The business of design

by Iain Hopkins13 May 2015


Theory into practice

In the business sphere, the Victorian Legal Services Board + Commissioner (VLSBC) is a prime case study.
 
It was apparent to the VLSBC management team that more space was needed. The organisation was also looking to bring together two formally separate businesses. They had a very modest budget, but wanted to maximise the potential ROI.
 
During the first briefing workshop with Resource Architecture, it was clear that the focus of the VLSBC was about people: To build intimate customer relations by developing more cohesion, participation and co-operation among the people doing things.
 
The group then identified design Critical Success Factors that supported the vision. These covered elements such as brand, culture and systems.
 
Following close consultation with Kirkwood and his team, the VLSBC allocated each individual with a desk – as a home base. “A 100% non-territorial solution was not for them,” says Kirkwood. “However, they allocated a number of non-territorial activity settings to encourage people to work in different parts of the office, to work and collaborate more broadly throughout the organisation.”
 
The space achieves a space ratio of about 18m2 per person, which is higher than the average office, but is able to accommodate growth without compromising the space. The proportion of meeting rooms and interaction spaces is higher. While individual desks are smaller, the personal space is bigger.
 
The project features a number of design innovations:
 
  1. A central ‘Piazza’ provides a space for serendipitous two-minute conversations. This space is the major thoroughfare connecting the various groups.
  2. The CEO sits in the open at a ‘mentoring desk’ and so do his general managers. The CEO has turned the structure upside down so that the most important people to be supported are the ones interfacing with people. The role of the manager is to support and mentor these people.
  3. The organisation is implementing a new ‘electronic information management system’ that means everyone can access and update customer information. This means all information has to be digitised. One innovative feature is a physical ‘dropbox’ at the centre of the floor so all paper information comes in or goes out via this space.
  4. The workplace is designed as ‘group ware’ where private spaces line the perimeter and interactive spaces are at the centre to allow collaboration intuitively and instantaneously between the various groups.
  5. New traffic light signposting identifies whether spaces are bookable, owned or shared.
  6. Desks are arranged to maximise acoustic privacy – no one sits directly opposite another, desks are staggered but provide peripheral vision of other workers. A number of desks feature ‘sit-stand’ functionality.
  7. The design process was very people focused, from a staff survey prior to the appointment of the design team, consultation during the design and before the move, and well-being communication initiatives and communication packs during and after the move.
 
Kirkwood says the resulting design is not flashy, and is without gimmicks. It is all about the business, the work and the people.
 
“Gimmicks have become commonplace and are widely published,” he says. “They often undervalue how a workplace really contributes to business outcomes. I am often frustrated by organisations measuring the value of the workplace by only its look and feel, without also considering their work activities and people. Such gimmicks are often confused with innovation.”
 
For Kirkwood, the workplace drives innovation within the organisation, through its work process, products and services.
 
“At the Legal Services Board + Commissioner, if something cost money but added no value it was eliminated. As a result the physical workplace delivered maximum return on investment.”

This approach appears to be paying off. Some of the outcomes achieved at the Legal Services Board + Commissioner workplace include:
 
  • 56% overall improved meeting and collaboration space
  • 51% overall improved space to accommodate visitors, consultants and contractors
  • 36% increased stimulation of creativity and innovation
  • 21% increase in perceived productivity and employee engagement
  • 37% Improved sharing and management of resources
 
 

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