Octopus Around the World: New Zealand
We're going around the world in 88 Octopuses.
Well, maybe not exactly 88 – but our tentacles are spreading all around the globe to drive the green energy transition, faster, cheaper, and better for people in all sorts of places from Texas to Tokyo, from Paris to Wellington, New Zealand.
First up, I'm going Down Under to Aotearoa New Zealand. Read on as I chat with Octopus Energy NZ’s Liam, Jamie and Rohan to find out what it’s like being Octopus Energy's overnight Secret Weapon...
Doubtful Sound: One of the most beautiful places in the world, and the location of one of the main hydro-electric stations in NZ
But first, a little about energy down under.
New Zealand has just about 2 million households and a whopping 85% of their electricity already comes from renewables - mostly hydroelectric, produced from generators on the gorgeous rivers and lakes spread across the country.
Nearly every home has smart meters installed – just part of why this small market is a shining example of the benefits of a smart, green energy system.
Octopus Energy powers around 5,000 customers across New Zealand, looked after by a lovely team in the capital Wellington, who are also creating awesomely innovative smart tariffs and products to give Kiwi's access to affordable, green power.
First up, I chat to Liam, Operations Manager in our New Zealand office.
At the moment, we have a small but fast growing customer base in NZ of around 5,000 people, so I make sure they’re receiving the service they deserve.
I met Liam 5 years ago, when we were a pair of newbies joining Octopus in Leicester. We were both amongst the first 150 people at the company and amongst the first 50 people to help customers from the Leicester office. We were a close team and at after-work drinks we’d often sit and chat about all our hopes and dreams for our new roles at Octopus. We all knew back then that the always kind and hard-working Liam was going to go far. Now, he gets to recreate the magic of the early days by helping a new Octopus grow in New Zealand.
We have 5 really great mini-teams which is exactly like how we started the Leicester office in the UK, so it feels very nostalgic
Liam joined Octopus in December 2017 as one of the first energy specialists in the Leicester office. A few months later, he was made Team Leader and continued in that role for about 3 years in the UK. One day, he mentioned to his manager offhandedly how much he’d like to move to New Zealand in the future. A month later, we all found out Octopus was heading to NZ – and Liam’s manager casually told the whole team he would be moving over to become their Head of Operations (to his, and everyone else’s great surprise!
I really didn’t see it coming but it was incredibly exciting and very Octopus-style to be so casual about it all
Octopus’ Secret Weapon
Aside from looking after customers in New Zealand, the team here have another particularly unique role in the business: supporting UK customers overnight to ensure 24/7 customer support while the UK team sleeps. I asked Liam a bit more about it:
We’re like a Secret Weapon: we jump on in the middle of the night to solve UK customers’ issues
A 13 hour time difference means that just as the UK’s support teams are finishing work for the day, Team NZ is waking up. Effectively, this ensures customers are always getting 24/7 support – especially important when it comes to emergencies.
On the super busy days, they also provide a magical bit of extra help to the UK teams. Like this past December, when NZ dropped everything to focus on processing tens of thousands of credit refund requests extra speedily to make sure customers got their cash back in time for Christmas.
We consider ourselves a little bit like the magical fairies that show up in the middle of the night
Energy specialist Jamie remembers one particularly special exchange he had with a customer who’d joined us from an energy company that had gone under. They were desperately in need of a refund from this previous supplier, but we hadn’t received any customer balance information from their previous company: 'It was coming up to Christmas whilst we were waiting for the information, and I just knew we had to find a way to make this work for the customer. The finance team couldn’t approve the refund with no information, so I decided to cancel his monthly Direct Debit so he wouldn’t have to pay for electricity for a few months, as his refund would cover his usage. They were thrilled and I feel lucky we are empowered enough at Octopus to think outside the box to find solutions that work for everyone.'
Ops Team Leader Rohan holds an Octopus record for responding to 2000 emails in a week (that’s about 400 a day) during a particularly busy period. 'My manager was so impressed he bought me a cricket story voucher as he knows I’m a big fan', he tells me.
