new zealand wellingtonNew Zealand businesses were recently the subject of a unique study that showed they are adapting to the changing nature of work.

Yesterday I attended a presentation by students in the Human Resource Management course at Victoria University. I was curious to hear how the interview I gave as part of their research project would be represented. I was also interested to learn whether businesses in New Zealand, in Wellington particularly, are responding to the changing workplace.

It is not often that you have the opportunity to get a bird’s eye view on a city’s response to digital disruption and the role of technology.

This research was conducted with 75 Wellington- based organisations. They were businesses working in Recruitment, Infrastructure, Finance, Real Estate, Information Technology and the Public Service. Here is my summary of the findings presented.

The pace of digital change is being experienced as a threat to businesses in some sectors, including banking.

Small businesses are feeling the impact of the rise in the gig economy and are gearing their services around this new reality. There are more start-ups in Wellington, as people move away from wanting to be employees to being in their own boss.

In the Infrastructure sector it was noted that there is a strong resistance to change and the role of technology in the changing workforce. I was surprised to hear that one of the businesses interviewed is looking at creating a centralised database across its sites over the next five years, not the next year. Nonetheless, infrastructure businesses see technology as key to their business plan.

Some businesses, such as Datacom, are embracing change by actively moving away from a hierarchical model or structure. Their focus is shifting more to collaboration through teamwork.

A downside of the uptake of technology is 24/7 device checking and this is the same in Wellington as it is elsewhere: people aren’t switching off from work because their devices are with them constantly. Some businesses are taking the initiative to have conversations about employee and employer expectations: when will emails be answered, when should phones be turned on and when should someone be available for a meeting.

Flexible work policies had either a positive or a negative effect on the business. The effect was positive when the business had active policies for flexibility. These businesses had a stronger culture, in part because an active approach to flexibility shows a willingness to work with employees.

On the other hand some organisations were still working out how to make flexibility a win-win. In my experience, this is probably because they took an ad hoc approach – rather than seeing flexibility as a strategic issue, they accommodate flexibility with minor changes that make hardly any difference overall.

It was recommended by the presenters that businesses recognise the importance of flexibility going forward. As Bill Gates reportedly said: “The competition to hire the best will increase in the years ahead. Companies that give extra flexibility to their employees will have the edge in this area.”

In my own work I have seen that leaders and executives tend to think of flexibility too narrowly. I hardly find myself using the word ‘flexibility’ these days, instead I refer to agile work, distributed teams, working from home, coworking etc. Too many leaders think flexible work is part-time work or job sharing.

The new world of work involves huge flexibility about when, where and how work is done and this is what organisations need to be tapping into.

In NZ, businesses are adapting to the changing nature of work with varying degrees of haste. The ones who are benefitting, with well-managed technology and a great workplace culture, have actively engineered their response to the changing nature of work.

We can learn from the leaders by adopt an active approach: reengineering organisational structures that don’t work, establishing shared expectations about use of technology and deliberately creating genuine flexible work policies.


About Nina Sochon
Nina Sochon is the CEO of Transformed Teams, a specialist consultancy guiding leaders and managers in the process of how to set up effective distributed and virtual teams.