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Staying at home (1)

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The NZ Herald tells us about a survey of 2000 Wellingtonians that shows two thirds of them would like to spend more time working from home.

The reasons, summarised in Georgina Campbell’s report:

… working from home suited their lifestyle better, it cut out commuting times, improved their wellbeing and saved them money.

Which isn’t such a popular idea with the government. Grant Robertson has told staff he expects them to be back working from their Beehive office, and is urging others to do the same. The Prime Minister has a similar opinion:

There has been some good adaptation over the past couple of months with flexible working. This is progress and has helped people with care arrangements and has also helped to avoid traffic congestion – these things we should not lose. But we can balance that with ensuring we also have thriving CBDs. For our part we have asked the State Services Commission to issue new workplace guidance to make it clear that every public sector worker should return to their usual place of work, taking into account flexible work policies.

Perhaps unkindly, Gordon Campbell described her advice as a “soviet-era gem” :

Love that phrase ‘new workplace guidance.’ For the greater good of our thriving CBDs, the government is going to pressure the SSC to put pressure on workers to cease their selfish habit of making sandwiches at home and wolfing them down at the kitchen table. Their patriotic duty is to return to the office and buy lunch downtown.

Councillor Nicola Young agreed with the Prime Minister. Quoted by the Herald, she said:

The survey results showed the heart of the city was at risk. People needed to return to work to keep the CBD alive. “If we have empty office blocks, we’ll have businesses going bust, we’ll have property owners wanting to get rid of their buildings creating a fire sale, we’ll have tumbleweed in the streets. We need to get people back into the heart of the city.”

The Herald reports that the city council is moving slowly (its usual pace?) to get its staff back into their offices on The Terrace.

A council spokeswoman said due to the substantial amount of IT equipment provided to staff prior to and during lockdown, the council’s two office blocks were unable to accommodate all staff to return immediately. “We are aiming for Wednesday 17 June to have all equipment reinstated and floors ready for staff to start returning then, and aiming for Monday 22 June for business as usual if not before”, she said.

Watch out for council tumbleweeds on The Terrace for another week or two.

But all is not lost. Sky Stadium (the one that used to be Westpac Stadium) is about to take bookings for the reshaped Super Rugby season. Its first professional rugby match is scheduled for the 21st – that’s a day before the city council will have managed to return to business as usual.

11 comments:

  1. Andrew, 10. June 2020, 11:08

    I made sure I could stop going into the office as soon as employees became widgets on an accountant’s spread sheet which informed them that employers could save money by introducing hot desking. As far as I was concerned, my office experience was greatly impacted by not only having to drag myself there each day but also to unpack and pack my stuff into lockers at the beginning and end of each day – not to mention not having a rubbish bin or any other of the bits and pieces around which made me feel a bit more “at home.” So now I just stay home. The office experience now is usually so bad that any excuse not to go there is seized upon – this situation has exacerbated that I think for a whole lot more people.

     
  2. K, 10. June 2020, 11:42

    I’m sympathetic to the government’s messaging here – it would be catastrophic to many eateries and retail shops in the CBD if everyone who can do so remained working from home. In the short term it makes complete sense for government staff, with their 100% safe paychecks, to return to work and By doing so ensure a bounce back for CBD businesses who otherwise would have to lay-off thousands of retail, services & hospitality staff. Surely that is a well meaning effort that everyone can get behind. I think to suggest otherwise is self serving and mean spirited. That isn’t to say that government departments, SoEs and other corporates shouldn’t be making long term Plans to allow more working from home flexibility, but it would be best to make this a gradual transition to allow the CBD environment to adapt, such as slowly turning unoccupied office space into residential accommodation.

     
  3. Wellington Inc, 10. June 2020, 16:40

    Agree totally. It’s sad the way the council is contributing to the tumbleweeds. I note the art gallery is operating reduced hours, adding to the list of public building closures at Civic Square. (Is the upside down fingers sign meant to tell us something?) And now council staff staying at home!

     
  4. michael, 10. June 2020, 17:23

    City residents now make up Wellington’s biggest ‘suburb”. A ‘suburb’ that no longer has its town hall or its iconic library. But it does have burst pipes and a $200 million convention centre on the way. The council expects us to wait years and years to see our community facilities reopened, but many of us are not going to wait, and are looking to live and work in more attractive environments.

     
  5. Rob Suisted, 10. June 2020, 18:50

    Sudden trend for businesses to work from home seems naive. A short stint when everyone is doing it is not a good trial to base decisions on. Having done lots of both, I know it’s not for everyone, and winter is next. Make sure staff have options to return if needed, & good support. [via twitter]

     
  6. Edmund, 10. June 2020, 19:20

    Before lockdown, my job had become the central driver of my life. My job dictated what time I got up, what I wore, where I worked. It largely influenced what I would eat and when I could eat it. It forced me to spend nearly two hours travelling each day just so I could do a job in an office that I could equally do at home. The suburb where I live had become completely incidental to me and, in reality, I only ever saw it in the weekends.

    Since COVID-19 forced me to work from home, I find I am just as productive as I would be in the office. The biggest benefit is that I have a significant expansion to my free time. Also, I can go cycling in my community at lunchtime, and my disabled neighbours now know there is someone home if they need assistance. COVID-19 has really given society the nudge to start remote working in a big way. This surely must be a net positive benefit – lower emissions, better diets, stronger local communities, better quality of life.

    While I am genuinely saddened about the impact on those whose livelihoods depend on a crowded CBD, I do not believe it makes sense to continue to prop up something that is ultimately inefficient for society.

     
  7. TrevorH, 11. June 2020, 8:37

    The Council is a major contributor to the demise of the CBD and its businesses through its hostile attitude to parking. They’re dreaming if they expect people to return to the munted bus system whose vehicles become mobile petri-dishes during the flu season (face masks should be mandatory on public transport but that’s another matter). As for the decline of the CBD, people have made adjustments over lockdown to their lifestyles like greater online shopping and doing more business from home, and growing unemployment will also take its toll.

     
  8. Dan, 11. June 2020, 9:13

    It says a lot about human resources departments and policies around Wellington that two thirds of people would rather work from home. [via twitter]

     
  9. Chamfy, 11. June 2020, 9:14

    Also possibly says a lot about Wellington’s privilege that people have homes they can work from. There will be plenty of people around NZ who don’t have the right conditions for WFH, eg: increased heat/electricity bills from staying home, a spare room/office space to work in etc. [via twitter]

     
  10. michael, 11. June 2020, 9:55

    @ Chamfy: That is a good point. If people are going to continue to work from home in droves, are their employers going to be required to pay for power, internet, office equipment and space etc?

     
  11. Benny, 11. June 2020, 10:09

    Just received this from work: ” … our expectation is that by the end of June, we will all be back working in the office”. This is so disappointing.

    Working from home, where it’s possible, should be pushed hard. Doing so, office buildings could be converted to apartments, solving the housing crisis, and providing the CBD businesses with the traffic they need. Organisations across the board would save on rent and could reallocate the budget to other, more pressing, more beneficial projects. The climate crisis would be mitigated further by reducing the need to commute. The businesses in the burbs would welcome this with open arms too, as they’re struggling big time. And this is not even going in the wellbeing & productivity sphere! Small office pods could be deployed across the city fabric (and not just in the centre), for those who need it, or for meetings, making the city itself much more resilient. Finally, who needs a second tunnel (and the associated billions to be spent) when traffic is gone?

    There is nothing to lose, all to win, by promoting WFH and let this new economy settle in.