Flexible fitouts for rapidly evolving workplaces
Workplace practices have evolved rapidly in the past decade to respond to greater use of technology, competition for talent, changes in working styles and pressure for increased productivity, and cost efficiencies.
Workplace flexibility has become a core part of this – but it no longer applies simply to organisational culture. Flexibility now also needs to apply to buildings themselves.
As a landlord or building manager, you cannot always know what impact future workplace trends are going have upon the viability of your building stock, but you can seek to future-proof a building through flexible infrastructure.
In a competitive market, commercial buildings will have an edge if they can be responsive to the needs of a potential tenant rather than forcing them to adapt to the constraints of a rigid layout.
By getting this right, landlords can help secure longer-term tenancies, as the disruption and high cost of relocating means businesses want tenancies that will serve their needs now and into the future as their business evolves. A flexible layout also means a building can potentially appeal to a wider array of tenants, and a lesser prospect that the building will remain empty for long periods between tenants.
So how do you design for the future?
The first step is to understand the range of client types that may be in the market for your building and the various requirements they have in order to build in the flexibility they may seek.
For instance, some legal firms still prefer a ‘cellular’ arrangement and high levels of storage, which may mean allowing space on a building’s perimeter for offices to be established and zones of suitable structure for compactus shelving. A tech firm, on the other hand, may value open plan with space for collaboration and the ability to break down and reform teams easily.
Overseas trends show us that we are increasingly likely to see a variety of companies of different scales co-located in the same building – for instance, a major tech company head lease with small start-ups taking smaller areas – as they look to create more dynamic working environments that allow for greater flow of ideas, innovation and collaboration between companies at differing levels of maturity.
Other companies such as WeWork from the US, which provides shared workspaces, may take a head lease and subdivide the space, creating working communities with significant demand for shared areas.
Our design of 60 Martin Place, in the heart of Sydney, illustrates how a building can be designed to cater for this.
It’s a desirable and long-term location with stunning views on three sides – but, more importantly, the building is designed to both suit a range of potential organisation sizes and types, and give tenants flexibility for future growth and change.
Key to this are the large, highly efficient and flexible floor plates throughout. Flexible floor plates allow tenants to reconfigure the space, however needed. This is important because as the price of floor space increases, it has to ‘work harder’ and be used more efficiently.
In our design, tenants will also be able to connect their business across multiple floors in numerous ways because the structure has been designed to be highly flexible, allowing voids and linkages vertically throughout the building.
There are also other ‘hub’ spaces in the podium of the building that give tenants the ability to use those spaces beyond the floors that they occupy in the building. These spaces can also be used for events, public forums, in-house gatherings and training sessions, as well as providing opportunities for various tenants to meet informally and unlock new business opportunities.
“Workplace flexibility has become a core part of this – but it no longer applies simply to organisational culture. Flexibility now also needs to apply to buildings themselves.
Generally, this type of approach means a building could suit a co-working hub, house a tenant with employees over a number of floors or create an innovation dynamic where a collection of tenants in complementary fields are able to informally collaborate and network.
The design of a flexible floor plate also requires a consideration of the location of ‘core’ hard points such as lifts, service risers, plant and bathrooms. It is often better to have them to the side, or at the end of the floor plate, allowing clear lines of vision and communication. Of course, it is still essential that core configurations allow the floor plate to be subdivided if a landlord wants to do this.
At 60 Martin Place, we located the hard points on the western face of the building, leaving unobstructed views to the Domain and Botanic Gardens of Sydney on arrival at each floor. The core also contributes to solar shading, making it more sustainable and efficient because the core works to take western heat load off the building.
The building boasts:
- a modular structural grid that supports flexible and efficient internal layouts
- efficient ways to subdivide the space for internal divisions or subtenancies, including support for both cellular office layouts as well as activity-based workplaces
- open, connected space to connect people and teams, including outdoor workplaces to complement internal areas, and
- a deliberate focus on using natural light, to minimise lighting costs and make it more environmentally friendly.
Evidence shows that workplace design plays a strategic role when it comes to improving business performance, contributing to attraction and retention, flexibility to evolve as the business evolves, cultural alignment, speed and agility, and value for money. This means landlords need to respond with buildings designed for the long-term, where openness, transparency, collaboration and, most importantly, flexibility are at the heart.
The author, Tony Grist, is head of architecture for HASSELL and is the design leader for 60 Martin Place. This article also appears in the April/May edition of Facility Management.