The smart money is on office placemaking

31.05.2017 / IDEAS EVENTS

It’s a new era for the workplace

More people are realising that to make a place truly successful today they need to do more. We’re seeing it in the context of the workplace too. At the Property Council of Australia (PCA) office market outlook earlier this year, the senior executives on the panel said “the new theme of placemaking was an integral part of an office lease today”. 

We all know that the idea of the workplace has changed dramatically, along with people’s expectations. Changing technology, demographic shifts, globalisation, a desire for greater flexibility, the importance of health and wellbeing have all had their impact. Research shows that Australians are also spending more time at work and, as a result, are seeking more from employers. They're looking for something that blurs the boundaries between work and leisure, allowing them to make the most of their time and giving them a sense of connection; a human experience that will enrich their lives.

All of this has changed how we think about the workplace and how the workplace needs to respond.

What role does placemaking play?

A recent report by JLL identified that less than 20 per cent of people love their work. This makes sense when we understand 75 per cent are detached from their employer and only doing the bare minimum. On the flip side, there’s lots of research which clearly shows the link between happy and contented employees and increased productivity. 

The economic benefits of better placemaking in work environments are significant for tenants and asset owners. For tenants it can mean greater productivity and increased attraction and retention. It can foster collaboration and innovation and build brand equity. For asset owners it can mean achieving higher $ per sqm, making it easier to attract tenants and, importantly, keep them.

The social benefits are also significant, leading to increased health and wellbeing and greater engagement and motivation. It can help to build culture and community and be the foundation to building pride and inspiring people to be their best.

So applying the principles of placemaking to the workplace just makes sense. Put simply, it is about creating places where people want to work and connecting with them on a deeper level. It’s an authentic experience because placemaking is not about fads and novelty; it's about creating a true community. 

How do we do it? 

1) Placemaking is about connecting people to place. We must engage the people that are going to use it: tenants, employees, visitors. It needs to be thought about from the inside out, not the other way round. Before we conceive the design masterpiece, we need to create for the people. Build a place that people want to be in, one that creates a sense of belonging and motives productivity and wellness. Then it will become a landmark.

2) We need to think health, wellbeing and happiness, not just sustainability. It's thinking about the whole person - mind AND body. While many companies will look to achieve sustainable goals with regard to energy and environmental impact, the considerations need to go beyond this. To me, this is just good common sense; healthy people are happy people. If we create a place that is enjoyable and enables them to do their best work, that creates social cohesion, then happiness is a more natural outcome. 

3) Next, you need to create a place vision and identity. A great place will only be realised if there is a clear vision from the start. This isn't something developed purely by a leadership team, it should be co-created. We need to crystallise how the community wants to see itself and then develop and evolve a response. We need to define a place story which people believe in and connect with, inspired by the people who participate, create and connect in the space. This should reflect the aspirations for the business, its purpose and the key attributes it offers people.

4) Consider the choice of location. How can the place vision be brought to life to create a memorable experience that makes people want to return? From building amenity to the surrounding businesses, access to nature or social connections - all of this can contribute to the workplace in a positive and meaningful way. 

5) It’s time to create a precinct of productivity. I know from personal experience we have created this kind of productivity. For the past eight years, Hoyne lived in the design ghetto of Sydney, Surry Hills. But nine months ago we moved into the CBD. This transition has provided a powerful step in the evolution of our business, making us more collaborative, both internally and externally. And the best part is how our working lives have been optimised; it's easier to get to work, we have better amenity, and the wellbeing of our team is improved. This means we have a more contented and productive workforce.

6) People talk about future-proofing but it’s impossible for us to predict the future. While looking to the past or even the present can provide insight, it’s only part of the picture. Great places really come from trial and evolution. You need to see how people engage with them before they are cemented. You need to observe, test, discuss, measure and be prepared to tweak and change. This should be a natural part of the process. So we need to provide enough flexibility in our placemaking vision and planning to ensure the workplace can flex and change as needed.

7) It’s time for the new role in the business, the CCO: Chief Curation Officer. We need someone in the business responsible for continually creating a sense of place and connecting people to their environment. A person who ensures that amenity, events and activities will enhance the workplace. Someone who understands the goals and objectives of the corporation alongside the hopes and dreams of its workforce.

A vision for the future 

None of the above refer to one-off activities. These are daily requirements to a healthy, profitable and happy business. A great place won't be created by one discipline. You need to break down silos and come together with a common focus - people. You need to create a vision and then constantly review and reinvest. To stay ahead of the competition, because it’s just going to keep coming, you need to find new ways to differentiate and engage people. The social and economic benefits will be amazing.

 

This essay is based on a talk that Hoyne Partner, Lee Valentine gave at WORKTECH17 in Sydney. WORKTECH is a conference for all those involved in the future of work and the workplace. It attracts some of the biggest and brightest names to debate and latest thinking on the future of work and the workplace. Find out more about WORKTECH here.