Digital organising accelerates in 2021

December 1, 2021

It has become trite to say but nevertheless true that we live in extraordinary times.

Iain Lees-Galloway
Iain Lees-Galloway

We all thought 2020 was a challenging year. But, as Christmas beckons, we will look back on another extraordinary 12 months filled with challenges and triumphs for NZNO, for each of us individually, our country and the world.


Staffing issues were exacerbated by the border closure and the additional nursing work that comes with managed isolation, quarantine, vaccinations and testing. Workplace health and safety was tested by the psychological strain of nearly two years of pandemic. Primary health and DHB strikes saw delegates, members and staff put an incredible effort into organising actions and arranging life preserving services. The necessary and evidence-based vaccine mandate has caused unavoidable disruption.


All of this happened against fundamental changes to the way we go about our work. Our use of digital technology has grown steadily in recent times but, like so many other organisations, we’ve had no choice but to accelerate that use over the last two years. It’s not just meeting by Zoom. We now have online voting and online surveys. We gather in social media groups to discuss our projects.

Many staff work from home, travel less and learn how to collaborate on digital platforms rather than in person. This all raises questions about how we operate as an organising union.

Nothing can replace face-to-face, human interaction for building the relationships we need to achieve results. However, we can’t ignore the reality that, for now, many of our interactions have to be online and, in the future, we may be better off doing more online if we have the right plans and structures in place. One example we have seen this year is more of our delegates supporting members with individual employment matters.


Often, the delegate will be in the room with the member while an organiser joins the meeting by video call. This is a good example of the organising model in action where our trained delegates can assume more responsibility and strengthen their role in the workplace. For this to work, our delegates need to feel confident as advocates.

Our delegate education and development pathways are designed to provide the skills and experience they need to have that confidence. It would be good to hear from delegates if there is more we could be doing.

Education delivery itself has undergone changes with more content delivered online. Our educators adjusted delivery with sessions run by video call and modules developed that delegates can access when it suits them. Hopefully, over the next couple of years, the restrictions to fight the pandemic will be lifted. We will be able to see each other in person more often and that can only be a good thing. We should use this time to consider what aspects of organising are better done in person and what aspects can be enhanced by using digital technology. We’ve had the push to try new things. Let’s hold on to the ones that work better.

I want to thank everyone who contributed to our industrial success in 2021. Members were courageous and resilient in the face of challenges. Thank you for being united and using your collective power to settle collective agreements and fight for pay equity and safe workplaces. Our delegates work incredibly hard, often in their own time, to organise members, provide information and implement our plans on the ground. Our staff go above and beyond to empower our delegates and support our members when needed. Our leaders have superbly represented us in the media and advocated to politicians to make sure there is support for our ambitions. Our collective strength and unity of purpose has made 2021 a success for NZNO. Let’s take that momentum into 2022 and achieve even more.

Kia kaha!