Everything Blair Vernon needs to do his job is contained in a wooden box about the size of a basic tool box.
It has his laptop, iPad and phone, pens, power cords and keys and essentially means the boss of AMP - one of New Zealand's largest KiwiSaver providers and financial service businesses - can work from anywhere.
And that is exactly what he and his more than 350 workers will be doing from here on.
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AMP has revealed plans to ditch its prime CBD offices in Auckland and Wellington and allow staff the option of working from home or in office space it has in Albany and a yet-to-be-leased option in Penrose or Mount Wellington.
Vernon says it was staff feedback which made it decide to ditch the CBD.
"Our decision to move is fundamentally a response to our own staff feedback - 70 per cent of them said they would like to be flexible, 30 per cent said they would like to work predominantly from home - that says to us, actually, we have got to change because what we want to do is ensure we have got the happiest, most engaged productive workforce.
"So if you can separate what you do from where you do it -and our business can - therefore the natural conclusion is why do I need to have a CBD premise?"
Working from home has long been plagued by perceptions that people sit around in their pyjamas, do household chores and skive off without the direct supervision of a manager staring over their shoulder.
But under the Covid-19 lockdown, businesses were forced to send office workers home and for a short time WFH became the norm rather than the exception.
Vernon says for AMP, what lockdown proved was that WFH isn't detrimental to productivity and that staff found it had a huge upside.
"What the lockdown did was prove a couple of things - that productivity can be sustained. In our case it was sustained or improved. And I don't buy the idea that it is a phenomenon of the luxury of it.
"The other thing was that it revealed the true benefit for our people was - there is a lot of cost of transport in here [to the CBD] - but it's actually time, though.
"We have got staff travelling over an hour - over an hour and a half in some cases - to get to this office. That is three hours of travel a day. That has a huge impact on your centre of wellbeing and what else you can do with your life, so surely you have got to be prepared to challenge that."
It's a question many office workers and their employers are grappling with at the moment. To go back to the office and the long peak-hour commutes or let more workers WFH.
Corner offices were replaced by open plan offices and in more recent years by hot-desking and agile working. So is this the beginning of the end of CBD offices?
"I think that depends on where you are in that continuum. If you take our business, this is a meeting room," he says pointing to the room where we are doing the interview, which has wide views of the waterfront.
"I don't have an office - I haven't had an office for years.
"When I took over as CEO in 2017, I made it clear to our team that the prime space in our office needs to be for those who are at their desk most of the time. I literally have a box that I use to transport my equipment around the office and I just find wherever there is a suitable space. I'm probably a bit different to other CEOs - I can't stand the idea of being stuck in an office."
Vernon says his lead has set the direction for the company culture to be open, accessible and available, but that companies which still have executives segregated from workers are further from being fully flexible.
"For us it is a natural extension now that we have got the technology capability fully employed to just be able to embrace it in that way, because it doesn't seem that radical for us."
Instead, Vernon believes offices will become largely for meeting and collaboration.
"I think the cubicle worker mentality is nearing its end. Spaces that are all about collaboration, problem solving, those team activities, absolutely there is leverage in value in doing that face-to-face, in person because it is non-linear.
"But if you are setting up an office, particularly in the CBD which is expensive - to house a row of desks for people to come in to plug in to do some task - it just doesn't make sense to me. Both as an experience for them but as a sensible business model to serve the clients."
Vernon says that won't be the case for all businesses.
"Some businesses have different demands so they will need to think about that. I guess the key thing is: what do your clients need from your people and what do your people need from you to be able to deliver that? It is the equation you have got to solve for them."
The dearth of workers in CBD centres has seen the Government put out a call to public servants to return to the office to help boost the prospects for city centre hospitality and retail businesses.
Vernon believes city centres will always have a level of activity and vibrancy.
"The question for me is what will be the prospects for the tenancies in the city fringe versus, say, being located at an Albany or a Manukau or a Mount Wellington? I think that is an opportunity because there is potential for a resurgence in communities around Auckland - it doesn't all have to be centred in the CBD."
Vernon says reducing its office footprint and miles travelled by workers is also another step for the company, which has looked closely at its sustainability in recent years.
"Our move alone is not going to change the fabric of traffic across the city but what is the tipping point where you get some relief to clearly what is a very choked CBD environment?
"No one can suggest it is easy to get around Auckland city at the moment, and hasn't been for years. So why would I want my people burning up valuable time in that?"
The big challenge of not having workers rubbing shoulders on a day-to-day basis is maintaining and building the culture of a company.
Vernon admits that is something AMP is still working through.
