Ria Sharma joined Previously Unavailable, a business and brand innovation studio, straight after finishing her Bachelor of Commerce in marketing, entrepreneurship and innovation at Auckland University. She works full-time but flexibly out of their Grey Lynn office, commuting from her family home in West Auckland. 


We interviewed her as part of a series talking to five Auckland workers under 30 about their preferred working styles, the importance of wellness, and how they stay connected.

MELINDA WILLIAMS It’s great to meet you, Ria. What kind of work do you do at Previously Unavailable?

RIA SHARMA I'm a junior brand strategist, supporting our lead brand strategists, James Hurman and Henry Kozak, on various projects in terms of helping brands bring together a strategy and then liaising with our wider PU teams and helping that come to life. 

MELINDA You went straight from university study into full-time office work. How was that transition after spending a lot of your time studying remotely during the pandemic?

RIA Whenever I used to think of working or living that nine-to-five lifestyle, I always thought of my parents, who are 40-plus, well-settled. I think in my first week here, I was like, I am my parents now. I work the nine to five. I’m 21, where's my youth?! With Covid, it was like two of those years were taken away. And so, to be at work eight hours a day, it really was a bit of a shock. I was like, I feel like I missed a chapter.’

I've learned that you do have to enjoy where you work because it does take up a lot of your time and energy. I'm very lucky to be here at PU, because I really love it. After being a student during Covid, where things were quite different and there were a lot of uncertain times, I feel a little bit more secure now.

MELINDA Does the kind of space you work ineel important to you, and if you could design your own ideal workspace, what would it include?

RIA It’s something that does mean a lot to me. Wherever I am reflects how I feel. So firstly, sun is important. I've been in an office space before where there was a lot of artificial light. You couldn't tell what time of the day it was. And that just felt really wild to me to be removed from the rest of the world.

The next one is the elements of humans spending eight hours of their day in a space, like music, books, plants. At PU, you can tell that humans are in this space. Even things like coffee cups on a desk that haven't been touched in a couple of days because someone hasn't had time to put them in the dishwasher. Those are things that I love because it just means that people are really giving their time and energy to their work and their team. And making it not feel super boxed-in and cookie-cutter. You are able to express your own individuality through different parts of the space.

And then the last one is a sense of transparency. I love PU because of the glass and also the desk space. We have two really long tables where we all sit and you wouldn't necessarily know who's who in terms of hierarchy. Conversations tend to be a lot easier when you need to lean on somebody. As a grad, I sit opposite James and Henry and some of the conversations that they have as partners and the lead brand strategists, it's incredible to just be here and hear them and give my ideas. There have been times when I have been in an office and the higher-ups are higher up in the building. And it’s quite hard to lean on them when you need to learn or ask a question.

MELINDA What about your ideal work set-up in terms of work flexibility?

RIA PU has a great policy where if you can be in the office, that's awesome, but if you do need to work from home, then do that. When I first started here, I was in the office as much as I could be, probably for the first month. There's this wonderful window on one side of the office with these lovely couches and that's my spot where I like to work. I love it there. It gets the most amazing sun. In the second week, I found myself drifting off to sleep because it was quite tough for me to stick to one spot and do quite high-level, productive work. And then, I realised, since I’m living out in West Auckland and the traffic begins at 6am, the 5am start I was doing to beat the traffic takes a bit of a toll.

So I was like, there needs to be some give and take. Start early, finish early, mix and match, to make sure that I was always doing what was best not only for me but for the team as well. Because I could feel it was starting to play around with my productivity levels.


Whenever I work with my lead, Henry, if there's any collaboration in terms of brainstorming or we need to work on something together, that's always in office. We've always tried to work really hard to make sure that whenever we're working in a team, if we can, we’ll work in person. I'll structure my days around my meetings. 

MELINDA You seem to be quite conscious of what you need in order to be productive. Is that something you were taught to do or did you work it out for yourself?

RIA My parents came from Fiji originally, so I've been brought up with a great work ethic. My Mum and dad are my role models. They work very hard and they've done a lot to get to where they are. Mum has always taught me that if you can be your best self, you are best for other people as well. I think seeing them within their roles has taught me to always make sure that you invest in yourself first and then how you can invest in others will follow.

MELINDA You’re working in a very communal space at Previously Unavailable, and you have a lot of flexibility in how you use it, which makes it similar to a co-working space. Are there any challenges working in that way?

RIA I think it's quite well-known within New Zealand that a lot of young people struggle with mental wellbeing. I saw it in quite a few of my friends, especially during Covid. And that was quite hard as well, to go through that when you're quite young, feeling even more helpless than you already do.

During Covid, it was quite hard to connect with people. But now that we've moved on, I do feel that a lot of people are placing more attention toward their social relationships. One thing that I know I do to try to combat that is, ‘How do I fill my cup? What can I do right now or maybe by the end of the day do to make sure I'm not feeling as low?’

I think our generation struggles with those strategies quite a lot. Everything is somewhat back to normal now, but that was a really big challenge in itself.

MELINDA You just mentioned ‘filling your cup’. I hear my kids say that, so I’m wondering if you learned that at school and whether you think schools are better now at equipping young people understand what they need to function well at work?

RIA Hobsonville Point Secondary was one of the first schools in New Zealand to have a different learning model for their students. They were really good at setting students up to find strategies for what made them feel at their best personally and academically. Our form teachers were our coaches and we’d have reflective chats on our learning. So, we always were able to reflect on how we were growing as a person alongside our academics. They took a really strong perspective on mental wellness and your hau ora, protecting your energy.

MELINDA As a young person, do you feel empowered to ask for what works for you when searching for or negotiating for a job, or able to hold out for an employer with a flexible and collaborative approach? Or are young people still largely at the mercy of the marketplace?

RIA Yes and no. New Zealand is quite small and after Covid, potentially the workforce shrank a bit. Some of my friends were going for the same jobs with the same company, and it broke some friendships a little. And that was across a wide variety of industries from law to medicine to marketing.

You can be very fortunate, like myself, to have found a place that you resonate with early on in your career. But I would say more typically no, you're still having to do what you can to get your role and climb up the ladder. I feel like a lot of our generation, we do try our best once we leave Uni, but we still don't have the loudest voice.

I know my voice definitely gets heard at PU, but for some of my friends in more corporate settings, they all have check-ins and they will say how they feel, but at the end of the day, they're one small part of a really big operation. Maybe once we’re 20 years into our career and we're climbing into those senior roles, there might be a shift in terms of how we lean into our younger people. I do think there is a really strong opportunity to have young people or people who are under 25 on boards. I feel like sometimes there is a weird knowledge gap around what reality is when you are under 25, or even 30. Having young people heard from the bottom would be awesome.

Photographs by Samantha Totty.