Workplaces of the Future: Freerange Working?

Chickens by Richard Elzey, on FlickrOn Friday I attended the Green Building Council of Australia’s Workplaces of the Future Summit in Sydney. I thought I would share with you some of my notes and thoughts for the day. One of the key messages from the day is that the workplace is changing and there is a big focus on the experience of the user – many of the presentations dealt with this issue and it forms a larger part of the new GreenStar Interiors tool (which is now is pilot version). A number of the speakers used the term ‘freerange working’ to describe a new way of working where the user has more choice and space in which to move as well as a more enriched workspace experience.  The summit was a fantastic opportunity to hear from a wide range of speakers including designers, occupants and researchers.  As I have so much material, this will be a two part post.  Part 2 next week will include an update on the GreenStar Interiors Pilot tool. (Part 2: Will the office look like my son’s bedroom?)

Bilophilic Design – Dr Stephen Kellert (Yale)
Dr Stephen Kellert is a Professor Emeritus of Social Ecology from Yale and was the keynote speaker of the summit. His presentation was an introduction to biophilic design, what it is and a summary of research showing why biophilic design is beneficial to building occupants.

Biophilic design is based upon the idea that we are biologically predisposed to attach meaning to the natural world and therefore incorporate nature into buildings and urban spaces to improve the human response to the built environment. The design can include the incorporation of the actual natural environment through plants, water views or the like, or by the influence of nature through patterns, complexity and variation of design and the use of natural materials. Much of the world’s most famous architecture – for example Gothic Cathedrals or the Sydney Opera House exhibit principles of biophilic design.

Dr Kellert also discussed a number of studies which have shown that such environments improved outcomes for human health and productivity. These studies included healthcare, social housing and factory settings.

Those interested in finding out more should visit http://www.biophilicdesign.net/ where you can purchase the film Biophilic Design: The Architecture of Life or various books written by Dr Kellert.

The Workplace Diaspora
Sarah Kay (Woods Bagot)
Sarah spoke of the “Google Generation” – those born after the mid nineties, who have grown up with the internet – and the impact their coming into the workforce in coming years will have. Sarah described this generation as always on with a need for stimulation and choice, access to information and an ease with technology and virtual communications. As a result the office space is likely to become more of a place for physical collaboration.

The “Google Generation” are also used to being switched on and communicating 24/7 and as a result working hours are likely to shift and line of sight management may become a thing of the past. This will lead to the physical space of the workplace being utilised more intensively both in terms of utilisation (which we are already seeing), but also in terms of hours of working. Trends such as Activity Based Working, Real Time Working, Agile Working and Alternative Working Solutions are already heading in this direction and Australia has seen a number of high profile examples including Macquarie Bank, National Australia Bank and GPT.

Lauren Haas (Brookfield Mulitplex)
Lauren spoke on the need for developing high performance buildings, which she defined as buildings where the value of the built environment can be objectively demonstrated through independent research.

Lauren looked at the changing design of zoos from providing an environment where animals simply survive in small bare enclosures to today’s zoos where animals thrive in environments that are designed to mimic nature and provide stimulation [I thought this was a fantastic analogy!]. This would lead to higher performance of our building stock. The focus of building performance measures to date has been on energy efficiency, rather than the benefits to the human capital of the business. As salaries and the costs of turnover make up such a high percentage of business costs then the cost benefits to be reaped by improving the environment for the human capital through increased productivity, health and well being are huge.

Lauren was involved in the World Green Building Council report “The Business Case for Green Building”, in the chapter on Workplace Productivity and Health, summing up some of the key research undertaken in this field.

Paul Auglys (Commonwealth Bank of Australia)
Paul spoke on the process of change management in the Commonwealth Bank move to Activity Based Working at Commonwealth Bank Place.  Key elements in the decision for a fairly conservative organisation to make the move to ABW were to visit a number of other projects (Microsoft and Interpolis being key influences) and to prepare a business case identifying benefits across employee engagement, productivity and customer service, environmental and space utilisation measures. It was also important to find the ABW that suits the individual business model.  For  the CBA, the concept of staff having home zones rather than a totally free desking environment forms an important part of their ABW implementation.

After making the decision to move to ABW, key to the successful implementation of the project were the intensive stakeholder engagement process, the construction of a large pilot project were 200 staff worked and an integrated project team including Property, IT and Change Management.

Paul’s advice for other organisations looking at moving to ABW:

  1. Don’t underestimate the amount of change, provide support for change and ongoing training.
  2. Technology is a key aspect and must support the environment.
  3. Tailor ABW for your business – connect your ABW with the culture you want to build.

Carol-Ann Pickvance (HASSELL)
Carol-Ann spoke about the future of work beyond activity based working.  ABW is rapidly moving towards the mainstream in Australia and likely to become the norm.  Workplace trends beyond ABW inlcude coworking and codesign.

Coworking is a rapidly growing way of working where members rent space within shared office environments. Originally envisaged as spaces for start ups and individuals looking for work communities, corporate memberships are growing as the coworking space is seen as an environment which offers different opportunities for collaboration or innovation than the traditional corporate workplace. The Hub in Melbourne is an example of a coworking space. Key to the coworking space is that the workspace needs to attract people to it, the space is self organising and user appropriated (everything is on castors for instant rearrangement) and merges the facilities and atmosphere of traditionally different typologies – coffee shop, education space, workspace. The other concept from the coworking space that offers users additional benefits is the concept of the host, who not only manages the space but also seeks to understand the different projects and people and assist in connecting members and creating networks.

Carol-Ann also discussed the role of technology, and identified that the speed of change means that many corporations are just unable to keep up. Frequently consumer technology at home is ahead of corporate technology. The coworking space is based upon bring your own device and therefore the only technology must is wifi. However in some places coworking spaces are also offering members the benefits of shared high end technology such as telepresence.

Carol-Ann believes that many of the elements of coworking will become important in all workplaces, and in particular the element of user choice. The idea of codesign takes user consultation to the next level incorporating the workplace user group in not just the functional requirements but the whole design process and aesthetic. This could be quite confronting for interior designers and changes the focus and process of design.

I will be going back to discussions on the business of architecture and interior design, but the next few weeks posts will focus on a number of conferences I am attending. As well as part 2 on the Workplaces of the Future Summit, in coming weeks I am attending TEDx Sydney (May 4) and attending and presenting and the Revit Technology Conference in Auckland (May 16-18) and will blog further on topics of interest from these conferences.
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2 Responses to Workplaces of the Future: Freerange Working?

  1. The need for office space depends on a company’s industry, service or product, size, geographical location, needs and abilities of their employees, job functions, culture, etc…

    Every company is different. All employees don’t have the desire or ability to work alone and not all job functions are capable of being done remotely.

  2. Mark thanks for feedback on the conference – looking frward to part 2. There is some very interesting stuff here. I am particularly interested in Activity Based Working as I am currently working with Cushman & Wakefield and Wiceley on a couple of ABW projects.
    Paul Allsopp
    http://www.agile.org.uk

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