All the dinosaurs have been out over the last few days trying to bully public servants and other staff back to working in less than humane conditions in CBD offices because the retail sector is suffering. Never mind the facts, the Finance Minister and some local Councillors have all had a crack, their toothless roars echoing through empty city concrete canyons.
The workers, finally, have seen what is on the other side of that particular hell called hot-desking thanks to Covid and are in absolutely no hurry to head back to their battery farm desks rubbing elbows with cellmates. A noisy purgatory stuffed full of bodies trying to weave their way around pillars desperately trying to find a quiet spot to concentrate and get work done.
It is no wonder that New Zealand’s productivity is so horrific and the attitude of our so-called leaders to drive the sheep back into their pens is disingenuous. It is up there with the banal politicking of sacrificing contract staff for point scoring and encouraging the entire country to “Love Local” when tenders for large pieces of technology and construction work are still be given to international companies.
Why the panic on the part of the politicians? It is a general election year, and the Wellington CBD is dead. Not only is it gone, the infrastructure is in a ruinous state, and the Council seems able to underwrite the greatest polluter in the city to the tune of more than twenty-five million dollars but can’t invest in simple cycleways. Things are not looking at all well managed.
Working from home is misrepresented by the power freaks, dinosaurs, and task managers. The politicians are often in the thrall of such progressive institutes as the Chamber of Commerce and Hospitality Industry, not to mention the property developers. All three can see their fortunes wavering.
And it is not like they did not see it coming. The advice was given, formally, and informally, during Lockdown on the ramifications for the CBD once the level was reduced. That advice was ignored time and again and months were lost that could have been used for strategic planning, thinking of a new way of seeing the city, being innovative, and listening to the community.
Here are the facts about working from home. We now know that large corporations are planning to downsize their rental footprint, in some cases by 100% if not at least 60%, in what was already a hyper-expensive market.
The results of a significant work from home experiment were published by the Oxford University Press and subsequently The Quarterly Journal of Economics in 2014 that examined exactly what the effects of having staff work from their homes was.
The results of that were astounding, and, given that our technology today is significantly more robust and advanced than five years ago, it could be postulated in today’s world we would see even more significant benefits.
Here is what the experiment found:
- Performance of home workers increased by 13%.
- Attrition fell by 50%.
- Productivity increased between 20% and 30%.
- The company reduced rental costs by $2000 per annum per employee.
- Sick leave dropped.
- Mental & Physical health increased.
- Costs to employees dropped.
Who would have thought?
Who would have thought that having the flexibility to work when required, concentrate when needed, not be jammed into poor office space, pay exorbitant transport costs, contribute to the environment by not travelling as much, get back hours of your day from commuting, spend more time with your family, save money on expensive lunch options, have time to think and create wouldn’t pay dividends?
Who could have possibly guessed that following lockdown, which put people into a mandatory work from home situation, that many of us were never going back to the old normal?
Everyone except the dinosaurs and political “leaders” who have lost their ability to innovate, to strategise, to see past the 1984 command and control factory floor mentality of yesteryear.
Of course, not everyone wants to WFH. Social isolation is an issue; however, 60% of people are interested in working from home the majority of the time. Plan for a CBD with 50% fewer office workers and you are heading in the right direction.
Go back to your office’s peasants, go back to your old life, go back to ninety minutes a day on a crowded bus, if it turns up, or train. Go back to $8 a sandwich, traffic jams, car crashes, poor weather, diesel pollution. Make sure you buy a t-shirt from a retailer once per week and spend every dollar you have to help the economy. Do your bit. Sacrifice yourself.
Can you see how utterly idiotic that sounds?
By the way, leaders, it is going to get worse. Because people have got a taste from working from home and kind, talented, innovative companies are letting them be flexible. Increasingly, there is evidence that many people are not only going to avoid the CBD; they are getting ready to leave the city.
Because living on the coast, living in the country, living in a small community is immensely attractive, and key indicators show a lot of people are getting ready to go. If you want a glaring sign, look at the latest house price increases between Wellington and her regional areas. Wellington is flatlining, Kapiti, the Hutt, Porirua, and the Wairarapa are booming. Interestingly, in those same regional areas, retail is booming.
Companies that provide for flexible working over those that do not will become increasingly attractive to workers. There is already anecdotal evidence that people are looking to move to those arrangements. Research has been unequivocal for the last ten years; flexibility is the highest priority when people are looking for work.
This means the CBD must adapt or it will die.
Right now, our leaders need to face facts and understand their current strategy of bullying people back into the city or relying on events, will not work. Then, they can start to think about what will.