At the recent Work Place/Work Life conference hosted by Architecture Media in Sydney, architects and designers from around the world revealed some of the exciting design-led changes to the workplace in cities from Copenhagen to Melbourne. In Nordic countries for example, workplaces now cater for six generations as governments encourage knowledge-rich septuagenarians back into the workforce, and offices foster flexibility in both design and behaviour, in part driven by geography and social needs but also because of new technologies available to support the push for a work/life balance.
Speakers including architect Emily Moss, a principal at Hassell in Sydney, talked about the parameters of the once private office space that has become much more permeable, with exhibition spaces and cafes open to the public. Quantitive research is now pairing up with qualitative research and spaces are filled with nature, daylight and increased flexibility, with employees embracing a new role as ‘change agents’ and placing sustainability front and centre of the workplace environment. In response, building methodology has its eyes on the long-term to address the commercial fitout rollercoaster, which, from a construction point of view, is on par with the growing shift from single-use products to reduce waste.
more space caught up with Emily Moss in Sydney to discuss Hassell’s projects for Arup, Lendlease, Atlassian and Morningstar, which have not only radically changed how their client’s work but also established a new kind of client relationship.
more space: You were a participant at the annual Work Place/Work Life conference, who caught your attention?
Emily Moss: I really enjoyed Paulette Christophersen from PLH Arkitekter in Copenhagen. Paulette talked about the mega trends in the workplace and how they are being applied in Nordic countries. With the type of work we do at Hassell we look to Scandinavia for inspiration, so hearing how strategically they approach the workplace and how they are evolving it is interesting. One of the projects that Paulette talked about was BloxHub, a government department that looks at opportunities to connect with the public realm by including entrepreneur spaces. We also have clients who want to connect and engage with the community but they're still struggling to work out how to do that.
What is a good local example?
At Barangaroo, Lendlease really wanted to create connection with the community but the reality was they had floors in the middle of a tower so there was no street presence. What we did was look at opportunities to create a staff shared space where there were event and pop-up spaces and that the public were welcome to come in and use them. They also have a cafe that's now accessible to staff, visitors and guests.
Talking about Scandinavia as a model for social agenda in the workplace, where does Australia sit globally?
Socially the Scandinavians have the heritage but their geography plays a big role too. A lot of the campuses for larger corporates are located outside the city so people are travelling to work and everything they need has to be on site. Healthy food is fully subsidised and it’s a one stop shop. We are not far behind but they are doing a little bit better than we are because of that cultural heritage.
So what you are designing now are workplaces that are more permeable between private and public space?
Yes, at Lendlease we called it the 'square in the sky' and it was all about community connection. At Arup they are also about drawing the public and the industry into their organisation. Again, their office is inside a podium and not directly connected to the ground plane, so their planning model was around blurring the public and private over their floors, rather than creating one client floor.
That’s quite a radical step and the opposite of the security measures you see in many city buildings.
The approach is good because you don’t feel like an Intruder. There is no formal security barrier and it is self-managed by the team.
I am interested in design as a vehicle for change.
We see every project as an opportunity to challenge what we've done before as a design team and what our organisation has done in terms of the business, but also what our clients are doing. We are finding that a lot of our corporate clients have experience with workplace design teams. We see that as really positive because we are coming into a project with a knowledgeable and experienced group of people. They almost invite us in to be partners so it’s much more collaborative. Because we know that they know the metrics and the business, we can learn from them and then challenge them.
So, they are researchers from within their own company.
We find that the dialogue is much more fluid because we don't need to turn up with a polished presentation explaining everything. We are already speaking the same language so we can do workshops or rough-and-ready presentations and move forward quickly. We spend more time designing and thinking and talking, rather than spending hours on presentations. In a more conventional relationship you tend to spend a lot of time on the presentation to a certain management tier and then it goes up the chain. When it is a dialogue, we can challenge and they can push and it's much more dynamic.
It sounds like your clients like to get involved in the design process.
Some really do and some just want the answers. The ones we want to work with are the ones that want to be involved in the process and to take ownership. At the end of the day, they're the ones who are left with the workplace that they need to manage. I think if they've been through the process and they understand why decisions were made, and what the intent is and how we've set up a platform for things to evolve over time, they can manage it well into the future.
I guess a part of that too is the the education within the broader team, there must be some nervousness?
Definitely. Paulette’s discussion about multiple generations working together in Scandinavia was very interesting. There they have six (Australia is currently at five) and the newest generation have had laptops at school and classrooms with basically no tables. The older generation can be in their 60s or 70s so the challenge is to provide spaces, facilities and amenities that support staff across those generations and that’s quite challenging.
