Wellness in workplaces – panel

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We know we want workplaces that promote wellbeing but we’ve still got a long way to go. Panellists at the cutting edge of the field, Tica Hessing (Cushman & Wakefield), Kellie Payne (Bates Smart), Tone Wheeler (Environa Studios), Bruce Duyshart (Meld Strategies) and Craig Rogers (Charter Hall), provided some direction and talked about what wellness means to millennials, the rise of the third space and disclosed their favourite places ever.


Ben: What’s your best place ever?

Bruce: Mine is not a commercial office building, it’s a residential apartment building called Via6 in Seattle. The reason I like it is unexpected. 

The communal space of most residential apartment spaces and office buildings are not usually the sorts of places you want to hang out in. You walk into this apartment building lobby and it looks and feels great. There are leather couches, fireplaces, an open kitchen, a bike shop. 

There’s a mezzanine level with people playing foosball. It looks great, smells great, gets all the tenants in the building socialising with each other. This is an apartment building with 600 apartments in it but they’ve compensated for the number of apartments with amenities and the socialisation. 

There are also commercial kitchens in there and open areas outside that have plants, and you can plug your beer keg in and have a party and bring a chef in. They have cinemas, sound systems. 

You could never afford that in your own apartment but you can share that with your friends. What happens is the whole community interacts with one another, and for me it changes what a lot of people feel about apartment buildings. It’s an awesome outcome.

Kellie: I think my happiest healthiest place is actually born out of huge simplicity, it’s my local swimming pool. It’s a very Australian, it’s a place we all come together. 

I’m sitting next to people I’ve never met before, pretty much in my underwear and they are in their underwear, and yet I’m in bliss. I feel connected to society, I’m outdoors, playing with my kids. If we can connect into those times and memories more though our architecture we will have a happier and healthier society.

Craig: Two places come to mind. The AirBnB office in San Francisco was quite amazing. Very big open space, extremely creative. They’d decorated their space by pulling listings off their website and replicating those listings in their space. It was a very creative and engaging space. 

But the other one is an elevator in the Freedom Tower in New York, you get the most amazing digital experience in there. I won’t spoil it but please check it out if you get the chance.

Tone: I spent most of my life working for the lower two quintiles of society, mostly on affordable housing and with the homeless. And the architecture that’s associated with that can be underwhelming. The other stuff we do is in commercial to offset the losses that we make working for not for profits.

There’s one that transformed our work and that is the Wayside Chapel. I went there as a teenager because I went to a terrible school and it was a refuge. It’s always been a happy place to go.

They have a different way of thinking about how people will be in a space

It wasn’t the place itself, the place deteriorated until I got a gig to go back and rebuild it. It was about the clients, including the pastors, who were some amazing thinkers. They have a different way of thinking about how people will be in a space. 

It’s a drop in centre for people with social and mental health issues, but they turned it into a community centre. We didn’t have that much space and there is one meeting room. It transformed when the community relations manager said, “we’ll have a mother’s group meeting in that room.” 

And all the people I knew who were drug addicts, heroin addicts, said, “no you can’t bring children and mothers here.” And the response was “why, what will you do?” and they said, “nothing, we’re just drug addicts”. And that is my happy place, it’s not actually the space but what happens in there. It’s the density of the activity that makes it my happy place.

Question from the floor: Developers are getting creative about third places and reaching out for the community. They are not getting rent for it but taking connections out to the community. What’s all that about and where will it go in the future?

Craig: There’s a not for profit in Surry Hills called Folonomo that’s a restaurant and they also have a café in it called Gratia. They run those two organisations under the Pure Foundation and they are profit for impact. 

We were looking at our cafés in one of our developments at the time. They are a challenge – cafés and carparks always are. So we thought about bringing in a profit-for-purpose café into our space. When our customers buy something it makes a positive impact. It’s had incredible community engagement and support. 

An important point for us is the service of the café doesn’t go down because of the passionate people running it. They want it to be a success. It’s not about making money and selling it, which happens a lot, it’s about making social good and change and it would be good to see more of that in real estate.

