Bigger is better for staff morale

THE corner office has traditionally been held up as a symbol of corporate success, but a flatter management style is shaking the executives out of their luxurious boltholes and back onto the factory floor.

The erosion of the hierarchical management structure in favour of a flatter organisational structure has driven the development of the open-plan office space that enables the flow of information between staff throughout the organisation.

The executives that once demanded their own office are now sitting at work stations in open plan offices.

The status symbol has been whittled away in favour of light, human spaces that provide workers with a number of different spacial tools.

Hawaiian Management Group’s Bishop’s See proposal has picked up on the demand for open-plan office design and developed a building that helps everyone talk.

The proposed $200 million office tower boasts floor plates measuring more than 3000 square metres – with a number of different office tower proposals casting around the Perth market for anchor tenants, a design feature such as a large floor plate could deliver a powerful marketing advantage.

Hawaiian Management Group development manager Stuart Duplock said the design of Bishop’s See allowed tenants enormous flexibility.

“The floor plate is 3,200 square metres, but it’s really 1,200 square metres and 1,800 square meters back to back, sharing a common side core,” Mr Duplock said.

The design was developed to encourage a more team-oriented approach to work.

“We can get 225 people, which is at least three times the size of the last generation of office buildings in Perth,” Mr Duplock said.

“The architect did about six months’ worth of research with stakeholders, building managers and tenants and out of that came a new generation of offices.”

The lead time of major developments, such as office towers, means that even the most recent office tower in Perth, built in the early nineties, was designed in the mid-eighties.

“It’s all about those chance encounters you have with colleagues,” Mr Duplock said.

“Work today is about providing people with the tools that support a diverse range of tasks.”

The research, undertaken by architects Christou James & Partners, revealed the fundamental shift in the way organisations function.

Tenants today are looking for accommodation that can accommodate a team of up to 100 people and the flexibility to break the space down into intimate meeting spaces for just a couple of staff.

The incidental communication that takes place across an open-plan office increases the efficiency of the entire organisation.

It means staff spend less of their day writing emails, memos or making phone calls, just to make sure everyone in the team is aware of what is going on.

Tenants are more focused on efficient, flexible space that supports the corporate culture.

Businesses have recognised the vital role office design plays in supporting a corporate culture or brand.

It’s difficult to assert that communication is vital to business when the staff are locked away in offices over six different floors. Office design has been identified as a way to achieve goals like better communication.

However, it’s not just the size of the floor plate – office design and workstations also need to allow for good visual connectivity.

When Hatch Australia moved from St Georges Tce to Stirling Street in August 2001, staff within the organisation were struggling with the psychological ramifications of moving away from Perth’s traditional CBD.

Hatch was accommodated on St Georges Tce in two different buildings; the move consolidated the staff and strengthened the corporate culture of the organisation.

Hatch chief financial officer Ian Callahan said the generous floor space was a big part of the attraction of Stirling Street.

“The colours are designed to be stimulating and to get the creative juices flowing. There are al fresco dining meeting rooms… it’s a different use of the building that you’re not going to get in the CBD,” Mr Callahan said.

There were very few buildings in the CBD that could accommodate the large floor plates Hatch was looking for.

The building on Stirling Street, fitted out by Blake Thonton-Smith, is now home to 350 staff.

The design utilised bold colours to break up the large floor plates and create suburbs.

“We looked quite carefully at the design of the large floor space, which is why we used different colours to make people feel like they are working in a small neighbourhood, but part of a bigger whole,” Blake Thornton-Smith project designer Brendan Wong said.

More recently, Market Equity moved from an older, multi-level office to a new building in West Perth with a much larger floor plate.

The office is an example of how design can further management goals across an organisation.

Market Equity director Julie Beeck said one of the positive outcomes of the move from individual offices to an open-plan environment had been a reduction in the excessive use of inter-office emails.

“What we saw was the opportunity, through the physical design

of the office, to facilitate greater contact between people,” Ms Beeck said.

“The implicit knowledge of who is around – it’s almost a hidden level of contact.”

These sentiments were echoed by managing director Dean Harris, who said the move supported the better exchange of knowledge in the organisation.

“Our previous office was nice, but people worked in isolation – we are looking for outcomes as a team,” Mr Harris said.

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