It's the largest work-from-home experiment New Zealand has seen - an army of office workers avoiding the city to the slow the spread of Covid-19.

The streets of central Auckland were quiet this week as large corporates trial new remote set-ups.

According to the Heart of the City CEO Viv Beck, foot-traffic was noticeably down and usually busy cafes were quiet.

Head-count analysis from cameras in lower Queen St and the central city showed around 5000 fewer people than the same time last week.


"We are not seeing a blanket 'don't come in' but businesses are trialling ways to allow social distancing," Beck said.

"The head-count analysis shows were are down about 18 per cent and that is having an impact on businesses who can't work from home."

Large employers such as Vodafone, Spark, AA Insurance, Auckland Council and Fonterra as well as law firms and advertising agencies have at least half their workforce working from home.

There has been a run on laptops and other desktop equipment to ensure staff can work remotely.

Inquiries from New Zealand businesses to team communication site Slack had been huge, said spokesman Arturo Arrarte.

Arrarte said Slack membership came with advice on keeping remote teams productive and able to collaborate effectively.

Vodafone tested its system's coping capability last week and this week introduced split teams for its 2000 staff - with half in the office and half at home.

"From today, half of our teams will be working remotely in a week on/week off rotation, in a bid to be prepared to respond to the ever-changing situation with Covid-19," HR director Katie Williams said.


Physical meetings were suspended and teams were using video conferencing, Skype and phone calls for urgent decisions.

This week staff had their usual Te Ara Reo Maori class via Skype and stand-up meetings were done from lounges and home offices across the network.

Vodafone staff took their Te Ara Reo Maori class at home via Zoom this week. Photo / Supplied
Vodafone staff took their Te Ara Reo Maori class at home via Zoom this week. Photo / Supplied

Fellow telco Spark also split its workforce into teams with some working from home and others in the office.

"As a technology company we are well-positioned to support our people working remotely," Althea Lovell of Spark said.

"We are also keeping our people safe by stopping all business travel, using our technology to hold meetings virtually instead of face-to-face."

AA Insurance had a strong work from home set-up with many call centre staff working remotely.


Nikki Howell, the head of people and capability at AA Insurance, said as of February 29 almost a third of AAI's contact centre staff worked at home on a permanent or part-time basis.

She said there were strong systems in place to keep teams connected and motivated, which was one of the usual downfalls of working from home.

The company also set staff up with accounts for online education website Udemy which offered courses in upskilling as well as home relaxation such as yoga and meditation.

"Teams are able to connect and talk about what they are doing on Udemy which is a bonding experience," Howell said.

Auckland Council was working on scenarios where people could work flexibly or relocate to other council buildings or home offices easily.

"What we are looking at now is how we ensure the stability of our networks to support more people working from home in the coming weeks and months," council director of IT Mark Denvir said.


"We also have to ensure we have good trouble-shooting support at the end of the phone and to make sure our people can get help if they need it."

Law firms around the country also had staff working from home where possible.

Bell Gully in Auckland had a third of partners and staff working at home.

"All of our teams have the technology to work remotely and have full access to all our internal systems and technology which allows conference calls, team meetings and collaboration, so our service to clients can continue," spokesman Ben Parsons said.

"This week we are 'stress-testing' our working from home protocols, with different teams and offices working remotely."

In Wellington, New Zealand Rugby ordered all staff to work from home as a precaution because of a possible coronavirus case at the organisation.


At PR company Sling & Stone, all staff from offices in Auckland, Sydney and Los Angeles were instructed to work from home.

The team uses communication site Slack and said it had come up with innovative ways to stay connected.

The team set up special channels in Slack including one where team members could challenge others to push-ups or planks.

Another channel allowed staff to share photos of what their home-office pets were doing.

Top tips for working from home:
Set up your spot

You don't need an elaborate home office but a comfortable space with access to your phone and laptop is essential.


Prepare for unexpected interruptions - such as lawnmowing and weed whacking neighbours - with headphones.

Get dressed for work

Sticking to your morning routine and dressing for the day will boost productivity. A last-minute video call is less painful if you are showered and out of your pyjamas.

Keep it regular

Set a schedule and stick to it. Plan your day around phone meetings, deadlines and maintain regular hours.

Take breaks


Just as you would in the office take regular breaks, have a cuppa or take the dog for a quick walk to get some fresh air.


Socialise with colleagues through email, text or phone. Picking up the phone to check how a colleague is doing can combat loneliness and keep you in the loop.

Make it work

If you enjoy working from home and do it well your employer is more likely to make it a long-term benefit.