The way we interact – with one another and with our physical spaces – has changed.
Both directly – because of mandatory social distancing and isolation – but also indirectly – with ongoing changes to behaviour brought on by COVID-19, affecting the way we live and work forever.
As a species, we were forced to consider space and physicality in a way we haven’t before and find new ways of communicating that challenged both the strength and the nature of our relationships. So, as a business centred around property and people, Millar Merrigan was certainly tested.
But through it all, we’ve managed to end 2021 on a high note, with our year in review indicating one of our best yet. We were recognised as an Employer of Choice; our staff-led national industry discussions and policies; and our advice made it into the Victorian Government’s Future Planning Framework for Melbourne.
Now, to kickstart 2022 with renewed energy – thanks to a set of key learnings and a fresh perspective – we felt it essential to reflect on the challenges brought on by COVID-19, including what it meant for our industry, our team, and the way we all work.
It’s fair to say that COVID-19 turned the property industry upside down.
Among the many factors contributing to property prices, reduced population growth was the key determinant.
With remote working, office occupancy plummeted, but as demand fell in capital cities, and especially in central business districts, it rose elsewhere.
The government responded to alleviate uncertainty regarding these impacts on the property market, offering direct support via its HomeBuilder program as well as indirect changes to its monetary policy. Following this and the decline in mortgage interest rates, property prices have since risen dramatically.
Throughout all the turbulence, Millar Merrigan was there to provide clients with the advice they needed to make it through. And to navigate the storm for itself.
We asked Managing Director, Simon Merrigan, his thoughts on the unexpected disruptions Millar Merrigan had to adapt to, as chaos crept in:
In the early days, it was very difficult to know what will happen. Everything in the world and in our state was in meltdown. People were not paying their bills… but our priority was the health risk COVID presented. Specifically, ensuring every employee felt secure and had the means to be working remotely in a safe environment, so we could continue to deliver exceptional service for our clients, nurturing our internal and external communities we exist to serve.
We took our responsibility – and our duty to our people – seriously.
Our assets are our people, and we needed to keep investing in them. So, whether that required offering support services, providing tangible resources for working from home, or aiding the set-up of effective working conditions, we did what we could to help. And along the way, it helped us too, in becoming a little more agile, a lot more innovative, and even more connected.
“Millar Merrigan is very focused on keeping the whole company connected as much as anyone could […] I would say I almost feel more connected with Millar Merrigan people than my own family! It’s probably a credit to how much they pushed for that connectivity.” – Aaron Smith, Civil Engineers Millar Merrigan.
That’s not to say it wasn’t challenging. It was a push that was required. Workers all over will have the experienced difficulty of staying motivated and working as efficiently in a home that’s not set up for that.
As stated by one of our Town Planners, Justin Hermann, “mentally you don’t think it’s affecting you”, but as the lockdowns dragged on, you realised it was, even if you weren’t aware of it at the start.
Luckily, we were quick to adjust, challenging ourselves to become more flexible and respectful, as a company and as individuals.
“Everyone understood that it was a tough time and that it was more unusual than anything that we’d ever experienced”, said Aaron, and “regular meetings with the planning team – keeping in touch with them – were very important to keep the brain in the zone and staying positive”, said Justin.
Adjustments in the way we communicate didn’t come easy for everyone.
Even though the technology and systems were in place, as a business and humans, we heavily rely on face-to-face communications.
As a company who prefers having a conversation face-to-face over sending an email, shifting to virtual communication was really the biggest change. In a conversation with Civil Engineer, Aaron, he mentioned how “the biggest learning was understanding how to communicate effectively in different spaces […] and that all online communication, through email, for instance, would have to be much clearer.”
Online communication created the need for more meetings, to organise work within and across teams. What we didn’t realise was that this cross-team interaction would provide the opportunity to gain knowledge outside our sectors, leading to synergies and contributing to the collective wisdom of Millar Merrigan.
In Justin’s opinion, having to adapt to “a lot of virtual communications, it has shown us that as a company we can actually continue in this new fashion and that there are different ways to do things, we don’t have to be stuck in our own ways”, highlighting an unprecedented opportunity for growth and evolution as a business.
Fortunately, Millar Merrigan was already ahead of the curve when it came to facilitating a flexible and remote working environment which made the transition to working remotely on a full-time capacity smooth.
This further opened up the opportunity to search for and hire talented individuals going beyond geographical constraints. Debra O’Brien, one of our civil engineers, is based in the Hunter Valley region of NSW and was the first employee to be hired as a fully remote worker during COVID.
She described her remote onboarding experience to be seamless, and as having given her the opportunity to regain a healthy work-life balance that suits her lifestyle and preferences:
“It’s been wonderful being here, rather than spending my time on the train or driving […] when you have animals that you have to look after; you have to get up pretty early to get things done and feed everybody. Being at home, I can get up at a reasonable hour, feed the animals, then have breakfast, have a cup of coffee, make the long commute of 30 seconds or less to my little office and start the day!”
Debra lives on a farm with her family and many animals.
The push towards remote working has further emphasised the value of preparedness.
As we gradually move into a post-pandemic period, Millar Merrigan acknowledges the needs of our people have changed, dramatically and permanently. Working styles from hereon will be different, and we support the greater work-life balance many have been able to achieve:
“I have time to go for a workout in the morning, for a walk at lunch, put on my washing, I just have more time to do more general life things which means it frees me up for other things and hopefully this can keep happening” Aaron Smith, Civil Engineer says.
In fact, the opportunities for individuals extend beyond work-life balance, with many of our staff saving both time and money. One of our Town Planners, Justin Hermann, recently bought a house in Pakenham:
“The time saved in travelling is a big thing and, especially now with the high cost of petrol, if I was to drive every day to the office from Pakenham and back – that’s close to 1 hour of driving each way, which is very expensive.”
With its goal of nurturing communities – both internal and external – Millar Merrigan supports such changes in lifestyle, as they improve the lives of its people.
We wish to carry these learnings with us into 2022, as we continue to reimagine how – and where – work is accomplished. So, we can continue building better lives for more people, summarised by Debra as:
“Keeping everyone connected, keeping everyone grounded, and making sure that everyone is good and cared for.”