Lincoln Tan

Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Super City clears the desks

Deskless working is used at Google where employees can work anywhere in the office on their laptop computers. Photo / Bloomberg
Deskless working is used at Google where employees can work anywhere in the office on their laptop computers. Photo / Bloomberg

Auckland Council workers may be losing their desks when the council shifts into its new Albert St headquarters next year.

A new workplace strategy is being tried out by the council that involves staff not having allocated desks but personal lockers instead.

The move will see the council become the first local government agency to move towards teleworking, also known as "anywhere-working".

Companies including ASB Bank, Vodafone and Cisco are working that way.

"It is a long-term workplace strategy that will be rolled out throughout the council over time," said a spokesman.

"Its implementation will start with those moving into the 135 [Albert St] building from early next year."

Since July, groups of 20 workers from different departments have been placed at the council's Experience Centre for four weeks at a time.

With a staff hub, quiet rooms, meeting rooms, utility areas and work points, the fitout at the centre reflects what the future council work space could look like.

The council says the new strategy and move to Albert St will result in savings of $2.7 million a year over the next 10 years.

"That's because our CBD staff are scattered through seven central city buildings, some of which are leased," the spokesman said.

"Staff productivity and effectiveness is also hurt when teams and groups are separated."

The spokesman says the change will have no negative effect on ratepayers. Sharon Coombes, communications and engagement manager, who has been overseeing the centre, said the trial is a way to identify pros and cons, and also create advocates.

Ms Coombes said new technology such as wireless networking and video conferencing have changed the way people can do business and the new council workplace will have increased flexibility, mobility and connectivity.

"A big challenge is changing the mindset that we need our own desk, or need to be physically where the paper or equipment are located," she said.

Council general ledger adviser Steven Wang has a framed picture of his 6-month-old daughter and said not having a desk to place it on would take "some getting used to".

"Council rules do not allow us to download personal pictures on our computers, so I still would like to have somewhere to place a picture of my girl to feel close to her," Mr Wang said.

New Zealand Work Research Institute director Tim Bentley said digital connectivity was changing workplaces and the way people work.

"There is growing evidence of benefits from anywhere-working for individuals, organisations, society, the economy and the environment," said Professor Bentley.

"Forward-looking organisations are seeking to gain competitive advantage through implementing anywhere-working arrangements."

Professor Bentley said despite having the technology, anywhere-working hadn't become "business as usual" here because many New Zealand employers were still uncomfortable with having employees working remotely.

"This is an issue of trust that must be overcome if potential productivity gains and other benefits of anywhere-working are to be realised," he said.

A survey of 1800 employees and 100 managers from 50 businesses across New Zealand and Australia released last month found teleworkers to be more productive than their office-bound counterparts.

- NZ Herald

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