation and it has had a serious effect on my mental health as well as my ability to actually have a decent conversation with people. The isolation is awful. The problem with many workplaces is that management don’t trust workers to actually work if they are not visible in the office and seen to be working.
    Anything that fosters community development and co-operation has to be a good thing.