Opinion: Working from home: pandemic-fad or new normal?

Aaron Taylor, Wellington Regional Committee Member and Client Director Property for BNZ Corporate & Institutional Bank shares his view on working from home. 

As a stalwart of the corporate office, working from home (WFH) never gelled for me in the way I thought it might. Initially, of course, the lockdowns brought their own stresses – the stress of being ‘forced’ to work from home and battling for wifi bandwidth with the 4 or 5 others in my household or having endless discussion with clients about the potential economic impacts of the disruptions to name a few. But, as we got used to it, many of us wondered if there weren’t some benefits to WFH, and as such we collectively trickled back into the workplace. New questions and concerns arose of what the future might hold given the streets, roads and cities were ghost towns let alone impacts to the economy.

Some WFH aspects were appealing and while I was keen to get back to the workplace – I did suggest to my wife that maybe a day a week or fortnight might be good for me to WFH. However, since that comment, I have worked only 2 or maybe 3 days at home, either by requirement (the building we occupy had no hot water) or error such as leaving the laptop at home and deciding that one commute into the city and home was enough for one day. Sure, the home office is all set-up, the kitchen is closer than the staff room and the bathroom at home is sometimes 10 times cleaner than the one at work.

If the trend of WFH is not just a fad and is becoming a new norm – it raises a number of questions when it comes to the workplace, employment and teamwork, but also the nature of commercial property and the effect on local business operators in our cities.

It raises questions and challenges about how we onboard new employees and graduates who generally require office interaction to learn their roles, responsibilities and work culture. Informal ‘water cooler’ discussions don’t happen as easily when everyone is working remotely. And while Teams and other video conferencing has a role to play in assisting organisations with their sustainability goals, connecting on Teams is not the same as meeting in person; people are too conscious about technicalities (camera on/off, should I speak up… who’s on the call, etc.), and it can be harder to read nonverbal communication. The flip side of this is that many workers argue they are more productive at home due to the lack of distractions.

WFH changes the nature of the workplace on many levels. For example, when you own your own business, you claim a lot of business costs and pay FBT for the personal use of your work vehicle. If my home becomes my workplace, will my employer compensate me for my business-related space at home, using my water, my sewage pipes, my internet, and my power. Considering that hot desking and downsizing is already happening to cater for employees who WFH, will the reimbursements to employment for home offices increase?

The effect on the vibrancy of our cities, Wellington being the one I am most familiar with has been enormous. Many inner city retail and service businesses are struggling first because of the covid restrictions and lockdowns, followed by staff shortages when the eaves of covid did go through our population, but now also because of the reduction in patrons now choosing to WFH more regularly. There is always a counter though and of course, this means that some suburban businesses have thrived from the new WFH habits.

Given this type of flexibility that we all now have a taste of, will the 4-day working week ever gain traction in NZ? I wonder what corporates might now have to spend to encourage the worker back into the office – wellness and yoga rooms, gym access, games rooms, etc, maybe a sense of home away from home. Maybe that in itself could be a good thing.

For me I am all for flexibility in any working environment, however for businesses and commercial property to thrive they need people in them, working in them, operating them and keeping them feasible. For cities to thrive they need businesses and people in them. Maybe I’m just a creature of habit, I like the routine of going into the office, of work being for work, and home being home.

But I also see the work environment in the same way I see the team sport I play. Football and other sports are as much about being part of a social group in a team environment working together with mutual goals, as it is about goals and competition – much the same as the workplace, and not being there in person just isn’t the same.

While this flexibility is great, the WFH trend instigated by the pandemic, no longer seems to be a fad and is potentially becoming the new norm.

WFH may be appealing to the individual, but at what cost to the life and dynamics of our workplaces, businesses and cities?

Aaron Taylor 

Client Director Property, BNZ Corporate & Institutional Banking

Aaron has been involved with the Property Council Wellington Regional Executive Committee since 2019. Employed with the BNZ since July 1995, has been involved with the BNZ Property Specialist Finance Team since 2001. Born in Wellington is passionate about all thing’s property having been involved with property development & investment through his client interactions across the wider Wellington Region. On a personal level enjoys football, traveling and assisting his wider family interests in both residential and commercial property investment.

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