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Christchurch earthquake business recovery: temporary office solutions

Following on from my last post Christchurch earthquake business recovery – the months ahead, I’ve collected some thoughts about one of the main operational challenges for many our businesses: securing temporary office premises.


My own business Memia has already gone through this process after the aftershock on Boxing Day knocked out our offices on Cashel Mall and we managed to relocate to share offices with our friends at Leftclick within a couple of weeks, but we’re now waiting to hear if that building made it through well enough to be safe to re-occupy.

The CBD has been flattened. Similarly some suburbs. The Mayor announced today that over one third of the buildings in the CBD will need to be demolished and rebuilt. Minister for Earthquake Recovery Gerry Brownlee said a “huge demolition effort” will leave the central city off-limits for months – Brownlee said the CBD would be closed “for some months at best”. ‘ Whatever the long term strategy for the city (my hope is an architect’s playground made up of 4-storey reinforced steel and glass eco-buildings?), our immediate problem is that there is going to be next to no available office space for months at least, probably a year. Affected Christchurch businesses need a rapid solution: here are the main options – it may be that most businesses choose a mix of these.

Option 1: Lease new premises in Christchurch

If possible, a lot of businesses may want to enter into a new lease for new premises. This happened a lot after the last two major quakes in Christchurch on 4th Sept and 26th Dec.

Pros: A permanent solution means the problem is dealt with in one go.

Cons: Firstly there will be a shortage of serviceable office space throughout town – prices will be high, competition for space fierce and there won’t be a lot of choice to go round. Staff are unlikely to want to work in any high-rise buildings. Relocation costs will be substantial, and costs of procuring new office equipment: desks, chairs etc will be high. Also, legally speaking my understanding is that the current lease does not expire for 3 months so if there is the possibility that your current building can be refurbished then you could find yourself  in a “limbo” period before being able to commit to a new lease.

Option 2: Relocate to another city.

Relocate operations and key staff to another NZ city, either temporarily or permanently. I saw a tweet just now that our friends at Clarus have decided to do this and move their consulting team up to Auckland.

Pros: Can quickly get up and running in new rented office space in another city. Need to find new desks and chairs, telecoms equipment and workstations but these will be easily procured in another city.

Cons: Many staff with families unwilling to move, you may not be able to service your customers from outside Christchurch, and I guess rationally there’s no reason to assume that anywhere else in NZ is going to be any safer from an earthquake!

Option 3: Get staff working from home

Many businesses have already taken this approach and some have managed to rescue computer equipment from their offices so that staff can take them home to work.

Pros: Quickest solution to quickly get staff up and running and at least partly productive. Companies can potentially rotate staff  with “office days” / “home days” to reduce the needs for desks in the main offices.

Cons: Many staff will still be homeless for weeks or months. Also power and internet may not be up again for the next few weeks across the city. Staff will likely get many interruptions at home, remote teamwork and collaboration will be difficult especially for businesses which did not have the tools and processes set up before the quake. Meeting customers will be hard without proper meeting facilities.

Option 4: Share offices with businesses who still have them

Pros: Apart from the initial disruption of getting equipment and desks set up in a shared space, this is a pretty good option.

Cons: Not a lot given the circumstances!

Option 5. Rapidly furnish temporary office accommodation

This option is possibly the most optimum for providing serviceable semi-permanent office space without needing major earthworks or building. There are a number of temporary site office solutions based on modular shipping container architectures, or other types of solution used in the constuction industry.

See some of the images below (courtesy Convozine and others) – these solutions are a no-brainer to providing plenty of rapidly serviceable, earth-quake proof office space for staff without requiring major rebuilding costs. Plus it’s a green solution by recycling old shipping container. And, if you look at these images, it’s clear that the conversions don’t *have* to be an architectural and design eyesore!

Each 6m-long shipping container provides about 13 sq.m. of floorspace – enough to house 3 desk workers side-by-side? Prices start at $350/month for pre-fabricated containers with electrical wiring. built-in.

Some regional companies selling this stuff:

ATCO:  http://www.atcosl.com/en-ca/Products-and-Services/Products-and-Services/australia-site-offices.htm

ContainerTech:  http://www.containertech.co.nz/containers/8/office-container/

Royal Wolf: http://www.royalwolf.co.nz/products/worksite.aspx

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