Tech giants like Twitter are now allowing some of their employees to work remotely permanently and here in New Zealand it seems the future of office life will also change forever.
Brendan Roberts, co-founder Kiwi digital assistant start-up Aider, said the company already had a flexible working scheme in place before Covid-19 hit, but their office hours and footprint would now reduce further.
“It'll be a lot more working from home, but we have always been output focused rather than the type of business that counts office hours,” Roberts says.
“We will likely use the office as a hub for face to face meetings, which means we can rent a smaller office space.
“That office won’t be big enough for everyone to be there at the same time, so we’ll book larger meeting rooms if we need space for everyone for certain events or meetings.
“We’re also moving to an ‘online first’ approach where online meetings are the default and the office is the exception, rather than the rule, for meetings and conversations,” he said.
Aider staff work out of a co-working space in Auckland’s B:HIVE at Smales Farm.
Other co-working spaces are also seeing a shift in demand post lockdown, but it’s not necessarily the end of an era.
Founder of Sharedspace, Matt Knight, said he disagreed with theories that this would be the death of the office in New Zealand.
“Maybe in a city that was hard-hit by Covid-19, like New York, there could be a shift away from offices, but in NZ we haven’t been hit hard.
“We’ve been lucky here and a lot of people want to get back into the office for that face to face contact,” he said.
“However, I do think there will be a massive decentralisation of larger organisations in terms of the office space they occupy.”
Sharedspace is a platform that connects businesses to shared and short-term commercial space across New Zealand and has seen demand increase for flexible shared office space.
“We’ve seen demand for wanting to rent office space on a monthly basis with access to meeting rooms they can use flexibly.
“So, they might work from home some days and other days have meetings or work with co-workers in the rented office,” Knight says.
“Based on our enquiries during lockdown, businesses have said they want access to flexible workspace for around half their team in case their staff want to use it.
Knight set up Sharedspace almost 10 years ago off the back of the global financial crisis when redundancies led to businesses cutting back on long-term commercial leases.
“I saw a gap in the market then for small businesses wanting to rent short term co-working office spaces and we grew from there,” he said.
Larger corporates have increased their technology capabilities for remote working during lockdown, but the traditional office building is still vital for many roles.
Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ) say that although accountants were working from home during lockdown, physical offices will remain.
“Like all businesses throughout the country, Covid-19 has shaken up how accounting firms interact with their clients,” General Manager of NZ Regions at CA ANZ, Joe Consedine, says.
“During lockdown levels 3 and 4, every accountant was working from home – for some very small Chartered Accounting firms that represented no change because that is where their offices were anyway.
“Larger CA firms with physical offices handled the shift to remote working very well, some taking the opportunity to speed up dream projects such as going paperless and introducing greater workplace flexibility.
“Looking ahead, these firms will want to keep their offices in cities, towns and suburbs. Accounting is a trust-based business and face-to-face interactions are the best way to build and retain trust.
“At the same time, I think we will see many firms encouraging their staff to continue to avail themselves of the benefits of working from home,” Consedine said.
Westpac also significantly increased their remote network capability during lockdown, which will continue to allow flexible work options for the future for some roles.
“Equipment and access to our network remotely has significantly increased, and this appears consistent with other large businesses,” Westpac’s Head of Property Services, Rachel Winder said.
“The great thing is that Westpac can operate this way (remotely) and is flexible to both allow it and facilitate it.
“Nearly every decade there has been a significant market correction dating back to the ‘Oil Shock’ of the ‘70s, the stock market crash in the ‘80s, The ‘Dot Bomb’ in the ‘90s and the ‘GFC’ in 2008.
“Every shock changes the economy, rules of engagement and ways of working.
“No doubt post Covid-19 we will emerge with a more sanitary workspace where social distancing, hand sanitizer and hand washing will be more common but also flexible working.
“Many businesses are still in the ‘what does this all mean’ phase, however, I think once we pass through the lockdown phase, new ways of working will settle in and normalise.
“Our workforce has experienced the flexibility of working from home on mass,” Winder says.
A recent Gallup research article* revealed that 51% of U.S. workers would leave their current job for one that allowed them to work remotely.
Winder believes this could be a way to attract and retain talent.
“We may see a blend where flexible working times are the norm and 8.30am to 5pm Monday to Friday pattern is not expected, which further embeds alignment with customer preferences.
“Accordingly, businesses will likely need to evolve their productivity measures that focus on output rather than hours at the desk,” she says.