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Pushing the design envelope

THE traditional office environment has changed significantly in the past decade. 

While pressure to reduce tenancy costs has been the main driver away from individual offices towards open plan, companies are becoming increasingly aware of the role of office design in shifting market image and creating an environment that will attract and retain sought-after employees.

While businesses in the information technology and communications sectors have been quick to embrace more adventurous forms of office design, the finance and law sectors have been slower to break down the traditional office format.

According to industry pundits, more professional services organisations are choosing to move away from traditional image and initiate a cultural shift through extensive fit-outs.

BDO chartered accountants is one organisation to have undergone a transformation of its market image by relocating to a new tenancy with a radically different look.

After a long period of deliberation dating back to early 2002, BDO secured 1,180 square metres at 256 St Georges Terrace earlier this year.

The firm had grown out of its current 900sq m in 267 St Georges Terrace and was keen to create a different work environment far removed from the traditional look associated with the accounting sector.

Marshall Kusinski Design Consultants was recruited to revamp BDO’s new A-grade location.

Chief executive Kathy Kusinski said BDO’s previous offices were a traditional office fit-out with a huge number of offices in relation to work stations.

She said that, over the past 14 years, offices had been added in an ad hoc manner as the company expanded.

BDO is a progressive, innovative company, she told WA Business News, and it wanted to move away from the old-fashioned, stodgy accountant image.

“It is a young and pro-active group that’s receptive to a lot of changes,” Ms Kusinski said.

She said large companies were setting the benchmark in office fit-outs, spending vast amounts of money to create environments that attract well-qualified staff, but also younger staff.

“Benchmarks have been set by larger companies, which smaller companies are having to follow to offer the same or better quality work environments.”

Ms Kusinski said companies didn’t want graduates leaving after just two or three years and had identified work environment as an important factor in their decision to stay.

Companies considering relocation are recognising that a new fit-out, which is a costly exercise, is an appropriate time to reposition themselves on the market, she said.

In BDO’s case the number of offices was greatly reduced and, in their place, a more organic and flexible work station set-up was used. The office was designed so that all staff work stations had access to natural light.

The boardroom was done away with and replaced by an audio-visual presentation room.

Ms Kusinski said it was a major step for many companies to move away from the large boardroom table.

“The traditional company boardroom took up 50 to 80sq m; that is a lot of space not being used when most boards only meet every month,” she said.

One the largest fit-out contracts ever to have been undertaken in the Perth CBD is nearing completion. 

Blake Thornton Smith Designers has been working for the past two years on Woodside Petroleum Limited’s new 33,000sq m premises at 140 St Georges Terrace.

Kim Thornton Smith said the way space was being used today was more innovative and much more interesting.

There will only be 40 offices within the entire Woodside fit-out, he said, with the three floors of the tenancy linked by a circular staircase. Mr Thornton Smith said the staircase, which links each floor’s ‘collaboration zone’, created a sense of connectivity and free-flowing space.

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