Millennials “just don’t care about acoustic distraction as their older counterparts so they will just whack a pair of headphones on if you’re annoying them,” says Kellie Payne.

Question from the floor: We’re hearing about how millennials are reshaping the workforce. I’m wondering what your observations are and how that’s impacting your building design and your thinking around third space?

Kellie: One of my favourite topics actually. So ever since we heard of millennials we’ve been trying to understand them, this large future market. 

The interesting things we’ve found from our research is that in the workplace, there are two differences with millennials. One is that they think about their workspace as a precinct. 

Baby boomers think of them as an office or desk, Gen X thinks about their workspace as the building they are in. So I think that attitude to place is changing how we think about buildings. 

One of the primary drivers we talk to developers about is precinct activation. What does a precinct have, how can you leverage that and how can you make your building uniquely local? How does the materiality of the design and function of the ground plan knit into the fabric of the local area? 

“And the other difference is that millennials will wear headphones, they just don’t care about acoustic distraction as much as their older counterparts, so they will just whack a pair of headphones on if you’re annoying them”

And whilst millennials discovered it, they have a twin in baby boomers. So us poor old Xers, and a few of the Ys, sit outside of it. But baby boomers get millennials straight away. So they started grasping this precinct design, which is great for us because they are the CEOs making the decisions.

And the other difference is that millennials will wear headphones, they just don’t care about acoustic distraction as much as their older counterparts, so they will just whack a pair of headphones on if you’re annoying them.

Surry Hills, within a certain distance from “three good cafes and three good pubs”

Tone: A couple of observations to back that up. I have mostly millennials and Xers in my office. When we moved from one end of Surry Hills to the other, the question was: What do you want from your workplace? And the answer was “three good cafés and three good pubs”, and they specified the distance. 

That issue of headphones I find extraordinary. When I was teaching at an architecture school before the advent of the Walkman, which was one of the ten great inventions of the 21st century, listening to music was an enormous difficulty. 

“One other thing I’d like to mention when we’re talking about millennials is that they are really impressive. We have to be careful about how we manipulate them through the power we have”

We studied under John Clarke who proved musac did nothing. What the headphones have transformed is the sense of space being just inside, the weird thing is it used to be a distance you could measure physically, now I think it’s a distance that’s measured aurally and socially. I think that’s the big change. 

Kellie: One other thing I’d like to mention when we’re talking about millennials is that they are really impressive. We have to be careful about how we manipulate them through the power we have. 

They will choose social contribution and value over money, every time. You can keep them at a low pay as long as they think they are contributing to something bigger than themselves. And so we have to harness them, but reward them.

Bruce: I’ve been to a lot of the tech companies in Silicon Valley, the Twitters, the Facebooks, LinkedIn, and so forth. The guy at Twitter was like “what have we done?” They’ve regretted how far they’ve pushed the boundary, there’s several restaurants in the offices, for example. 

Basically, millennials are using their workplaces to offset the expensive rent they are paying for their apartment, they pretty much live there all the time. And now they’ve realised that they aren’t very efficient, and they’ve realised they’ve over-catered for them, there’s a question around efficiency. 

But now there’s an expectation, so when millennials go around looking for a workplace they ask about the number of restaurants, if there’s free bikes. It’s this kind of comparison chart of where they are going to go. This is extreme. 

We’re all seeing this in the workplace, about making the workplace more homely. Well that’s another extreme, that it’s so homely that it becomes home.

Kellie: I would challenge that. I would say they have bought properties in Silicon Valley, which was a deadland. It was set up by the IBMs and other old school companies, and the companies that are still in Silicon Valley are doing all they can to compensate for the poor precinct amenity and activation. And then we see in the big moves from Silicon Valley coming back into San Fran and revitalising their property value and not having to put as much of that stuff in there.

From the audience: (is Macquarie Park in Sydney a local version of Silicon?.)

