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CONVERSATIONS WITH MIKE NEALE OF NAI HARCOURTS HAMILTON

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Supporting the CBD

What Can We Do To Help?

That was one of the questions posed by Deputy Mayor, Geoff Taylor, at a recent Zoom meeting with the Hamilton Central Business Association.

It’s actually the same thing that we individually and collectively as business leaders can do – supporting everyone back into the office. While Covid is now endemic in our society, the time is right to move towards greater normality, by encouraging (not forcing) staff back into the office and provide them with reasons to do so. The vast majority we talk to want to come back.

Some have suggested that staff may not want to come back into the offices – in that case then I would suggest that you either have a culture or environment problem, which will need addressing. Many working from home have faced challenges – social isolation, distractions / interruptions, and the lack of a suitable dedicated workspace. These are not easily overcome, therefore having a dynamic workplace will assist bringing existing workers back, while both attracting and then retaining new staff – staffing has become a major issue for almost every business. The “work from home” strategy of 2020 seems to have far less appeal, evolving more towards accelerated models, allowing for a variety of flexible work from home options. Remote working has its place, but it will not suit everyone and needs to be flexible if it is to be of genuine benefit to our work-life balance. 

Our CBD needs its lifeblood back – the workers. It’s estimated that pre covid we had around 22,000 workers in our CBD daily – so that is now significantly down, probably by half. This has been highlighted even further by pedestrian counts in early 2022 being down by a third on the 2021 figures, which was also down on the 2020 figures.  

Perception becomes reality, so if we start to see more people around the CBD, then this naturally creates confidence for others, that its actually okay to be back. In mid March I observed a morning tea shout taking place in the middle of Garden Place – 20 or more staff appeared to have come from Alexandra Street and congregated around a group of tables with food and coffee. They were obviously having a good time, but what stood out were the various interactions that took place in this informal setting and the number of passers-by who took notice. 

Why come back into the office ?

  • Culture and interaction
  • Collaboration and sharing of knowledge
  • Purpose and sense of a common mission

We learn by questioning and sharing views, which is a fundamental benefit of being together, particularly for younger or newer members of your team. It allows us to collaborate and share knowledge, which in turn achieves better outcomes and more thoroughly explored concepts and ideas. Much of our learning happens by osmosis, by just being there.

We are at the end of the day, mostly social animals, so those conversations or informal meetings over a coffee or around the water cooler are invaluable and exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to replicate remotely.

Three of the most common workplace factors that occupiers identify as being important are:

Quality of the space and work environment. We have seen a steady increase in demand for new or higher quality refitted spaces. There has been increased difficulty re-leasing poorer quality vacant space or extended timeframes to do so – this is likely to be acerbated by employee expectations.  

Access to amenities and the variety of those amenities. From river walks, to swimming and fitness complexes, through to a diverse range of eateries and hospitality offerings, let alone those looking for retail therapy, our central city has it all.

Location and ease of commute. Multi modal transport, with the addition of end of trip facilities in buildings, is becoming common place. Hamilton City Councils aspirations for a “20 minute city” works to ensure ongoing accessibility.

Increasingly we are seeing businesses innovate to bring workers back into the office. One prominent law firm has started providing lunch one day each week for staff, from a different eatery each time. This not only provides support to local businesses who are struggling, but becomes a social occasion and opportunity for networking.     

It can be expected that business owners and Landlords will in many instances work together to create a physical environment that is both modern and dynamic, but also engaging and flexible as the businesses needs change. This will allow Landlords to retain Tenants and to have more desirable space should they become vacant, which will invariably happen at some stage. Covid has already caused us to rethink how we use space and how we interact internally and externally as a business – this will continue to develop, as each business will have different and evolving requirements.

So, what can you do to help ? – a big thumbs up to those who have continued to find ways to make working from the office possible, thereby supporting our other CBD businesses – to those that have not, maybe start to do so and encourage or incentivise others to do the same. Supporting businesses in the central city, particularly those in retail and hospitality which have been overwhelmingly hard hit, will greatly appreciate the support. In turn they will be able to assist others with their support – if we all do our bit, the benefit will be significant.

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