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Source: Greenpeace New Zealand

“There’s no place like home”, according to Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. I’ve never visited Kansas (nor do I own a pair of ruby slippers) but I think she’s onto something.

Alongside a team of five million, I have been spending a lot of time in my humble abode of late. Usually a place of rest and relaxation, under lockdown, my home has been moonlighting as my local pub, cafe, gym and place of work. 

The transformation from home-to-office life started well. I fashioned together a desk from a pallet of wood I found languishing in the garage, stacked a few cookbooks under my laptop and tied a pillow to an old wooden chair. Kiwi ingenuity at its finest. When lockdown began, I was ready to WFH (as you cool cats and kittens will know, that’s an abbreviation for ‘working from home’). Six weeks on and I’ve become a fully-fledged WFH convert.

Don’t get me wrong. I think my colleagues are wonderful and I have no aspirations to become a hermit. That first couple of weeks of lockdown were tough in places even from my position of privilege.

Waking up and shuffling just metres from my bed to ‘work’ felt, well, weird. The homemade desk was scratchy. The overbearing commentary from exercise videos as housemates tackled ‘iso’ boredom, was distracting. However, as the weeks have gone by and the novelty has worn off, I have adapted, as have we all.

My office

The biggest surprise for me is that working in isolation doesn’t actually feel that isolating. It can be easy to take for granted the sense of community that comes with having a physical office space. But with back to back meetings, faces hidden by screens and staff split across office floors – how well do we really connect with one another? 

Thanks to video and chat apps, I’ve been able to stay connected to my colleagues from home, including a ‘social’ video call on a Friday. For those who usually have to skip after-work socialising due to parental duties or long commutes ahead; hopping on a call is now an inclusive option for them. 

Seeing colleagues in the comfort of their own home provides an intimate glimpse into the lives of the people you spend most of your waking hours with. Whether a cool piece of art hanging on the wall or kids dropping into the call, these insights go a little deeper than a polite “how’s your day going?” over the office watercooler. I genuinely feel I’ve learnt more about my colleagues by being physically separated than I have in many years working in the same space.

So with an array of digital resources at my fingertips, I’m able to work effectively, collaborate with my team AND get my laundry done, make a healthy lunch and squeeze a run around the block into my working day. All while maintaining a lower carbon footprint too. 

The work/life balance has suddenly started to feel like less of a balancing act for me. And this new situation has got me thinking: as we come out of lockdown, how can we make work, work better for us?

Working from home has some immediate benefits. The obvious being a reduction in travelling costs, time spent getting from A to B, and the horrendous levels of pollution caused by road, sea and air transport. But how does it impact the way we work?

The 40 hour, five-day working week was first introduced by the car manufacturer, Henry Ford, in 1926. Almost a century later and not much has changed: time equals productivity.

Working from home requires a higher degree of trust, where productivity is more likely to be measured by completed tasks and quality of work, rather than how many hours were clocked in the office.

In an age of international conference calls and increasing time-scarcity; more flexibility can only be a good thing. This is especially true when it comes to providing options for working parents, carers and even pet owners. Who doesn’t want more time at home with those they love?

Of course, WFH doesn’t work for all, nor is it available for many of the amazing essential workers keeping countries running during this crisis. Not all jobs are made equal and there are many individual circumstances to consider. Some people find WFH a lonely experience. Sadly, too many people don’t have a comfortable or safe home to work from either. 

But what if for those of us who have become accustomed to office life being the way things-get-done, we changed things for the better?

Rather than occupying an office five days a week, what if the workplace became a semi-regular meeting space instead? A venue without desks or screens. A place to find inspiration, exchange skills, brainstorm solutions, share lunches and build stronger working relationships. A space where seating arrangements don’t exist and team silos are broken down. A smaller venue that doesn’t require extortionate rent, so that employers can pay fairer wages or employees can receive a subsidy to cover the costs of setting up a home workspace.

Imagine the benefits of reducing the daily commute. Clearer skies and waterways in cities. No longer sitting for hours in tedious congestion, wasting time and money on fuel and car maintenance. The long-term impact this shift would have on reducing carbon emissions and helping to tackle climate change.

And what about the impact on our local communities if we made the switch? Small, independent cafes would benefit from you buying that mid-morning flat-white rather than the faceless city chains. Obsolete office space could be repurposed as much-needed accommodation. That dream of living outside of the city could become a reality for many. Workplaces would have more diverse teams spread across Aotearoa, working on behalf of the communities they represent. The possibilities are endless.

Lockdown has changed life as we know it. While we might not like change, we humans are pretty good at adapting to it. Let’s use this moment as an opportunity to leave behind the things that don’t work and reinvigorate the parts that matter. Let’s create a more effective, connected and sustainable way of living.

Since many of us will spend a third of our lives at work, what better place to start?

Camilla Bell is a senior philanthropy adviser at Greenpeace New Zealand. 

MIL OSI