Our telecommunications companies were among the first to trial working from home as Covid loomed. Vodafone NZ ran a massive drill involving some 1200 staff before level 4 was in our vocabulary, while a Vocus pilot saw service desk staff working remotely, for example.
And they're now also taking the lead as corporate New Zealand adopts new ways of working post-lockdown.
2degrees: three days at home, two in the office
"For now, we're asking people to come in to the office two days a week at a minimum to connect and work together," a 2degrees spokeswoman says.
"Over the next few weeks, all our teams will be guided through a workshop so they can agree how they think they want to work, and trial it for a month.
"It's going to be different for all teams.
"Some are choosing to go to back full time in the office. Others are trialling the two days a week in the office, and three from home."
"It's very progressive. I love the fact they're being bold. Some organisations have said they're working from home for one or two days a week and I've yawned. Wow, what a bold call," says AUT Human Resource Management Professor Jarrod Haar.
2degrees is not offering its staff any allowance for working from home. Like its peers, it's still weighing things up on that front.
Is there an element of corporate New Zealand trying to outsource its office expenses with its working-from-home push?
"I don't think there's any sinister plot. Most companies still have the same lease costs and the same power bills," Haar says.
He sees allowances, and staff payments for upgrades like bigger monitors at home, as possible once businesses had managed to renegotiate leases and bank some of the benefits of having less staff in the office at any given time during the week.
Vocus: redesigning the office
Haar says the office of the near future could well look different. He say forget hot-desking. The next phase will be "hot officing" or spaces being converted into meeting areas.
Vocus - which includes Orcon and Slingshot in its stable - is already leaning in that direction.
The ASX-listed telco already has the results in from its staff survey.
Some 90 per cent of its 600 local staff did not want to return to the office full time.
Of the rest, 46 per cent said they would like to work solely from home and 49 per cent said they would prefer a home/office combo.
Of those who wanted a hybrid setup, 20 per cent wanted to spend just one day a week in the office, 46 per cent wanted two days, 28 per cent three days and 6 per cent four days.
"Currently we are offering a range of working options based on the needs of our staff which includes full time in the office, full time at home and hybrid. At the moment it's very flexible and it is working well, but we will be making improvements based on enhancing team collaboration when in the office along with ensuring we maintain our strong team culture,' says director Mark Callander.
"The next step for us is to redesign the office space and we have currently have specialists helping us design collaboration and creativity spaces.
"Following this, we will make further changes to our ways of working, communicating and engaging. We plan to have this complete by the end of August, getting it right is more important than doing it quickly at this stage and we are bringing our staff on the journey with us."
Vodafone: 20-40 per cent of time working from home
Vodafone NZ chief people officer Jodie King says her company has had a longstanding flexi-hours policy, but it's set to expand post-Covid.
"In early June, we surveyed all staff to ask for their views on remote working, with the vast majority saying they want to continue some degree of remote working in future. We expect staff will spend around 20-40 per cent of their time working from home," she says.
Right now, "We're increasingly seeing more staff coming into the office," King says.
"Under level two we had around 65 per cent of staff still working from home on any given day, and at the start of level 1 we were averaging at least 50 per cent of staff in one of our offices around Aotearoa at any one day.
"Yesterday, as an example [Tuesday, June 30], 62 per cent of staff were working from one of our offices versus 38 per cent working from home.
Teams settling on the same office days
Some Vodafone teams have decided to schedule the same days in the office, King says.
"For example, our Current Customers team in the Consumer division, have all agreed to spend Monday, Tuesday and Friday in the office, and Wednesday and Thursday working from home, so they can optimise office time for meetings and working from home for productive time - as well as childcare and other arrangements.
But other Vodafone NZ teams, such as External Affairs, which mainly works cross-functionally, have a more fluid schedule based on meetings planned for the week, King says.
"We're currently leaving it up to individual teams and managers to decide which approach works best for them, but will continue to assess this going forward."
AUT's Haar says it makes sense for Vodafone staff to coordinate on the same in the office when it suits their team. It eliminates a potential pain point. Another is that remote-working can best-suit senior or veteran staff. For newcomers, it provides a lot of potential for confusion. The answer there, he suggests is for newbies to work full-time in the office for several months, old-school style before they build the confidence and skills to work remotely.
Like its direct rivals and most of corporate New Zealand, Vodafone has been reviewing costs. The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of new technologies - some of which means fewer bodies onboard as companies adjust to new ways of working.
"Our focus is still on delivering awesome digital services for New Zealand consumers and businesses, but Covid-19 has accelerated our digital-first strategy. This means we will likely become a leaner organisation over time, with a digital focus and skilled experts who can help our customers thrive in a technology-focused future," King says.
Vodafone NZ's phone application for employees, Vlife, was used as a "wellness check" for employees to provide daily feedback while working remotely throughout levels 4 and 3, and expanded to include contact-tracing capabilities under level 2 - with check-ins not just to a building, but to a desk or a meeting, including a casual one-on-one that lasted 15 minutes or more.
"Our wellbeing check is now a part of every Vodafoner's day, allowing them to flag where they are working from, book a carpark and a desk if in the office, and putting them in touch with their people leader should they have any concerns with their health," King says.
"This technology will enable greater visibility of our workforce whilst allowing our people to continue to enjoy the flexibility they need for a healthy work-life balance. We've even had requests from customers so are looking to shortly offer the app as a white-label solution for other Kiwi businesses."
Chorus: third working remotely
Chorus currently has a third of its corporate staff working remotely, with ad-hoc arrangements.
Now it's looking to refine and formalise arrangements.
"An internal team is working on what flexible working at Chorus will look like in the future," a spokesman says.
"This week everyone in Chorus was asked to complete a survey on what they think about the pros and cons of remote working and what a future policy for Chorus might look like."
The wholesale network operator is still assessing what financial assistance it might give employees who decide to work from home part of the time on an ongoing basis.
But it already fully funds a broadband connection, with staff getting their choice of retailer.
Spark: No going back
Spark is still in the process of finalising its new normal, but does already have a broad philosophy that it wants to follow.
"For Spark, we believe there is a continuum, or balance," a spokeswoman says.
"We now need to find a balance between how we worked and connected before Covid-19, how we worked and connected during Covid-19, and what we will do in the future.
"We don't want to go back to where we were before, but we also know that human connection in a physical sense is important, particularly for our wellbeing and mental health.
"We also have many different types of working environments and teams in our business, so we need to ensure we can cater to different situations."
It's the people, stupid
Haar gives all the telcos points for progressive attitudes to remote and flexible working.
But he also notes the various video chat and collaborative apps they're using are nothing special - or at least nothing exclusive.
It helps that Kiwi businesses discovered, en masse, during the forced experiment of the lockdown, that remote-working technology is easier and more reliable than many thought.
But tech was never the deal-breaker.
"The biggest impediment was the lack of trust," Haar says.
But after level 3 and 4, "Lots of companies have said they've been happily surprised at how productive people can be when left to their own devices at home," Haar says.
The AUT academic says the bottom line is that an employee is either productive, or not - whether they're in the office or working from home.