Property developer Mirvac is building new offices in Sydney, but hasn’t settled on an interior design. So the developer is experimenting on itself and for the past few months trying different spaces in its old building.
One level of Mirvac’s Margaret Street offices has been completely remodelled. Walls have been blasted out, desks and petitions removed, the entire decor has changed. The place feels like a New York hipster loft. Ceiling tiles are missing in some places, to reveal the wiring and ducting. There are few walls, instead the space is broken up with furniture. See-through bookshelves are stacked with funky knick-knacks – plants, old briefcases, lanterns and orange vases.
Mirvac is trying to figure out what a modern workplace should look like, and teams of employees have been spending a fortnight in the space, giving feedback, which has seen changes to the design as they go along.
The space is designed to be very flexible and to bring different people from different departments together.
It’s all part of a concept called “jellybean working”, which aims to “liberate” employees of traditional offices spaces.
There are different kinds of seating and standing arrangements and depending on what kind of work they are doing, or what they feel like, workers can just bring their laptops and set themselves up.
So there is no personalisation of the desks. You can’t setup a bunch of pictures or have files laying around – Mirvac wants their employees to scan everything. But there are a lot of spaces to choose from.
There are desks that alternate between sitting and standing, there are large tables with bar stools, big benches, and chill out areas with couches.
And if you just want quiet and zero distractions, there is even a “cocoon-ish” space in the corner.
There are colours and textures galore – exposed brick, white and yellow paint, plant walls and blue wallpaper.
You can’t really look through the space directly either. The walls, pods and other workspaces are arranged in a seemingly haphazard way, to foster incidental meetings.
But even with all of this going on, the space feels somehow serene. The lack of walls means there is an abundance of light but it hasn’t resulted in a bunch of noise.
And even though there are lots of colours and few barriers between the people working, the place doesn’t feel busy. Between the myriad workspaces, irregular walkways and the little nooks, it’s all about encouraging interaction between different teams, expertise and experiences.
“Coming up with ideas on your own is a very limiting thing” explains David Rolls, head of cities and urban renewal at Mirvac.
“The best outcomes in companies come from bringing people together from different divisions”
And rather than having board rooms, which either aren’t used or see just a few people around a huge table, there are lots of different little spaces where two or three people can sit down for a quick meeting.
It’s all part of the jellybean working concept. There are also walls to draw on, plug points, small boards and projectors galore.
Rolls is particularly proud of special pods for presentations, which have larger screens and amphitheatre-style seating. The board of directors had recently to watch a demonstration.
The lighting also changes depending on the spaces, dimmer in some areas and brighter in others.
Rolls calls it “task oriented lighting”, and its an added dimension to the flexibility – dimmer lighting in spaces for brainstorming, brighter in areas where more structured work takes place.
The crux of the experiment is probably the feedback wall. All Mirvac employees that use the space are encouraged to write up suggestions, questions or whatever comes to mind.
So far, the feedback led to the removal of some lockers – people were hitting their heads and several chair designs have been dismissed.
The latest suggestions are more bins spaced around the floor, higher walls for some meeting pods and maybe even a yoga studio.
But around 80% of the feedback has been about technology. The space is “not yet like Google” Rolls admits, but they are experimenting with lots of gadgets such as smartboards and projectors and the ability to just walk into a room and have it recognise you.
This approach is not something every company could afford, but it does mean a more tailored workspace than an interior designer could normally deliver.
The big takeaway from Mirvac’s experiment is flexibility.
Not every team within a company can function with the same resources, some tasks require different inputs and everyone works better under different conditions.
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