You might think the time difference would cause a bit of a divide between the team and customers, but the NZ team are so lovely and dedicated, that’s not the case. Recently, Rohan even called a customer in the UK at 1 am NZ time to resolve a smart meter issue. ‘The customer was really happy that I called, and that his voice mattered and he still gets in touch with me directly whenever he has an issue.
We weren’t talking like a customer service rep and a customer, but like 2 friends. That’s the Octopus wayRohan
I asked the team to tell me a little more about life in Wellington, NZ.
Jamie, energy specialist and smart metering expert in the NZ team since 2021, was born and raised in Wellington – and he wouldn’t have it any other way. The city has a population of about 200,000 people but feels a lot smaller. You can walk across the entire city in a few hours, and it has a quaint feel, like those little villages in Netflix rom coms where the characters are always bumping into people they know at their local cafe. There is a real sense of closeness and community that is mirrored in the Octopus office.
Rohan’s one of the Wellington team leaders. A man of frequent travel, he’s spent years living in India and Nigeria. He tells me the biggest difference in Wellington is the quiet. ‘I’m used to cities with millions of people, so coming to New Zealand in the middle of the lockdown was a strange and eerily quiet experience.’ After a few hilarious stories of the friendly chaos and loudness he is used to back home, he admits ‘I’ve gotten used to it now and New Zealand has been so kind to me. Wellington is such a quaint, gorgeous place and the people are so lovely over here.’
And as for Liam — he’s fitting right in.
I loved NZ from the moment my plane landed and working in the Wellington office is such a vibe…
What’s it like working at Octopus’ Wellington HQ?
Right in the heart of the city, the office overlooks the waterfront and the gorgeous mountains which offer a beautiful view all year round. From time to time, you could even find yourself glancing out the window during a meeting to see a pod of dolphins swimming through the harbour. ‘In the summer, many of us will head to the beach or go for a swim during lunch which is pretty special. We have a lovely open plan office which feels like a really nice, collaborative space. We also happen to have the best coffee machine around!’ Liam
And no waterfront views or coffee could beat the team themselves. Jamie tells me all about the super friendly, social atmosphere. Many of the group have become close friends, often spending their lunch breaks taking walks on the beach together. With his friendly manner, quick wit and easy laugh it’s no wonder he has become fast friends with the people on his team.
Just be who you are and you’ll feel right at home here
I love it, it’s the best place I've ever worked. It has the best attitude towards teamwork, because there is endless support from everyone. It was challenging coming to work as one of the oldest people in the office, but our office really encourages and embraces people who are themselves.
Rohan joined as an energy specialist one and a half years ago, as the 14th person in the office. A mechanical engineer, he moved to New Zealand to do his Masters in Renewable Energy as it's a hub for emerging renewable technologies. ‘I applied to Octopus as its vision to bring our world to Net Zero aligned with my own.'
After a month or two of working as an energy specialist, he was drawn to a path in leadership and despite some challenges, he kept trying until it worked out: 'I love our office, I’m really grateful for the safe space we have created'.
We have an amazing culture that is super supportive and kind. I’ve made so many genuine mates and bonds here. When I first came to Octopus I was a shy and quiet person, but I was always encouraged to be the best version of myself and explore and adapt skills I never knew I had.Rohan
I asked the team how they’re working to recreate the magic of Octopus but in a way that’s still distinctly NZ.
We never set out to be a carbon copy of the UK, and we want to do things the New Zealand way
Liam tells me he spent a lot of time thinking about the Octopus values he learnt on day one. Values like empowering the entire team, and treating everyone like adults. ‘I really wanted to maintain that level of freedom and trust we have in our teams. I told everyone very early on that they didn’t need to ask for permission all the time, and that I trusted them to put the customers' interests first.
Working flexible hours from Kenya I can personally attest to how flexible Octopus is when it comes to working hours, holidays and the best ways to support customers. If there is one thing that all Octopus offices have in common, it’s the golden guideline; Just do the right thing.
‘It took a little while to instil that motto in the team as it was so different to what most people were used to from previous jobs, but I’m really proud of how everyone has applied themselves.’.
Everything is a learning opportunity, and if someone makes a mistake - that’s okay. We’ll just work together to fix it.Liam
Liam has also adopted the Octopus staple of ‘pickles’ where a crack team of people are brought together to resolve a current problem area whether it is to improve staff wellness or customer happiness.
