Our Wellington

News | 25 March 2021

What we learned in lockdown

At 11.59pm on 25 March 2020, New Zealand moved to Alert Level 4 and the entire country went into self-isolation. We spoke to Wellington City Council staff members about their experiences – personally and professionally – during this time.

Photographer Johnny Hendrikus standing on a hill as the sun goes down with mist around Wellington hills and harbour in background.

Sum up the lockdown in a word or two

Johnny Huynen (pictured above), WellingtonNZ Image and Video Producer:

Agile. Challenging.

Nicky Karu, Manager Tira Poutama Iwi Partnerships:

Pyjamas. Walkies.

Glyn Avery, Wellington Zoo Team Leader of Herbivores and Birds, Animal Care:

Surreal and humbling. 

Sean Woodcock, Transport Customer, Compliance, and Business Services Manager:

Strangely both isolating and uniting.

Deana Elvins, Team Leader Customer Contact Centre (after hours):

Busy.

Jessica Eden, Cable Car Passenger Service Operative and Administration:

Relaxing.

Mathew Kenny, Parking Manager:

Testing.

Sam Rossiter-Stead, Head of Communications and Engagement:

Inspiring. 

Amy Hughes, Wellington Zoo General Manager Communication, Experience and Conservation:

Challenging.

April Che, Cable Car Sales and Marketing Executive:

Stay home. Safe.

And from the Te Awe Library team...

Jane Brooker:

Surreal.

Kathleen Lockett:

Constantly adapting.

Joanne Horner:

Very busy.

Karl Gaskin:

Innovation and invention.

Justin Hoenke:

Creative.

What did lockdown mean for your team? 

Karl: There was a lot of concern from library staff for the welfare of our community, especially the many vulnerable people who are daily visitors and who we know very well. They were suddenly isolated from a key community support and we knew how significant this would be for them.

Glyn: The hardest part was not seeing our extended Wellington Zoo whānau who were working from home, and even our own Animal Care team, as we were split up on different rosters and then separated out across the whole Zoo for breaks. To not see some of our colleagues for months, and still provide great animal care, took a bit of getting used to.

A photo of Glyn Avery at Wellington Zoo, where he is Team Leader of Herbivores and Birds, Animal Care.
Glyn from Wellington Zoo.

Sean: Our wider Transport team had the task to ensure all active construction sites throughout the city were made safe enough to be closed down for however long the lockdown lasted, a real unknown. This required pulling together a group of individuals who were able to physically inspect each site even though this may not be their primary role. I will be eternally grateful for the way the team pulled together and cracked on with it.

Sam: It required the team to collate and circulate a huge amount of information very quickly to inform our residents and staff about the changes to Council services and facilities. Each alert level change took us back to the drawing board, but we became very efficient at gathering the intel we needed.

Mathew: It meant we needed to change how we operated, looking only at complaint-based enforcement and mainly working from home in trying to keep safe.

How did it change the way you serve the city? 

Johnny: For us it was taking what is often a complex and witty marketing approach, all the way back to the bare bones of, “Hey, this is what we sell, this is when and where you can buy it”. We put the store owners at the forefront of the content and gave them a platform to share their products with Wellington. We grew a Facebook page from 0 to 8000 in four weeks for Love Local. It was amazing seeing the pride and passion Wellingtonians had for the businesses they love.

Justin: Staff quickly realised that we can be flexible in how we deliver our services to the community. So maybe we can’t do storytime in person right now, but that doesn’t mean we need to cancel it! Why not have it online?

Kathleen: We significantly increased our eBook, eAudio and streaming collections, by increasing the range of titles available and the numbers of customers who could access them.

Karl: Customers were able to borrow significant amounts [of books etc] before we closed, and able to keep their items for an extended period without risking fines. Staff also volunteered to conduct welfare phone calls to vulnerable Wellingtonians across the city in partnership with MSD.

Deana: There was a lot of uncertainty and our customers needed reassurance and someone to listen to their concerns. We became a first point of call for the welfare work that the communities team were doing. People were really keen to comply with the rules and they wanted our help to make sure others were complying. 

Amy: We developed online learning sessions for schools and delivered these.

April: We had to pause the Cable Car from going up and down the hill between Kelburn and the city centre.

April Che, Cable Car Sales & Marketing Executive, standing on the Cable Car platform at the Botanic Garden with Wellington city and harbour in background.
April from the Cable Car team.

What’s one thing you learned from lockdown? 

Glyn: We learnt just how much the Zoo animals missed our visitors. The otters, meerkats, giraffes, kea, big cats, sun bear and primates in particular seemed to wonder where everyone had gone, and paid a lot more attention to any staff member or vehicle moving through the Zoo.

Karl: I underestimated just how powerful seeing a familiar friendly face online was to our staff and community. Being able to have simple ‘small talk’ or a children’s storytime online was a critical mental health strategy when in a crisis with high anxiety levels.

Sam: I learned a lot about people in my team – their resilience, the challenges they face in their personal lives and their incredible determination to do the best possible job for their city.