"I think that is going to be the new thing for us to solve and learn. I don't necessarily buy that the workplace on its own is how you build a culture. I think that puts way too much stock in commercial premises - with all respect to commercial property owners - how you build culture is about leaders, policies, processes. It's about the kind of people you recruit and the way you develop them as a team."
He says some of that is achieved by being together in the same space but it has also been using digital tool Workplace to help with culture.
"We were the first corporate client in NZ back in January 2017. That is essentially Facebook for work. The reason we adopted it is that for our team, we found we needed zero training because everyone knows how to use Facebook. That has created an environment for us to collaborate and communicate in a digital fashion for the last three years."
It's where all his staff communication happens.
"I sent a note in January 2017 to say this is the only email I am sending you - here is the link to Workplace. If you want to know what is going on, you better check here because I am not sending any more emails."
That doesn't mean he is opposed to face-to-face interaction.
"I'm not for a moment saying face-to-face interaction and collaboration won't be a part of that. I just don't think that has to happen every day and I don't think all of that is productive.
"We have just got to pick out the bits that are productive - leverage all those and try and discard all the bits that aren't productive. That will be the magic of it."
Beside dealing with the recent pandemic lockdown AMP, has had its own challenges in recent years with its Australian parent seeing the departure of its chief executive and board members in the wake of damning revelations during the Royal Commission into financial services.
Vernon said that had flow-on effects to the business here, with both the brand and staff morale taking a hit. The New Zealand business has also had to separate out its life arm as that is set to be sold, while the wealth management arm has also been on and off the market.
"Getting that off the table has been a big milestone for the team because it allows us to really focus on what we want to do, which is grow the business."
KiwiSaver ups and downs
Vernon, who has been with the company since 2009, wants to grow its advice arm as well as its KiwiSaver membership.
Morningstar figures show that as of March 31, AMP was the fourth largest provider with around $5.4 billion in funds under management through KiwiSaver.
In recent months providers have faced pressure from members, worried about their balances falling as markets dived in February and March and questioning how to get their money out as they suffered financial hardship due to Covid-19.
Vernon says KiwiSaver members should expect to see their balances go up and down.
"I think there will be volatility in markets. It is unrealistic to say there will be any return to normality - whatever that was."
He says ups and downs in markets were more common before the global financial crisis.
"The challenge we have got is that growth in markets coincided with growth in KiwiSaver and this was the first big event for many KiwiSavers."
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Some members switched out of growth funds at the bottom of the market fall, crystallising losses and missing out on the bounce back that has since followed.
"We have said one of keys to KiwiSaver is the right fund choice. Markets' ups and downs are to be expected. Most customers realise retirement outcomes are not driven by one month or one quarter in markets."
He says steady contributions and being in the right fund are key.
"That is where retirement projections are critical - it's where you are in retirement that matters, not where you were last month. We have got to keep shifting people towards that view and making right choices."
It's been a hard lesson for many who saw KiwiSaver as a savings account that never went down.
Vernon says there is an ongoing education challenge for providers.
"People think of it as savings account because they lack that other thing - savings. I am a big advocate of people being able to figure out a budget and put aside a little bit for those speed bumps. We just had a large speed bump called lockdown Covid.
"What that has revealed is people don't have enough put aside for any interruption. The question is, how do you change that? How do we get little bit of savings so people don't think about KiwiSaver as savings, because it was not designed as that and Government has been very clear that it needs to be seen as last resort."
As boring as it sounds, Vernon says doing a budget is key to working out what you can save to be in a better position for next time.
He admits it was only about 10 years ago that he himself began budgeting and saving for his retirement, making calls to ditch Sky TV and gym memberships in the process.
"I hadn't put any money away for retirement when I arrived here at almost 40.
I would not advocate that to anyone. The reality is, it is really hard work to make up for being 20 years late starting."
He says starting early and sticking with it are the keys to saving for your retirement.
Vernon now sits down regularly with an adviser to review his plans.
"I take the car to get a service so why wouldn't I want to do that with my finances?"
But he says it can be quite confronting .
"That is one of reasons why lots of people probably are not keen to get advice - being told they have made less than ideal decisions with money. I can think of holidays we had as family in my 30s which probably weren't the best idea - but you can't change the past, you can only think what am I going to do now?"
AMP Wealth Management New Zealand chief executive
Married with three children - two boys and a girl
Massey University Bachelor of Business Studies majoring in marketing
Worked for the National Bank in Wellington for six years before moving to the BNZ where he worked for 13 years, working his way up to become general manager, strategy and marketing. Joined AMP in 2009 as general manager marketing and distribution and worked his way up to become managing director in 2017.
Last book read:
Measure what Matters
The Lincoln Lawyer
Last overseas holiday:
Hawaii last year