Which working style works best?

Amy Hamilton Chadwick
Which working style works best?

Missing your old corner office or loving your hot desk? The Kiwi workplace has undergone a revolution over the past 50 years, from the old “male, pale and stale” environment to a more diverse, flexible and technology-led space.

So which workplace style is the most effective in New Zealand?


Traditional enclosed office – doesn’t suit the Kiwi culture

Old style enclosed offices are big on privacy, but don’t suit the majority of Kiwi businesses, says Chris Till, Chief Executive of the Human Resources Institute of New Zealand.

New Zealand culture scores very low on the ‘power distance dimension’ – we like our managers to be accessible and to share information with us.

“Locked away in a closed office, the boss can very quickly can start to feel like Darth Vader,” jokes Till. “When Rob Fyfe started at Air New Zealand, he immediately had all the doors taken off the offices. It was really unpopular with some people, but it sent a signal that there was a new, more progressive way of working.”

Works well for: Some traditional companies where privacy is a major concern, such as small law firms, may still prefer enclosed offices.

SEE ALSO: 6 reasons why you should get out of the office


Open plan offices – effective, if they’re well designed

Most New Zealand businesses have switched to an open plan set-up, creating cost-effective workspaces that encourage team interaction.

But this can still have its downsides – inconsiderate colleagues can make this layout stressful – and Till says it’s important that the spaces are well designed, with private areas available when required.

“In an open plan office you have to make sure you’ve thought about noise level, personal space, and different ways of working. Where are you going to eat? Are you going to take that curry and eat it at your desk? What if you need to make personal phone calls? It’s about respecting the people around you,” says Till.

If the chief executive does need to have an enclosed office, glass walls are best, “because they send signals of honesty and transparency.”

Works well for: Typical Kiwi offices.

Pull out quote Chris Till

Hot desking – better for employers than employees

Employers have been quick to embrace hot desking, with its informal ‘grab-a-desk’ philosophy and potential for massive cost savings.

While it may suit nomadic types, employees seem to hate hot desking. It can feel as though you’re back at school, unpacking and repacking your belongings every time you arrive at a desk. The rapid spread of germs across shared spaces is another concern.

Till has seen local offices where hot desking is effective (with even the CEO joining in), particularly when people are more out of the office than in – for building surveyors and mobile mortgage brokers, for example.

But it’s vital to get the team together regularly to keep the ‘tribe’ on track, he says: “The more we’re apart, the more we fall apart.”

Works well for: Teams where members are in the office for short, irregular periods during the day.


Telecommuting – the way of the future?

Get back into the office: that’s what Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer famously told her employees when she ended the tech giant’s flexible work-from-home policy.

She told reporters that she believes “people are more productive when they’re alone,” but that “they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together. Some of the best ideas come from pulling two different ideas together.”

Mayer has pinpointed some the major pros and cons of telecommuting, but she’s also left out one of the biggest issues. Telecommuting makes employers nervous because they don’t know what you’re doing – and some people find it impossible to be motivated when they work from home, alone.

However, many experts say the combination of lower costs, higher productivity, and happier employees means telecommuting is the future of work.

“Depending on the work, your personality, and your circumstances, working from home can be really good or really bad,” says Till. “Fundamentally I don’t agree with Marissa Mayer. There are times when we can work from home to get that individual piece of work done; likewise, many activities need to be done collaboratively.”

Works well if: You’re self-motivated, you can work without any social interaction, and your job lends itself to this type of work.


A working style to suit your personality

Fresh ways of organising and accessing office spaces are being designed all the time, from living room style offices to Mummydesking to the on-demand workspace and even pop-up treehouse offices.

If your current workspace is driving you mad, talk to your manager about changing the way you work. If you want some flexibility in your hours, access to private spaces or an ability to telecommute, you may be able to negotiate.

Be ready with a strong argument and show that you can still be accountable – think about how you will report if your manager will be seeing less of you and show how you can be more productive.

Usually, says Till, there will be some give and take, provided you can still slot into the company culture overall.


The pros and cons of each working style

Traditional enclosed office



High degree of privacy

Cut off from socialising and group discussions

Your own personal space

Discourages egalitarianism

Quiet, with few distractions

Can create culture of secrecy and closed doors

Easy to concentrate

Expensive for the business

May lend feeling of higher status

Closed rooms can be dark and gloomy


Open plan office




High noise levels

Ease of communication

Lack of privacy

Cost-effective for the business

Small amount of personal space

Encourages teamwork

Lots of distractions can make it hard to focus

Can create a light and airy workspace



Hot desking



Highly flexible system

Lots of distractions can make it hard to focus

Increased interaction as you sit next to a range of different people

Lack of privacy

No clutter from personal items

No personal space

Cost-effective for the business


Potentially for illnesses to spread quickly via shared surfaces

High noise levels





Flexible working hours

Unlimited number of potential distractions from turning on the TV to going on holiday

Potential for high productivity

Potential for low productivity

When you’re unwell, you’re not spreading your illness to others

Sense of isolation


Cheap for your employer as you foot the cost of power and heat

Lack of accountability to your employer


You save money on travel costs

Creativity may suffer due to loss of input from others

Comfortable home conditions

Lack of socialisation and group discussions

Can work while in another location

Confidentiality concerns if private information is allowed offsite

Improves work-life balance

Communication with colleagues may suffer

Potentially higher employee retention and ease of recruitment


 SEE ALSO: 6 reasons why you should get out of the office


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