Manawatu Standard

Pandemic changes playing field

- Paul Mitchell

The pandemic has permanentl­y changed the playing field for workers and their lunch habits, as many Manawatu¯ businesses embrace and retain the workfrom-home options that got them through lockdown.

A recent survey of Manawatu¯ businesses a year after lockdown, as part of 2degrees’ latest Shaping Business Study, found 77 per cent had staff who worked from home full or part-time.

It was a massive change from the pre-covid days, when 55 per cent of the businesses didn’t offer the option at all, which confirmed the early signs of a permanent shift the Central Economic Developmen­t Agency noticed last June.

Agency spokeswoma­n Janet Reynolds said many organisati­ons, including her own, learned during alert levels 4 and 3 that accommodat­ing working from home actually increased productivi­ty and staff morale – as well as made more people available for full-time hours.

Nina Mercer, who works at the agency, said the new flexibilit­y allowed her to work full-time for the first time since her oldest son was born 15 years ago.

‘‘I feel like I’ve got more career prospects, working full-time ... which I wouldn’t have had access to for a few more years without [this change].’’

Her three kids were growing older and more independen­t, but being able to be there at 3pm after school was invaluable

‘‘For a bit I become a taxi service for roller skating and jiu jitsu practice ... But then they pretty much ignore me and I can get stuck back into work.’’

FMG Insurance people and culture general manager Peter Frizzell said while working from home wasn’t a one-size fits all solution, since some jobs required face-to-face interactio­ns, the company greatly expanded its existing work-from-home policy during the pandemic.

A technology upgrade was brought forward so staff could work from home and keep clients informatio­n secure.

Frizzell said having a wholly home-based workforce went so smoothly, it remained an option for anyone who could do their job from home.

FMG establishe­d a comprehens­ive checklist and virtual workplace assessment, based on lessons learned in lockdown, to ensure staff who regularly worked from home had a comfortabl­e set-up that didn’t increase the risk of issues such as repetitive strain injuries longterm.

Frizzell said a recent employee survey showed staff were happy with the new normal, and keen to explore other options on top of the choice to work from home.

Verdict Cafe owner Carole Hawley said many of her customers were workers from nearby offices, and the rise in those working from home had taken a noticeable bite out of the lunch crowd. ‘‘They all do it now, and it’s made a big difference to the amount of people around at lunchtime in the CBD.’’

Cafe Express manager Suzie Richards said the dip in the workday crowdsmean­t the cafe wasn’t quite as pumping as it used to be. ‘‘It sucks... but we’re not struggling. We’re still getting the trusty morning teaers (sic), even if the lunch crowd has vanished a bit.’’

‘‘I feel like I’ve got more career prospects, working full-time ... which I wouldn’t have had access to for a few more years without [this change].’’

Nina Mercer

 ?? WARWICK SMITH/STUFF ?? Working from home has let Nina Mercer return to full-time work. She is pictured in her work space with 13-year-old son, Maclean, and the two family dogs, Emmy, left, and Jed.
WARWICK SMITH/STUFF Working from home has let Nina Mercer return to full-time work. She is pictured in her work space with 13-year-old son, Maclean, and the two family dogs, Emmy, left, and Jed.

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