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Is returning to the office the best working model?

Lady in the office

Organisations around the world are grappling with how to “return to the office”. 

In a nutshell

  1. Organisations need to find innovative solutions to the question of how to return to the office.   
  2. Instead of taking a rules-based approach, our organising idea was people. We used this premise to rethink our working model. 
  3. TRA Flex empowers staff to work in a way that suits their lives while balancing the needs of their teams and clients – we call it the three-way win.

We see a lot written about allowing people to work from home as a competitive advantage. Others believe their unique culture can only be sustained if everyone is in the office all the time.

To us, these options miss the point completely. With our trans-Tasman offices exiting extended lockdowns, and massive growth within TRA, we knew it was time for TRA to find a fundamentally innovative solution to this common workplace problem.  

Instead of taking a rules-based approach, our organising idea was people.

People have whole lives; work is part of that, but so is everything else – whether that's children, a partner or a passion. Work needs to integrate with life, as well as life integrating with work. People need to have the personal agency to decide what, where and when is best for them – not a 'one-size fits no-one' solution.  

We took this premise and used it to rethink our whole working model. If we were true to that organising idea, what could work like at TRA? Would you have physical boundaries? Would you be bound by times or time zones? How would it work for our clients, our culture, our commitment to people development and shared learning?   

This would be a bold transformation for our ways of working, so we did what TRA does best; multidisciplinary research. From surveys, we knew our team loved TRA’s culture, innovation, and learning – and they wanted to maintain that, with more flexibility. In-depth interviews surfaced an insight: flexibility unlocks creativity and productivity across teams and disciplines. A co-creation workshop with our entire team clarified the support, people initiatives and resource required to create a truly flexible workplace. 

TRA Flex

From this, we developed TRA Flex. TRA Flex empowers staff to work in a way that suits their lives best, while balancing the needs of their teams and clients – we call it the three-way win. It builds a supportive, equitable and collaborative environment, bolstered via financial contribution to home office setups, wellbeing support, and access to spaces beyond home or the office. Digital inclusivity ensures equal opportunity for contribution, regardless of location, timezone, or care commitments.  

To help our people and team leaders talk about and understand TRA flex, we created a guide with personas and examples of how they can be supported to “flex”. This made it feel real, ensuring people knew we didn't just mean token change. 

TRA Flex means that people can decide where, when and how they work.

It can change by the day, to fit around their lives. Or they can decide to make more far-reaching changes. It has allowed people to have their own different arrangements, without feeling they are short-changing people or sacrificing their own personal career progression.

For example, one of our insights executives works between Palo Alto and San Francisco, as her partner is studying in the United States. She works mainly New Zealand hours, but a little later in the day which works perfectly for meeting tight client deadlines. A three-way win in action. 

We have a behavioural specialist who works from Dunedin, roughly three days a week, so that she can also pursue her passion for painting. Climate change is another passion, so she only flies to Auckland when she can bundle events, coming for one fortnight a quarter to save emissions.

We have nine-day fortnights, with longer workdays, or just nine-tenths of a full-time role.  And we have young graduates who never have to feel worried about being late for the dentist, moving flats, or wanting to go early for a big weekend. And parents who as have real freedom to structure their days around daycare schedules or make the most of the summer holidays.

Since implementing TRA Flex, our engagement scores have increased from 76% (2020) to 82% (2021). 97% of employees answered the question, “we are genuinely supported if we choose to make use of flexible working arrangements” favourably, an increase of 21%. Qualitative feedback also shows the sudden and significant impact of TRA Flex on our staffs’ lives. If you use people as your organising principle it really works. 

So much so that we are now completely re-thinking the role of our office – and how it works to support TRA Flex, as well as being a collaborative, creative hub. 

TRA Flex is just one more way we challenge the status quo. If you would like to join a diverse group of thinkers and adopt a flexible approach to work-life balance, take a look at our current career openings.  

Headshot of Karin Glucina, Partner at TRA in black and white
Karin Glucina

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