Being a leader during lockdown – meet BizStory’s GM

How Arnie Benjamin navigates business management and promotes team wellbeing while working from home

For business owners and managers, New Zealand’s lockdown has been the ultimate test of leadership agility.

Driving productivity, overseeing projects, and nurturing team wellbeing is enough of a challenge in the workplace, let alone when the whole country is working from home! We’re interviewing our own General Manager, Arnie Benjamin, about her experience of team leadership during the lockdown.

Leadership is Arnie’s passion, and something she takes very seriously. We’re sharing the ways that Arnie adapts her techniques to support the BizStory team as we work remotely – and the lessons she’s learned along the way!

Facing the challenge head-on

When New Zealand’s Level 3 and Level 4 announcements were made, Arnie had already made the call for BizStory to start working from home to iron out any kinks in our communications and workflow processes – just in case.

For Arnie, the situation ushered in a series of challenges familiar to many managers who are now transitioning to working from home:

  • Creating a functioning workspace in a family environment, 
  • Ensuring continuity of professional services and individual capability, and 
  • Supporting the team at the level they needed on a day to day basis.

As the country was pushed to the edge of its comfort zone, managers and business owners have been challenged to find ways to continue operating through this uncertainty. Arnie believes we’ll come out better for it:

“It has certainly optimised strategic thinking for the executive team, and has enabled time to assess and streamline operational activity.  A great opportunity for learning and creative improvement.”

Merging the home and work space

For most of us, the immediate challenge of lockdown was figuring out the practicalities of where and how to work from home. For Arnie, this meant minimising disruptions for her family, but also ensuring they respected her space – and that her son wasn’t blasting Big Poppa by Notorious B.I.G during an important meeting!

“It was crucial to rearrange things quickly to allow my family to be themselves in their own space, and also to provide privacy for my team in our meetings and conversations.”

A long commute to and from work is a hassle for many, but our manager valued this time greatly. Arnie’s morning and evening commute pre-lockdown was for transitioning into her work mindset, or post work day reflection, with the help of audio books, music and leadership podcasts.

Now Arnie has to schedule in that same space and time – time for learning, professional development, and reflections on the day ahead or the day that has passed.

“I didn’t have that for the first week or so, and I could feel it. I was bringing the office into my home - I wasn’t leaving my personal space and entering my leadership space, I was merging the two together.” 

Many of us have experienced learning curves like this in the past few weeks. Often, the routines and habits that we take for granted are the ones we don’t notice missing for the first week or two.

What routines and habits have you missed while working from home? How have you created new ways to integrate these into your life? Let us know, get in touch. 

A toolbox of methods for connection

When it came to performing her role as manager and leading the BizStory team, one of Arnie’s early concerns was how she was going to make up for a lack of face to face contact. We’re a tight-knit bunch at BizStory, and as we started working from home we quickly missed the yarns over a morning coffee and mid-afternoon laughter! 

“It’s easy when you’re with the team in person.  You get a feel for the temperature of the room – you can have a little conversation as you walk by, a one liner here or there,  read body language… with those tell signs gone, the communication rhythm had to change for me to stay connected to my team more than ever, to maintain productivity and encourage wellbeing.”

We’ve been using Zoom and Slack to keep in touch with each other and replicate the same energy and connectedness that we enjoy in the office. Despite the separation – working from our bubbles in our central city apartments, villa flats, and even a lodge in Paihia – we’ve been able to connect on a different level than before, getting a beautiful glimpse of each other's lives in their own home space.

For Arnie, bridging the gap with video calls for team meetings and one-on-one sessions is essential to check in on our wellbeing, guide us to achieve our goals and make sure that we’re maintaining the BizStory standard.

“I had to ensure we were maximising communication, ensuring clear goals for the team, constructive meetings with purpose, and a direct focus on everyone’s individual and collective strengths.”

Arnie relies on a toolbox of ways to connect with the team during this time: 

  • A structured comms rhythm collectively and with every individual, creating space for insights, open conversations, and in readiness for support they might need.
  • Clarity of roles and responsibilities, to minimise any misunderstandings through the disruption by maintaining focus on individual objectives. 
  • Video calls rather than phone calls or emails, to keep routine from the office world and to socially optimise team connection and collaboration in the remote world. 

Arnie's Top Tips for WFH Success

At Level 4, Level 3, and even Level 2 we will continue to see businesses struggling with maintaining their processes and communications until we return to normal.

If you’re a business owner or manager, Arnie has four tips to work-from-home success:

1. Create clarity around expectations

Things that work in an office or face to face environment don’t always translate accurately to remote working employees. Clarity is your closest ally right now.

2. Communicate often

Video meetings are key as they provide visual clues as to how staff are doing - more than half of human communication is non-verbal and this should be taken as an opportunity for leaders.

3. Nurture connection

Enriching your connection with staff and their wellbeing is paramount - this informs the team culture, dynamic and performance. Your relationship should foster and encourage engagement and productivity.

4. Meet people where they are

Acknowledge that each team member will have challenges working from home, that each situation is unique to them. Be present, meet them where they are each day, and respond with deliberate consideration and kindness.

Putting the Biz in BizStory

We’re proud and grateful to have managed this shift during lockdown and continue writing epic content for our clients, whilst taking care of each other and embracing the changes that we’ve experienced from this unprecedented time.

“Everything operationally is business as usual - and while we aren’t able to create or collaborate in the beautiful gallery that is our office space, we are very lucky we can  continue service for our clients and embrace the change before us.”

During times like this it can be hard to find the right words – even for us! But as individuals and as a team, we’re noticing the learning and growth that this experience has facilitated.

When we ditch our track pants and return to the office, our foosball table, and our lunches in Albert Park, we’ll bring a new perspective and gratitude for what we’ve built as a team – led by a manager who nurtured our connection throughout lockdown.


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