Has a lot changed in workplace design in a relatively short amount of time?
Five years ago I was designing Lendlease at Barangaroo. It was probably one of the first projects where some of the more qualitative factors came in, like wellness and supporting staff across more than one generation, rather than just being around metrics or real estate decisions like space budgets. Since then, it's become even more about qualitative so yes, definitely in the last five years there has been a big shift.
Was the Lendlease office at Barangaroo the first to really challenge the traditional workplace in Sydney?
Yes, in this generation of workplaces. For us it was a big shift in how we approached workplace strategy because we had been coming from an ABW agile environment approach where we had large neighbourhoods supporting groups of users sharing a space. The Lendlease strategy developed in conjunction with their own team, looked at how they could operate at their best based on the theory of Dunbar’s Number which says you can only have meaningful relationships with a finite number of people. So instead of a macro approach it was micro, with teams of 16 people sharing a series of spaces all at arm's reach: personal belongings behind them, a place to work together, retreat and to meet. On the flip side we then had to manage how we could get the greater organisation together too. So we planned social spaces that encouraged connection and interaction. The tea-points on each floor were deliberately small so staff would go upstairs to the larger externally operated cafe that’s always buzzing. That has obviously influenced how we've approached projects since. Even if it's back to a more conventional workplace model the cafe and the food have definitely become a focus. If you have good coffee people will gather.
How has that challenged other companies, and is it harder for the smaller ones to manage change?
Lendlease is a significant organisation within the industry and historically their projects have had a lot of influence. Small organisations can be more agile but it all depends on the people who are managing the project and what their appetites are for challenging what they are used to, and what their business drivers are too. We designed the Morningstar office in Barangaroo which is a large global investment group with offices all around the world. They are a relatively small organisation in Australia so it came down to the fact they wanted to challenge their global norms, which was a lot to do with the more open local culture. We took an agile approach to planning, no offices, a blurred front of house and staff amenity.
I'm interested in some of the complex concepts you've developed that have really pushed clients.
The concepts we develop are often driven from a design strategy. For Lendlease it was about developing a response to a new brief in terms of how people were going to work differently. At Arup, we explored how to blur the front of house, public and private spaces over a vertical stack without actually having a physical line. They were challenges in terms of design and planning, but also how we could educate the client through the process of that change, as well as their appetite for adopting and managing it into the future. Often there's a facility or a management overlay that needs to be embraced and bought into at the design phase before we can move on. At Arup we took away the reception desk and had a concierge point which was in the middle of the stack, the shared space. There were teething issues around how that would operate. Staff are standing all day so how do you manage that and additional responsibilities they may have. We helped them through that process and it’s been a huge success.
The Atlassian pilot space was an interesting process because they had come from a fairly contemporary forward-thinking starting point. Everyone already worked on a mobile desk with daisy-chain power so they were very free to adapt their space themselves. We designed a pilot space for them in Clarence Street in Sydney to test various spatial solutions and adopt some of the ABW work styles that we know really well. We moved them in and we had a well-balanced plan where we had half the staff on one side on mobile desks and the rest of the team on the other side, with areas to relax in between. They loved the spaces in between, but they wanted to sit together. When we visited, all of the desks had moved from one side of the floor and everyone was sitting together in a very dense area. Even though they're very focused coding there was a social need to be together. Once Atlasssian became a multi-sited office, we also had to create attractors between the two spaces. Again food was our way to draw people together. Atlassian is one of the few organisations in Australia that provides all staff food and drinks.
Are you often surprised with the outcomes?
Yes, the Atlassian project was interesting. With the lab spaces there is often a time limit so in a way you are less precious about it. It becomes a real social experiment and you learn a lot. We were lucky that most of the furniture for the Atlassian pilot was on loan so there was no financial commitment and we could really test things.
Is behavioural research part of the design service?
Hassell has a sector for knowledge and strategy and our team develops strategic briefs for projects and then we'll pick that up as part of our design brief. Often that will form part of our service on a project. On other projects, the client may have an external consultant who offers that service. Last week we also announced a strategic alliance with Brickfields Consulting which is really exciting. Now Brickfields will support us in sourcing insights on quantitive data. It’s really interesting because they are a specialised market research organisation and we can draw data around users, demographics of a space, or insights that can help us respond to a design brief. On the flip side, at the end of a project we often do a post-occupancy study. Sometimes that's part of our service, but sometimes it's something that we do as part of our own research. The more data you have the more compelling an argument around a design solution is, so it supports us and gives our clients confidence.
