The Adaptive Workplace: five learnings for the future workplace

As we enter the age of experimentation, a year-long pilot study by Australian developer Mirvac in Sydney provides insights on how to create a successful adaptive workplace design

As hybrid work policies continue to evolve, organisations are rethinking how to design their office spaces to work more effectively for a variety of different tasks. Not only does this design look different for every company, it also varies between teams within the same organisation.

This requires a complex and thoughtful design approach to adapt and accommodate for the different needs of an increasingly varied workforce. We have now entered an age of experimentation where companies are piloting new designs, technologies and ways of working to find a process which best works for them.

In light of this, Australian developer Mirvac has created a 1,300 sq m Adaptive Workplace pilot design in its headquarter building at 200 George Street, Sydney. This pilot space is one of the largest of its kind and is designed to facilitate modern ways of working by providing cutting-edge technology and emerging design solutions that allow employees to ‘hack’ the space and make it work for them.

The pilot process

Mirvac partnered with architects Davenport Campbell and engaged with technology supplier XY Sense to implement and trial the design solutions. The layout of the space will be continuously adapted to respond to feedback and insights through a 12-month pilot period.

The early learning outcomes and key considerations are outlined in a discussion paper called ‘The Adaptive Workplace: Designing the workplace of the future’.

‘Design components which can be moved in real time to respond to people or teams…’

The Adaptive Workplace is occupied by Mirvac employees as a real-life working environment. It is embedded with a kit of parts – design components which can be moved in real time to respond to specific tasks, people or teams using the workspace. Sensors within the space will capture data insights that will allow workplace teams to learn from the space and adapt it.

Over a six to 12-month period, Mirvac will review how people use the space, track their behaviours and understand how different teams work together and ideate. Key business sectors will rotate through the space on a monthly basis and workplace features such as furniture and layout will be altered every two weeks in line with feedback and insights learned.

What is measured?

The pilot space responds to data collected through employee surveys, qualitative research, ideation sessions with over 100 people, and dedicated user group and executive workshops. The study analyses three key areas: people, place and technology.

When analysing people, Mirvac used behavioural mapping of key worker typologies identified through employee research and workshops. Individual personas were created based on an employee’s role, their interaction with the office and the wellbeing attributes they seek out. The space was then mapped back to each different type of worker using it so it is tailored for efficiency of different tasks.

The hybrid worker was the most represented typology at Mirvac’s 200 George Street, meaning the physical pilot space was designed to match the activity that this type of worker demands: 30 per cent collaboration, 30 per cent team, 20 per cent social, 10 per cent focus, and 10 per cent individual. However, the adaptive nature of the workplace means that it will cater for a much wider variety of workstyles and uses.

‘All settings are designed to be flexible, enabling key user groups to hack the space…’

The place element of the pilot study was accounted for by six different types of spaces. All settings are designed to be flexible, enabling key user groups and teams to ‘hack the space’ and design the space for their needs. The different settings include individual, team, collaboration, focus, integrated, and social and community hubs.

The technology delivered in an adaptive workplace not only needs to make work easier in the office than at home, but it also needs to capture data on utilisation and performance in order to continually re-evaluate the hybrid workforce and better enable their flexible workstyle. This means increasing the technology provided on the floor, which can be challenging when working with existing building infrastructure.

Five key learnings

From the valuation of space to the provision of work tools, Mirvac has derived some early learnings from the pilot study so far. The discussion paper published by Mirvac highlights five key learning areas:

Not every workstation needs a monitor and mouse – Mirvac significantly reduced the number of screens and complete desk setups in the space, as more focused work has moved to the home for most.

Less lockers – The number and size of lockers were reduced in the pilot space despite people claiming that they ‘need’ their own locker. Mirvac’s utilisation review found that lockers are barely accessed by their owners so it has repurposed locker real-estate for valuable collaborative space, while still offering day storage for people to drop items off as needed.

Furniture on demand – Mirvac pushed the boundaries on traditional agreements with furniture partners, testing alternate solutions for a mutual partnership that supported the testing of innovative work types. This meant working on different options like leasing for large, costly components to trial, and buy backs which will enable future reconfiguration and flexibility of the space based on learnings.

Fewer workstations does not always mean less space – The flexible open-plan agenda has become a cost-saving exercise for many companies. Density has been prioritised over real choice, but now this model is being turned on its head. In fact, collaborative spaces can often need more space than traditional desk settings.

Rethinking metrics – The old measurement of office value revolved around the idea of one person per 10 m² of workstations. However, when evaluating the commercial outcomes and business impact of an adaptive workplace, the metrics need a rethink. Alongside employee satisfaction, reviewing levels of innovation, collaboration, engagement, team tenure and creativity should all be considered.

As the experiment continues, the discussion paper outlines seven considerations for successful workplace design. Read the full report here and keep up to date with updates on the Adaptive Workplace pilot as it progresses.

Mirvac is a Corporate Member of WORKTECH Academy.
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