It's a very collaborative team so we're always working together and sharing ideas
The team observe some important cultural celebrations not everyone may have heard of across the pond – like Matariki, which marks the start of the Māori New Year.
As a NZ business, it's so important New Zealand’s indigenous Māori culture is reflected in the company. And as a British import in NZ, there’s still so much to learn about the storied and intricate Māori history, battling against imperialism and continued oppression.
We have so much to learn from Māori culture, particularly when it comes to protecting Earth. Here are a few key things to know:
Kaitiakitanga - environmental guardianship and protection. Māori view Taiao (Earth) holistically. Their wellbeing and identities are interconnected to Taiao. As members of hapū (kinship groups), they have responsibilities and deep knowledge of their rohe pōtae (homelands).
Rāhui - A practice used to care for Taiao is to declare rāhui - these are temporary bans on the use of land and waterways to give the Earth time to restore and heal.
Whakatapu - is a permanent prohibition to protect Taiao. Māori and the peoples of Te Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa the Pacific are campaigning on a whakatapu to stop new coal, oil and gas projects.
Staff wellness is a huge priority at Octopus, and Liam was determined to keep the focus, particularly, as he was setting up the office in the midst of a pandemic and energy crisis.
If the team isn’t feeling supported or positive, dealing with difficult conversations all day can affect their mental health. So, we have initiated our own Wellness Wednesdays where we check in on each other (which is my favourite activity in the week) as well as bike-to-work programmes and nutrition talks. They also have partnerships with organisations like Money Matters to support the team with financial advice
We’re always doing things in the office to motivate each other. If my cup is empty, I can’t pour into someone else’s glassJamie
Liam, Rohan and Jamie tell me the office is filled with support and they have created a kind and encouraging atmosphere. Many people in the office often hang out for group lunches or dinner and drinks after work.
Often on a Monday morning, people will be talking about nights out and trips they took with other colleagues, and I’m so happy that’s the kind of environment we have fosteredLiam
What’s next for Octopus New Zealand?
Liam tells me they’ll continue supporting UK customers, helping with overnight emergencies, and developing as a NZ energy supplier too.
New Zealand has nearly 100% smart meter uptake, and often upwards of 80% renewables powering the country (mostly hydro power) – the soil’s ripe for super innovative green tariffs. They’re creating their own versions of Octopus smart tariffs like Intelligent Octopus, and they’ve recently installed the country’s first ever vehicle to grid home EV charger, so that in the not too distant future, kiwi drivers could use their car to power their house.
After our chat, it becomes clear to me that the Wellington office is just our first foray into this part of the world, and the first step to a new frontier.
Quick Fire Round with the Team
This is controversial being British, but New Zealand fish and chips
Favourite local artists?
An incredible local artist named … hand painted our office walls and it looks incredible.
The biggest surprise of living in New Zealand?
How insanely windy it is
One thing that only happens in New Zealand?
Matariki, the awesome Maori New Year celebration that happens in July.
Which Octopus office would you like to teleport to?
Japan to do some skiing.
What's your must visit spot in Wellington?
The Zealandia animal reserve.
Best Octopus Memory?
When everyone did a funny, creative work project explaining complicated concepts, we created our own video skit based on the birds and the bees about metering.
Best Kiwi slang?
Chur Bro - it means thank you, but it’s super versatile.
Favorite New Zealand dish?
Nothing beats a hāngī. That's a traditional Maori dish where you cook the meat in special pit dug in the ground.
Favourite local artist?
I love the band Six 60; their street concerts are the best.
If you could teleport yourself to any other octopus office right now, where would you go?
Favourite Octopus Memory?
Walking in on my first day and realising how non-corporate Octopus was. Everyone was dressed casually and the office was super colourful. The interviewer asked me if I wanted a glass of water, and whilst it was such a small thing, that hospitality means a lot in my culture.
Favourite kiwi slang?
Favourite New Zealand dish?
Favourite local artist?
The band 660
Coolest thing about New Zealand?
As a huge cricket fan I have to say the huge cricket stadiums.
Hey I'm Constantine, welcome to Octopus Energy!×Close window