Organisations are looking for happiness, wellness and productivity, so that makes a lot of sense.
Yes, we all talk about the benefits of good workplaces: people take less sick days or are more satisfied at work, but you really need that data to prove it.
Paulette talked about data being instrumental in demonstrating the value of design.
Our clients have become more intelligent and more experienced with design but they still need to have the proof. Often they are selling up the chain and they need the information to equip them to do that.
We talked about the international perspective on workplace and buildings that support Innovation, not just look innovative.
We went through a phase about five years ago when we were designing ‘innovation' spaces everywhere. It was almost gimmicky because it was about looking innovative which meant just be different to the client’s other spaces. I think we have to be really careful about how we design for innovation and not lock ourselves into current thinking around that either. It will continually evolve so sometimes spaces need to be totally agnostic because that's actually the innovation. A space that lets you do anything in it, that can take new technology, new modes of communication, and facilitate new ways of thinking without being too structured. That was our approach to Arup in a way, their business is constantly changing and we looked at how we could create spaces, furniture elements and installations that could keep on adapting. Their art space with its changing exhibitions is also a space used by the engineers to test equipment and lighting.
So, Arup has an open to the public research and development space?
Yes and we also designed a lighting lab which was not overly dedicated to lighting, but it allowed certain lighting systems to be tested. There is a sound lab that is very specific. It tests acoustics using technology that can change a space from, for example, a theatre to a railway station. For Arup it was about developing spaces that were adaptable, that didn’t look crazy from a technological perspective but were beautifully designed. I see them as agnostic spaces that take a whole lot of kit so it’s all about the set. Arup is a little bit like Atlasssian, their staff are very empowered to use and curate the space and they have a wonderful facilities team to support them. We often talk about the idea of a 'space host'. Some organisations adopt that, others don’t. Co-working spaces are really good at it, they have space hosts who facilitate functions that people might need and they help to alleviate the stress that you can feel at work.
It’s exciting to see the evolution of the office space in direct response to the agility of our lives.
I am finding that many of our clients are acknowledging that their staff need flexibility and their focus on space and metrics is actually becoming looser. The balance between cafes and social spaces, to workplaces, can be more flexible because we know that in the future that is where people are going to work. And when we talk about the future, we are only talking about a couple of years.
Collaboration, or cooperation, is really central to everything you do. Has there been a shift in how you work with your clients?
Absolutely. It's more and more collaborative and less about the traditional client consultant structure. It’s a partnership. Arup is definitely a very strong example of that, but that's also because they are consultants so they understand how we work and they also know what it's like to work with a good client. I am seeing now with our corporate clients there is more of an invitation to come into the project, rather than a consultant engagement. It's a shared responsibility on delivery and design which I think is really good, and I think we're getting better at working like that as well.
What are you designing into projects now, where is life at work heading?
What we are seeing in the projects we are working on now is growing shared spaces versus conventional workplace due to the flexible ways teams are working. There was a phase when companies were offering gym memberships, but we recently put aerial yoga slings into an office so that is the next level dedicated spaces to help staff de-stress. The Scandinavian model includes daycare centres at the workplace and I also think that the blurring between public and private space is going to continue. It varies per client right now, but some of the spaces we're working on you'll have 20% shared, 60% dedicated to workspace and then 40-50% for more flexible spaces. Obviously we are looking at how we design areas that can peel that back even more, like workstation systems that can be readily flipped to create social or collaborative spaces. But it is also about supporting staff at home too, rather than just providing amenity at work.
The staff at Arup, Lendlease and Atlassian were instrumental in pushing for amenity and flexibility within their workspaces, what other changes are being led from within the organisations you are working with?
The other big thing is environmental consciousness which is now huge. It has always been a factor with our corporate clients but in the last year we have found it has become very significant and staff are focused on it. I have had staff change groups asking about light fittings and energy use, very detailed information is now required so they can make informed decisions way beyond WELL and Green Star. I think organisations that can demonstrate environmental responsibility through their workplaces will be highly regarded by their staff. Workplaces also need to allow flexibility and adaptability through systems. In the commercial sector it’s usually five plus five years on a lease, but we are now looking at 20-year workplaces. The waste from commercial is massive and what we are doing now should have consideration for that. Whether an interior can be disassembled and reused, or recycled, sold, or refreshed. For our clients it is now impacting their brand.
Thanks Emily, great chatting with you.