Johnny: Lockdown taught me just how much I value being amongst other people in an office, bouncing off ideas, hearing the clicking of keyboards and the chatter and discussion from colleagues. I think there is a real energy with collective office spaces that often we take for granted and goes unnoticed.

Nicky: No interruptions. Less ‘hui for hui sake’. 

Deana: That wonderful people work at council who really care about their jobs and can achieve anything if they put their minds to it.

Jess: When someone needed something there were people there looking out for each other and willing to lend a hand.

Joanne: It really reinforced for me that our teams are so generous and agile at sharing themselves and their skills with customers.

Mathew: We’re a fairly resilient bunch here at the Council.

What was an unexpected positive that came out of the experience? 

Sam: The fact that our nation coped so well with an event as challenging and unpredictable as a global pandemic is a great source of optimism for the future and something we should be very proud of.

Justin: Somehow the lockdown and not seeing each other brought us more together than ever. We became a team in the middle of a pandemic. How odd. But it worked and that’s all that mattered.

Deana: Better communication tools. Teams really transformed the way we were able to work and keep in touch with each other.

Glyn: I think Lockdown underscored the bond between our teams, our Zoo and the city, and highlighted just how special the relationship is between Zoo Keepers and the animals in our care.

Sean: The fast improvement in technology has been a real bonus to the way that we work. Council did a fantastic job of ensuring that all who were able to work remotely received all of the support they required to do so. This support has carried on post lockdown and has made many things we do so much easier, all for the benefit of the city and its residents.

Joanne: Customers' willingness to engage with us online, and reconfirm WCL as the library that never sleeps, which we’ve built on in different online services/programmes since. 

Amy: It opened up better communication within my team, and a real sense of everyone looking out for, and after, each other.

A nice headshot of Amy Hughes, Wellington Zoo General Manager Communication, Experience and Conservation, with blurred greenery behind her.
Amy from the Wellington Zoo team.

What was the most challenging part?

Amy: On a personal level, I live by myself and not having anyone to have a face-to-face conversation with during lockdown was challenging. And the sewage trucks that had to go past my house throughout lockdown. I know they were necessary, but the smell and noise while working from home was definitely challenging! 

Johnny: Not having everyone there collectively in the office. That instant access to knowledge, the ‘being able to walk over and have a chat’ privilege. It all helps with a bigger thinking space.

Nicky: Family anxiety. Kids’ college and uni study was hard initially. 

Sean: Having a team of people that have been hands on ‘doers’ for their entire lives and asking them to stay home and let someone else take care of what they would normally do was tough. Our whole team wanted to help, but not all were able to which I know was difficult for many of them.

Sam: Not being in the same room as people makes it harder to work out how they’re coping. Video conferencing can become quite transactional and you tend to lose some of the real depth of your interactions, so this needs to be addressed quite deliberately which necessitates a significant change in approach.

What’s one thing you’d do differently?

Sean: I do believe we need to be forgiving to ourselves a lot more. We can’t be all things to all people and personally I would set clearer expectations with both my team and my whānau around what I can and can’t do a lot earlier.

Nicky: Less supermarket visits. Better food.

Deana: We’d pull on our Council colleagues more for help. We realised later that there were really useful people that would have been able to help in the Contact Centre.

Glyn: Whilst a lot of Kiwis saw the lockdown as a chance to finish some DIY projects or renovations around their home, I wouldn’t recommend anyone start a major house renovation involving three giraffes and a herd of antelope during a pandemic. Think Grand Designs with giraffes!

Karl: Engage a counsellor and/or medical professional to join online team meetings to provide professional assistance in dealing with the high anxiety levels.

How do you think Wellington and Wellingtonians have changed since lockdown? 

Johnny: We appreciate more the simple pleasures, enjoying coffees with each other, walking down the street, even face-to-face meetings. There’s a type of unspoken aura that happens too when you’re in a room or a bar absolutely full of people, a feel of privilege and pride.

Deana: There is less of an expectation that business is 8am-5pm as Wellingtonians embrace flexible working.

April: More cautious and better hygiene practices!

Jess: Wellingtonians have been more willing to spend that little bit extra to help out the little, struggling people/businesses and for the most part have been happy to follow changes to their day-to-day life, like wearing masks on public transport.

Jessica Eden, Cable Car Passenger Service Operative and Administration, standing in her red uniform with a black mask over her mouth and nose, next to the iconic red Cable Car.
Jess from the Cable Car.

Karl: People have more awareness of the impact on others of going about normal business when feeling unwell and potentially spreading disease. The library has often been a place parents take their children when too sick to go to school - hopefully that has changed with the visit now being a more familiar virtual one.

Glyn: A lot of people found solace in our city’s abundant green spaces and so I think even more Wellingtonians appreciate our parks, gardens, waterfront and reserves that are sprinkled throughout our suburban neighbourhoods.

Amy: Wellingtonians seem to appreciate how lucky we are to live here, and the freedoms and access we have to do things that millions of people around the world can’t do right now.