Family ties: closing the gap between work and home

As technology erodes the barrier between home and work, the physical workspace needs to mirror this trend. Lendlease looked at family relationships to design its new headquarters in Sydney

A sense of belonging is key when it comes to workplace engagement, and Lendlease’s new headquarters at International Towers Sydney, Barangaroo, proves just that. The office is designed to make employees feel at home by pulling on ‘family ties’ to create communities within the company.

Lendlease took inspiration for their idea from research into the evolution of work and its relationship to the home. Humans are social beings, it is our primal instinct to hunt and survive together in tribes. Yet somewhere along the line the pen replaced the hammerstone and work was suddenly disengaged from the idea of home – it became a duty, rather than an instinct.

Now, as the computer is replacing the pen and technology empowers people to work wherever they want, the divide separating life and work is once again eroding. It is this trend which has shaped Lendlease’s workplace strategy for its new headquarters in Sydney’s Barangaroo. Lendlease believes, if the expectation is to be connected to work at all times and the boundaries blur between life and work, then the physical work environment should do the same.

Working as extended families

Natalie Slessor, a key player in the design of the Lendlease new headquarters, explains: ‘We looked at behavioural anthropology around extended families and cavemen and all sorts of wonderful things that we could find.’ The design team agreed that teams of 12 would most accurately benefit the feeling of extended family after they conducted research and found that, in Lendlease’s previous workplace, employees tended to work in clusters of six to eight, with about four or five people on the periphery.

The brief of family design was taken seriously, and the first implementation was a kitchen table for every team. The kitchen is often perceived as the heart of the home, and Slessor liked the symmetry of creating a home-like environment at work where people gather and discuss ideas. The kitchen table symbols the base of the ‘home’, but employees are also encouraged to visit other ‘communities’.

Employees are encouraged to develop a sense of freedom and choice in the new space by installing focus points next to each kitchen table to offer release from the collaborative environment. These come in the form of separate sheltered desks, which sit next to windows and are surrounded by plants.

The vertical challenge

Lendlease moved from a low-rise campus building, complete with a staircase and atrium, to the 11 floors of the International Towers Sydney, which stands 551 feet high. A setting with such a significant vertical distribution of people could have had a negative impact on the sense of community Lendlease wanted to create.

To resolve this challenge, two of the middle floors were converted in social spaces. One floor features a commercial kitchen in the centre to form the heart of the building; Lendlease wanted people to feel the gravitational pull to this space because it is where you feel the vibe of the company.

On the office floors sliding wall panels were installed between tables to provide a flexible solution to open plan office design. There is a patchwork of different styles and spaces between every extended family area, which helps gives a sense of identity to employees.

‘For the first time, you can walk through a Lendlease building and see what people are working on’ – Natalie Slessor

Although technically this space is an activity-based workplace, Slessor believes this is the wrong terminology. Lendlease prefers the term ‘team-based working’, as it is the only term that actually involves people. Slessor explains, ‘The reason I react negatively to activity-based working these days is that “activities” are very abstract and sit in isolation of our real lives and how we experience work’.

Lendlease created its workplace in Tower Three, International Towers Sydney, to demonstrate innovation to its clients – but it is also clear that it has put its own people at the centre of the design.

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