The partner at the law firm Anderson Lloyd says lockdowns have taught him the benefits of flexibility, but also that there’s no substitute for working through important issues in person.

JEREMY HANSEN What was your experience of working through the pandemic like? And how has it changed the way you think about work?

GEOFF BUSCH I realised that working in a home environment has some benefits in terms of efficiency, getting a lot done without being disturbed. But it also confirmed to me that you lose a great deal by not being in an office where you can work collaboratively as a team. Just being in the physical presence of others has real benefit. So I think that there will be more of a blended approach in the future. The pandemic has taught me that I can work in different ways in different places and be a lot more mobile. I can work at home in the mornings and come into the office in the afternoons. I can work at a cafe. I can be really mobile and change it up a lot more.

JH What approach are you taking with your teams in terms of how you would like them to work – and how they would like to work?

GB We have a fairly flexible approach. We say to people, ‘You can do whatever you want, as long as you’re not spending too much time away from the office.’ People have the ability to spend the majority of their time away if they want to, but hardly anyone actually takes that up. Sometimes they come in a bit late or leave a bit early, but generally they would prefer to be in the office. My team tells me they’re happier now they’re back in the office because they can get out for lunch or they can go for a drink after work. I mean, you don’t just work because of the work, you come to work for the social aspect as well – especially young people developing friendships and the feeling that they’re a part of something bigger than themselves, the common purpose of being in a team.

JH A lot of people have told me that recruitment and retention is tough at the moment. How you offer a distinctive culture to your teams that makes them want to be a part of it, and distinguish yourself from your competitors in the market?

GB I think one of the things we’ve always done well is giving our people autonomy. As long as they deliver what’s needed, they can do that whichever way they choose. I think this is one aspect of our culture that’s of real benefit in terms of attracting and retaining talented people.

JH You’re a partner in your firm, which means your job has two important aspects: one is the legal advisory stuff, but the other is that you lead a team and you’re responsible for the culture. Have you been able to build that culture remotely?

GB I think what all organisations have found is that people have been working from home remotely in their little cells, and they could be working anywhere – I mean, just change the logo on the screen and you could be at another firm. There’s no real difference. I brought on three new staff during the lockdown last year, two locally and one internationally. It was really difficult to bring them into the fold and give them a feel of what the firm’s all about. We’d have team Zoom catch-ups, but nothing beats being together with a group of people talking. They’ve all started now in the office in the last couple of months and have commented about how much better is to be physically together as a team. So the physical space you work from and your personal connections within it have become even more important in differentiating the experience of working in one organisation from working in another. The Auckland office at Anderson Lloyd [in the heritage Australis Nathan building] is a great attractor for clients and staff. It tells a story of who we are and what we value by being in this area. We’re a firm originally founded in Dunedin, heartland New Zealand. We’re not pretentious. That heritage feel of our offices gives you a sense of permanence and longevity, but with the fitout also a sense of being contemporary and current. That’s why we love being here and why we love bringing clients and prospective clients back to the office. It says a lot about us that a 20-page pitch couldn’t.

JH Are there types of work have you found are better done in person in an office?

GB Generally, anything involving more than two people is best in the office – strategic work, anything to do with relationships or performance management, anything teams-based where quick interchanges are required. Or even where you have to blurt a whole bunch of stuff out and get it done really efficiently and quickly. It’s slow and clunky when you’re not in person. There’s a lot that you lose in translation on the phone or on a video call. You can do it, but it’s just not as good.

JH What are you looking forward to?

GB I’m most looking forward to doing a little bit more socialising – taking clients out to lunch, to coffees, going out for a drink after work. Once things get back to near-normal, I think there’ll be a bit of an explosion of people out doing lunches and dinners. Obviously the Britomart precinct is the best place to market your services from, because you just have to walk out your door and you’ve got 10 places to choose from to take someone to for a coffee or a lunch.

Click here to read the other interviews in our City Futures series.