Grant Robertson has told his staff he expects them to be back working from their Beehive office from now on and is urging others to do the same.

The Minister of Finance, who is also the MP for Wellington Central, said while the economy is picking up speed as New Zealand gets used to alert level 2, it is clear that central business districts in the capital and in Auckland are much less busy than before the lockdown began.

"It has been quieter and there's no doubt that a number in the public service certainly, and I think other businesses as well have continued working from home practices under [Covid-19 alert] level 2," Robertson told the Herald.

Although he has pointed to signs that traffic volumes and electricity use has climbed, and some retail spending has returned, he acknowledged some areas of the economy were slow.

Advertisement

"It has been quieter, there's no doubt about that, in the CBD [central business district]."

Robertson predicted that when New Zealand moved to alert level 1, hopefully a decision made by Cabinet on Monday, more people would see it was safe to return.

"From my personal perspective, I want people to come back to the Wellington CBD as the Wellington Central MP," Robertson said.

Subscribe to Premium

"Here in my own office I had a meeting on Wednesday and made clear to my own staff that our expectation was they would all be in the office and they were really pleased with that thought.

"I really encourage people to come back."

A move to alert level 1 - whenever it happens - means "what we're saying is, we've got on top of the virus and therefore it is time for people to be able to come back to their normal routines while also adopting the golden rules that the Prime Minister outlined".

Many people had flexible work in their contract "and I'm certainly not saying turn those over, but from my perspective, I'd encourage people to come back to the office".

While he believed a lot of workers were enjoying working from home, he believed the office environment boosted productivity.

Advertisement

"The dynamic that comes from working in an office, being able to share ideas, talk to each other, resolve problems quickly, you know, those sorts of things are important to productivity, so it's certainly my personal encouragement is for people to get back into their offices."

A move to level 1 would be a signal that things could return to normal, apart from the border being closed, Robertson said.

"If the anecdotal experience of people around me is similar, the first day or so there might be a bit of 'gosh, this is a bit unfamiliar' and then people fall back into routines fairly quickly."

Business groups have been telling Robertson about the lack of foot traffic in the major cities.

"He [Robertson] has been getting, I can assure you, a lot of feedback from his constituents saying we need people back in the city to drive and re-energise the CBD," John Milford, the chief executive of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce, said.

"We need that not so subtle nudge to the workers to say 'right, we've got to get back to revitalise our cities because if we don't, they won't be vibrant, economically."

Milford said downtown Wellington was quiet, as was Auckland, which was likely because many workers were reliant on public transport to get to work.

Although the messaging from the Government may have made workers anxious about being close to other people, when New Zealand moved to alert level 1, the general messaging also needed to change.

"Once you start remessaging that into 'right, we've done the hard yards, now we've got to save livelihoods, and to do that we've got to get back to the new sort of norm', that will be a big encouragement cycle to get people back into the office," Milford said.

Michael Barnett, chief executive of the Auckland Business Chamber said it was up to businesses and employees to work out how they worked and where.

"A lot of people have discovered that they can have a much more flexible workforce and people can operate from home," Barnett said, adding that the change was clearly already having an impact on how many people were in the CBD.

Barnett said that the impact of the lockdown could mean some people were much more reluctant to travel into town for work.

"The conversations we've been having so far have been instilling fear and compliance into people and there is a lot of caution about the need to come back and the use of public transport.

"A lot of people don't feel safe in crowded, public transport space, so they'll take that choice to work from home if they can get it."