Architects Hamish Monk and Dean Mackenzie recently moved their firm, Monk Mackenzie, to new offices in one of Britomart’s heritage buildings. Now, they’re telling their teams they need to be there in person.
JEREMY HANSEN You’ve just moved your architecture firm into Britomart, despite a long period of working virtually. What made you want to do this?
DEAN MACKENZIE When we thought about relocating we thought quite hard about where we should go. We thought about city fringe and other parts of town, but we felt strongly we should be downtown, we should be beside the water. We like being here, and everyone can reach it easily. It’s a fantastic spot.
HAMISH MONK The city has a sense of vibrancy and activity, and it’s close to lots of really good food and beverage options and other amenities. And these character buildings are great to work in – we spend so much time at work we saw this as a good space to expand into, with a sense of life and activity. And it terms of staff morale, it’s a desirable place to work. It was hard to think of anywhere better.
DM And it’s a bit gritty as well, whereas Ponsonby and Parnell don’t really feel like commercial centres. Every time a client comes up here, the first 10 minutes of conversation are about the space. We just love the look and feel of it. It reflects the practice and what we’re about.
JH What was your experience of working virtually like?
DM We have had to adopt new technology, which has made communicating really seamless. It’s been great. But there’s no comparison to having a vibrant hub. We’ll be asking everyone to come back and have a bustling office. We’ll offer flexibility, but we prefer to get a sense of community in the office.
HM We made it work but it wasn’t ideal. There are certain tasks that can be done at home. But working online lacks a certain kind of lab dynamic. It’s about having a conversation that flows, and having a piece of paper you can pick up. On Slack you need to structure a conversation. It’s usable but it’s a bit flat. And it makes it really easy to get isolated and miss out on things. Depending on what kind of person you are, it’s quite easy to spiral down. Collaboration is a big part of what we do, and that friction and dynamism that comes with being in person and hearing other people’s ideas and being challenged is important.
DM Even an introvert can reach the point where they’re sick of the same-old, same-old thing of working from home. Admittedly you lose a bit of time in a commute, but I think the benefits are worth it. I’ve noticed on some projects that working virtually also creates a certain lack of cohesion within wider teams. Our work is project-based and involves other consultants, and it just feels harder to gain momentum on them because there’s a certain lack of accountability or cohesion when people are working virtually.
JH We’re in the grip of a housing crisis and Auckland is particularly expensive. Does this pose a risk of you losing key staff, or might it force you to accommodate good staff who can only afford to buy a house elsewhere?
HM We’ve had this with a couple of staff members, and we’ve been flexible, but it’s not quite as easy as having someone in the office.
DM We don’t really want to create multiple hubs for our business, a series of satellite offices. But housing prices are a major problem for Auckland and keeping good workers here.
JH You design buildings, and you think about urban environments a lot in your work. What are the key elements to regenerating the central city?
DM I feel that the street is the most important thing, the quality of that is what everyone experiences. And you need people living and working here for it to feel safe. The more people live in the city, the more vibrant retail will be, too. In Auckland, the centre of gravity has definitely shifted towards the waterfront. We were both living overseas for a few years and when I came back in 2010 I was inspired by what had changed in the city in that time. It seems to be evolving and progressing really well. I’m fully confident Auckland will continue to be busy. It now has a big enough population for a multiplicity of things to be happening.