Macquarie Park, “anti-Macquarie Park” and South Eveleigh

Kellie: The challenges felt by Macquarie Park have largely been solved in a different business precinct – the Australian Technology Park or South Eveleigh, which it has been rebranded now. 

Commonwealth Bank have come in with Mirvac and created an activated precinct in what was a land-locked business park. And we’ve been working with a few developers out at Macquarie Park developing precinct design and what’s being called anti-Macquarie Park. 

So essentially “think about what you were doing before and do the opposite.” Let’s get laneways, density, let’s activate it and create a place where you want to stay.

Craig: We are trying to create places that are unique and people actually want to work in. You know, highly connected and have highly flexible options about how they want to work and how they want to use the space. 

The other thing about those spaces is having a holistic approach by bringing in those generations to contribute what they want that place to be and engage the mind, the heart, and the five senses and bring that into the place.

On top of that we are using technology to build community. We’ve launched our customer experience app recently with CBRE, a white-labelled host product called Charli.

It’s about providing experiences and connecting people, importantly it’s about communicating things that are front of mind for our customers, and really sustainability is one of the key things that we need to communicate to all generations in the workplace. 

Technology is going to be a great mechanism to deliver those messages, to keep it front of mind, tackling challenges that are really cultural change like waste management and those other really tricky things that we’re all struggling to get good performance in. 

Tone: This is fascinating, but I have one challenge. I want to tackle a really hard one. A lot of people don’t work in the city of Macquarie park but work in places like Riverstone. 

That’s the really difficult next thing to tackle. How do you look after workers in factories and warehouses in storage? Amazon is great on one end when you are getting the goods but I think the other end is a really interesting problem that we face. That’s where I’d like to see The Fifth Estate go next. Into the jungle.

Question from the floor: Technology platforms that you’re focusing on build a more personal relationship with your tenants, rather than the institutional relationship in the past between landlord and tenant. I’m curious what the reaction is from your tenants towards that new relationship?

Craig: Some embrace it openly and some are a bit more standoffish. It sums up technology in general, people take it up at different rates, including the young tech companies in our portfolio. 

So the bigger picture strategy here is for a building to create a more symbiotic relationship between the base building and tenants”

Tenants also want us, and we’re really conscious of this as owners, to create spaces for them to be successful. They have their own culture and they want to drive that culture. 

So we need to be thinking about technology that integrates with their technology. We’re not pushing technology onto our tenants, we’re giving them options that provide value. 

Bruce: So the bigger picture strategy here is for a building to create a more symbiotic relationship between the base building and tenants. 

It’s been recognised that historically there’s been a disconnect between the base building as a shell and then saying to tenants, “knock yourselves out”. What we are seeing essentially is tenants as the tail wagging the dog, they are saying they want amenity, want capability on these matters. And then you get someone like Charterhall saying “well, why don’t we be transparent?” 

The lack of transparency has been the lack of processes, systems and data to be able to create that trusted relationship. So we’ve got issues with stuffiness, temperature, but you didn’t want to know what was really going on behind the scenes. 

The idea is to break that down. You should be able to break down how the space and building is performing and population density on your floor. The building should be able to tell you that, it should be designed to have that capability. And by designing a building that has that capability you are attracting tenants who want to have that accessibility of information. It creates an improved trust in that relationship.

Question from the audience: I’m interested to know how that plays out on a legal side?

Bruce: Every solution creates another set of problems, right? 

Craig: It’s a good example of what are we prioritising, what our customers want and feel, or business operations. I think there needs to be a balance between putting the customer lens on and the commercial constraints that we actually see. We’ve got to try these things to see what works. We’ve been lucky to have a positive experiences so far.

“I think the most beautiful word we’ve just heard is transparency. I think that’s really important” 

Tone: The issue is that people take technology at face value, and the idea that there’s trickle down technology is as discredited as trickle down economics. I think the way forward is to engage with people to get the technology or the knowledge out there. Too often it is held back. 

“I think the most beautiful word we’ve just heard is transparency. I think that’s really important.” 

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