What did you find the hardest about lockdown?
Like many people I really missed the ability to collaborate with my colleagues face-to-face. While we were able to adapt really quickly and we had access to great virtual collaboration tools to keep us connected, we are social creatures at the end of the day, and personal interactions are important.
What issues did Covid-19 expose or exacerbate that we need to focus on in New Zealand?
Covid-19 shone a spotlight on the inequalities that exist in our society, including the unacceptable levels of digital inequality we have in New Zealand. This is something close to my heart, and a core focus area of our strategy at Spark. There are currently around 300,000 New Zealanders who don’t have access to broadband at home – some of that is by choice, but the majority is due to barriers such as cost, access and lack of skills.
This issue was particularly apparent when we were faced with the fact many children wouldn’t be able to keep learning because they didn't have access to a broadband connection at home, or a device. As a result the Ministry of Education had to work incredibly fast to try and bridge that divide in a very short timeframe, and we supported that effort with our not-for-profit product Skinny Jump. But that is just a starting point – there is so much more to do when it comes to digital equity, and this extends beyond families with school aged kids to other groups such as seniors, the unemployed, English as a second language etc.
While we have created some temporary bridges across those gaps or inequalities, we have not permanently solved them as a country and we need to ensure social outcomes are a key part of our economic recovery.
What silver lining have you taken from the Covid-19 experience?
I think Covid-19 has made me value those close to me even more. While it has been such a challenging time for so many, one of the few silver linings has been the opportunity to slow down the pace of life for a short period and spend more time with family. As we switched to Alert Level 1 I have reflected on how I spend my time and I can see an opportunity to focus in on more flexible ways of working in the future. The reality is that seven weeks is more than long enough to change behaviours for a lifetime.
What should New Zealand be focussing on to recover and grow stronger in the future?
I believe Covid-19 must provide the catalyst for New Zealand to rethink our approach to building and improving our digital skills, investing in critical infrastructure and embracing new ways of working that help create a more resilient, modern and fair economy that delivers growth for all New Zealanders.
We all need to be part of shaping this future, the thinking, the investments and the partnerships to succeed. This isn’t something the Government or private sector can do alone. To do this well we need to step back and create a long term, strategic plan for our country, to guide where and why we invest over the coming decade to help kiwis flourish.
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