Rise of Vibe Managers: Workplace Design Evolves to Earn the Commute

Luring workers back to the office has proven a tough nut to crack.

The office sector is still feeling the aftershocks of a pandemic-led exodus from Australia’s CBDs, which has seriously tested the foundations of a centralised workplace.

It remains on shaky ground as institutional investors continue to withdraw from the asset class and valuers predict a slide in values of up to 20 per cent as the market corrects in the higher interest rate landscape.

And while many have returned to the nation’s capitals, the expectations around what an office should look like have shifted significantly.

Industry leaders have changed gears, focusing on enticing employees back with luxury hotel-style fitouts, free meals and entertainment all aimed at ‘earning the commute’. 

But a year-long study in Mirvac’s head office has revealed that being adaptable is key to employee satisfaction in the future of the ailing asset class.

“It’s not the silver bullet,” Mirvac’s Paul Edwards says.

Edwards is the general manager of strategy and customer for Mirvac’s Asset Management, and says the future of work is not a 9-5 experience. He believes the workplace needs to be dynamic. 

And he has the research to back it up.

“Offices need to have space for social connection and informal collaboration, that’s what we rolled out in the adaptive workplace experiment and it’s been hugely successful,” Edwards says.

“The purpose of the office is about bringing people together and recognising that social interaction is a huge part of work.”

▲ Mirvac’s Adaptive Workplace Pilot Study incorporated moveable furniture and a hackable workspace.

Hacking the office

Mirvac trialled the adaptive workplace on one floor of its headquarters in the EY Building at George Street where the University of NSW fitted sensors across the workspaces to gauge usage.

The floorplate was kitted out as a hackable space, all the furniture was on wheels, power points and power banks were liberally sprinkled across the space, with a focus on breakout spaces and collaboration, as well as quiet work spaces.

It’s about as open plan as any office can be, with the addition of moveable sound dampeners and fixed soundproof phone booths.

But the results speak for themselves.

More than 1000 Mirvac employees cycled through the experiment and there was a 40 per cent uptick in employees returning to the office. Employees reported it was a more productive environment than the previous office setting and Mirvac chalked up an 88 per cent employee satisfaction rating.

Edwards says the teams predominantly chose to organise their desks in a horseshoe shape, which he says isn’t the most efficient way to use floorspace—but he says it’s not a metric businesses should necessarily be looking at in the new future of office.

It may sound like a free-for-all but there were some rules of racing, according to Edwards.

“There was a strict no camping rule. You couldn’t just walk in, hang your coat on the back of the chair and wander off to meetings all day,” he says.

“Our employees told us that changing just one piece of furniture changed the culture and dynamic of the whole floor.

“Taking a scientific, evidence-based approach to the design of the pilot, measurement of its usage and analysis of its results revealed some interesting differences between what employees think they want in the workplace and what their behaviours have proved they need or don’t need.

“Desk spaces were actually quite underutilised.”

▲ The results of the study showed an 88 per cent satisfaction rate and an increase in office days.

Focus on collaboration spaces

Swinburne University sensor data showed on busy days 95 per cent of desks were booked, 30 per cent were not occupied and, on average, desks were used just 2.3 hours a day.

Mirvac is working with its customer base and sharing its learnings in order to help the office sector rebuild from the ravages of the pandemic.

Edwards says their customers are now looking to repurpose spaces as more adaptive and agile spaces where workers can collaborate, without necessarily reducing their footprints.

Davenport Campbell teamed with Mirvac to develop the adaptive workplace pilot.

Associate director Sean Wilcock is passionate about shaping the new workplace and he believes the workplace is more relevant than ever.

“We have taken these lessons out of the Mirvac adaptive workplace pilot and applied them to some real world projects,” Wilcock said.

“Businesses are not downsizing, they’re becoming more agile and reallocating spaces towards more social and collaboration spaces in their floorplates.

“The products we are seeing in office interiors now did not exist before the pandemic. There has been a lot of innovation in this space.

“Our role as workplace designers has evolved as change champions and workplace strategists and vibe managers. We have to show the value of what you can get from a workforce when you get them together.”

Wilcock says the shift to agile and adaptive workplaces future-proof assets so they can move with the times. It also puts employees in the frame, allowing them to work how and where they want to.

Speaking from his home office, Edwards told The Urban Developer that it wasn’t about mandating work-from-office days or home days. It was about boosting opportunities for collaboration and connection— something that you cannot get in a zoom meeting.

Hybrid working is here to stay, but developing a more agile approach to office floorplans can help tenants and building owners sail through all weather. 

Article source: Queensland Property Investor

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