ZB

Omicron effect: Thousands of workers advised to stay home

Author
Anne Gibson, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 24 Jan 2022, 2:39pm
How has business responded to the red alert? (Photo / Dean Purcell)
How has business responded to the red alert? (Photo / Dean Purcell)

Omicron effect: Thousands of workers advised to stay home

Author
Anne Gibson, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 24 Jan 2022, 2:39pm

Many businesses have told their staff to work from home after New Zealand moved back into the red Covid setting while others are giving people a choice.

While some large corporates today shifted to a staff off-site model, others said they were operating under more of a hybrid system, meaning a limited number of staff would work from the office.

The red setting allows businesses to remain open and domestic travel to continue, but includes mask-wearing and gathering restrictions to under 100 to help slow the spread of the virus and keep pressure off our health system.

Telecommunications businesses said how they had responded.

"Vodafone has asked all staff to work from home until further notice under the red traffic light setting," a spokesman said today.

Retail stores remain open as normal for our customers with social distancing, mask-wearing and sign-in requirements in place.

"We will continue to perform any essential fieldwork to keep our customers connected. Our management team is meeting regularly to assess the situation. We know this is a challenging time for everyone, and our priority is to do our best to keep staff, partners and customers safe," the spokesperson said.

Vodafone's office in Auckland has capacity for around 1,200, but it hasn't got close to that level over the last two years.

"Since Covid, we've not really hit the upper limit as employees have been making the most of our flexible working tools, so staff were typically doing three days in, two days out flexibly."

Under this arrangement, the office was averaging between 500 and 600 staff daily.

"Last week we were just getting back from summer breaks and had around 380 per day," he said.

Spark New Zealand said to keep its staff and customers safe, it recently introduced proof of vaccination requirements for all staff and visitors to its sites.

"At the red light setting, our teams continue to work in a hybrid manner, with a mix of working from home and days in the office, with additional health and safety measures in place including social distancing and the use of face masks, in line with Government guidance. We have also restricted travel, gatherings and events for essential purposes only and are encouraging virtual meetings where possible instead," Spark said.

One of New Zealand's largest commercial real estate agencies is encouraging staff to stay home too.

Andrew Stringer, CBRE New Zealand's senior managing director, said today: "Our offices remain open however all our team throughout New Zealand the opportunity to work from home, primarily as a business continuity response because we don't want entire teams to be potentially classified as a close contact under the current rules and have to isolate all at the same time."

ANZ, the country's largest bank said it most of its office staff had returned to working from home under the red setting apart from a small number of essential staff who were working in its corporate sites with protection protocols in place.

Staff had been back in the office under the orange setting.

A spokeswoman for the bank said most of its branches remained open for standard hours with full protection protocols in place.

"Some branches will be closed with those staff working to support contact centre and online operations."

The bank did not require people entering its branches to provide proof of vaccination but had additional controls in place to minimise the risk of Covid-19 transmission.

Under both red and orange settings customers were required to wear a mask while in a branch unless they had a valid exemption, they were also required to scan in using the Covid tracer app, or record their visit, at all three traffic light settings.

It also has perspex shields in place and all staff working in ANZ Branches would either be vaccinated or undergo regular testing.

Asked how it would cope if Omicron took hold in its workforce the spokeswoman said managing its business and adapting to changing Covid-19 measures and restrictions was all part of how it operated now.

"Covid-19 has changed the way many of our customers want to interact with us and do their banking, with many more choosing to do their banking online or over the phone.

"We work hard to adapt our business and invest resource to ensure we can meet the needs of all our customers how, where and when they need us. ANZ New Zealand will continue to be guided by the government's Covid response plan and will adapt our approach should this change," she added.

The offices of IAG - New Zealand's largest general insurer remained open during both the orange and red settings. But Louise Harvey-Wills, IAG Executive general manager business partnering NZ, said there was no expectation that team members return to its sites during January.

"However, if team members would like to connect, or if they would like to be around colleagues simply for mental wellbeing, then they are welcome to come into the office while adhering to our safety protocols.

"A number of our team have been working from the office, however, with the support of our flexi working policy, many are still working productively from home while staying connected with our customers and each other."

Harvey Wills said IAG had robust measures and business continuity plans in place to ensure the safety of its teams, customers and partners.

"We require that all team members who do enter an IAG site be double vaccinated. We are also giving our team up to 12 hours extra leave for any vaccinations - including for booster shots and for taking children and dependents for their vaccinations.

"We will be continuing to closely follow the Ministry of Health guidelines and have designed office and site protocols in line with these. This includes, requiring team members to book a desk to ensure contact tracing can take place, through to asking team members to maintain social distancing and wear a mask. Something we are all well versed in now!"

Jim Stabback, Auckland Council chief executive, is flagging possible civic place closures.

"If a large percentage of Auckland Council employees were unable to work, some of our services and facilities like libraries, pools and leisure centres, and community venues may need to close or operate in a limited capacity.

"These are the things that Aucklanders need from us – not just the services that they want or are nice to have – like waste collection, cemetery and crematoria services, water services that we deliver alongside Watercare and some of our regulatory and compliance services.

"Delivery of these services may look different or be pared back somewhat, but what is most important is our ability to still deliver the most critical aspects of our business," he said.

Around 97 per cent of council staff are double vaccinated, Stabback said.

A spokesperson for New Zealand's biggest supermarket chain, Foodstuffs North Island, said most distribution staff were on-site at Māngere.

"About two-thirds of our distribution teams come to work at The Landing, follow strict protocols and are regularly tested. Support teams have flexibility and as we share common spaces with the distribution teams, are tested too. Frequency depends on what level we are in," she said.

Fletcher Building is operating a hybrid model: "People can come into the office or work from home, depending on what their comfort levels are. Obviously, people need to be fully vaxxed to be on site," a spokesperson said.

"Fletcher Building is following Government guidance that workplaces can remain open with the appropriate Covid-19 safety protocols in place. Our head office in Penrose is open and we have advised our team they can choose to go into the office or work from home if that is their preference. Employees, visitors and contractors must be fully vaccinated to be on site," the spokesperson said.

- Additional reporting from Tamsyn Parker and Damien Venuto.