MPI manager David Williams lives in rural Carterton, his work is based in central Wellington but he works from home two days a week.
There’s nothing like a crisis to instigate change.
A year on from the uncertainty created by enforced working from home requirements during Covid lockdowns, many employers and staff have found a balance that works.
Rail patronage figures for the Wellington region show more long distance train commuters are working from home, particularly on the days around weekends.
When Government manager David Williams of Ministry for Primary Industries moved to working five days a week from his rural Carterton home during level 4 in March last year, he quickly found the situation quite tough with endless online meetings and no face-to-face contact.
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A year later he works two days a week from home and for three he travelled to his central Wellington office by train, which was ideal for everyone involved, he said.
“Two or three days a week from home is bang on – I don’t think I’d want any more than that.
“I also get to do thing like drop the kids off in the morning and pick them up after school. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s absolute gold. You just feel like you’re involved in the family like you weren’t before.”
Long-term trends outlining a sustained drop in rail commuter numbers of about 20 per cent across the Wellington region showed Williams was not alone.
Williams had noticed a pattern that some days of the week on the Wairarapa Line train were busy and others were quiet.
He said lockdown forced many organisations to mature regarding how they understood what it meant to have truly flexible work arrangements.
“MPI was always like ‘we are flexible’, but no-one understood what that really meant. When everyone was forced to work from home, they went ‘ah, this is what it is’,” he said.
That Holy Grail of judging staff performance by their productivity and not by the number of hours they had clocked up seemed to be another positive result of Covid-induced changes, Williams said.
“It’s moved away from ‘have you done your eight hours?’ and now they don’t really care about your eight hours. Now it’s ‘have you achieved what you needed to achieve?’,” he said.
Metlink general manager Scott Gallacher said current passenger loads of 80 per cent of former rail patronage appeared to be the ‘’new norm”.
“But given we are still operating in exceptional circumstances which could change at any time, it’s difficult to speculate about future trends,” he said.
Another trend among the train passenger statistics was that patronage dropped away the further people had to travel.
Though public transport numbers were down, there were around the same number of cars on the road on State Highway 1 and 2 in and out of Wellington as there were in 2019, according to Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency figures.
Senior journey manager Neil Walker said despite the return to relative normality, there were some unexpected changes to daily traffic patterns since the national Covid-19 lockdown.
“The increase in people working from home means that the region’s state highways are now considerably quieter on Monday and Friday mornings compared to Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.”