Westpac embraces office design of the future at Barangaroo

The design of the Barangaroo office in Sydney is based on employee health and wellbeing, and energy and water efficiency.

A strong focus on wellness, sustainability and technology have enabled Westpac to transition to an agile way of working while future-proofing its new Barangaroo offices, according to Sandra Casinader, the bank’s head of HR strategy and research and workforce revolution program director.

Barangaroo is the first CBD precinct in Australia to target a climate positive outcome. Westpac is the anchor tenant of Tower Two, the first commercial building to open in the precinct, with 6000 employees inhabiting 28 floors.

The building has a six star green star office design rating and is targeting a five star NABERS Energy rating. Notable features include rooftop solar and a centralised district cooling plant – the largest harbour water system in Sydney – which saves up to 500,000 litres of water from the mains network annually.

However, what is going on within Westpac’s new workspace is just as impressive.

Employee-centric design

According to Casinader, the offices have an incredibly employee-centric design that has taken three years to develop.

“We canvassed the views of 2000 employees in focus groups leading up to it, so before we even put pen to paper in terms of design,” she says.

Casinader’s multi-divisional team sought input from not just general employees but various vested groups such as ABLE, Westpac’s employee action group for accessibility.

“We knew that if we had really engaged, empowered employees everything else would fall into place. Some of the facilities we have here are a direct result of it.”

This includes 400 bike racks and impressive end-of-trip facilities, two prayer rooms with adjacent foot-washing facilities, and open collaboration areas on each floor.

“We have this amazing state-of-the-art library on level 15 with stunning views over the harbour and this is because our employees really wanted an area they could go to just decompress,” Casinader says.

Westpac’s in-house property team worked with the building designers, UK-based architectural firm Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, as well as Australian interior designers Geyer on the fitout.

As the first tenant in the building, Casinader says the team also worked collaboratively with other tenancies such as Gilbert + Tobin Lawyers and KPMG who wanted to “pick our brains”.

“I’ve just seen some photos of some of the other building interiors and they are very consistent with ours so I think we’ve kept a really high benchmark and everyone is following suit.”

Future-proofing a key driver

The primary reason Westpac made the move to Barangaroo was future-proofing its premises as the bank approaches its 200th anniversary next year, Casinader says.

“The old construct of what a traditional work life looks like is kind of dissipating, so what we are trying to do is envisage what the future workforce requirements are going to be and be ahead of the game,” she says. “It was very much about understanding what 21st century banking was going to look and feel like.”

Attracting and retaining world-class talent as the Millennials come through is also a factor.

I guess the key differentiator for us, compared to some of our competitors that have already gone down this path, was we really invested in a 12-month change journey before an employee stepped foot in the building – an agile building.

Sandra Casinader, head of HR strategy and research and workforce revolution program director, Westpac

“We know that with rapidly evolving work practices that flexibility is a key driver,” Casinader says. “And obviously there’s space limitations in the Sydney CBD. We want connectivity for our employees so it made a lot of sense to move into this type of environment.”

Health and sustainability are interlinked

The offices were designed with the health and wellbeing of the employees in mind, while equipping the workspace to function in an energy and water-restrained future.

Features of the workspace include:

  • 10,000+ indoor plants
  • A high-performance air-quality system
  • LED lighting
  • Landscaped terraces for working outdoors
  • Multiple organic and recycling bins on each floor with green waste sent for green energy or fertiliser production
  • Ergonomically designed furniture approved by world-leading ergonomist David Caple
  • Healthy cafes with menus designed by dieticians and nutritionists
  • A wellness centre providing clinical pilates, physiotherapy and massages
  • A well-equipped mini medical centre
  • Defibrillators on every floor

Technology is the key

Tower Two is fully Wi-Fi enabled including outdoor spaces, which means workers are not tethered to a desk and can move around. Each Westpac employee is equipped with a light-weight laptop and a smart phone allowing them to locate anywhere to perform their duties.

“There is no way we could have been successful in delivering this type of working without technology,” Casinader says. “It’s a key enabler in allowing our employees to basically perform at their best and the way they perform at their best is they choose how, when and where they work.”

As part of the move to an agile way of working, Casinader implemented the Paper Zero program to reduce the bank’s paper use. Rather than just a one-off purge, the team looked at intense paper-dependent processes across the business to work out how they could go digital.

“We actually changed the way we work in a sustainable way,” she says. “Once we moved in here, people had new ways of working that didn’t require paper.”

The result? An 87 per cent reduction in paper, which equates to 45,000 archival boxes, or 13,000 trees.

“I was very much one of those people committed to pen and paper,” Casinader says. “But obviously I had to model what I expected everyone else to do. Now when I walk into a building that is not agile, and I’m given paper, I get the heebie-jeebies.”

Overcoming resistance to change

Westpac has used the new Barangaroo offices as the enabler to radically change the way employees work. According to Casinader, Westpac worked hard to overcome its employees’ natural resistance to change with a strong cultural change program. Before moving, each employee was required to complete an Agile Health, Safety and Wellbeing module, which highlights the difference between a traditional work environment and the new way of working.

“I guess the key differentiator for us, compared to some of our competitors that have already gone down this path, was we really invested in a 12-month change journey before an employee stepped foot in the building – an agile building,” she says.

Westpac engaged the services of Learning Quest managing director Dr Connie Henson, who is the author of BrainWise Leadership: practical neuroscience to survive and thrive at work.

“What she did was develop a series of workshops for us that we were able to share with our employees … to actually understand what happens to the human brain in response to change and how to develop techniques to cope with that and actually embrace it,” Casinader says.

In addition, they introduced practical help such as building a replica of what a typical floor of the building was going to look like to provide everyone with the opportunity to take a walk through.

“We did multiple expos where they could see, feel and touch what the new environment was going to be like. Various videos, guides and ‘neighbourhood tours’ showed what was going to be different and how employees could work. That way you have all the misconceptions just blown out of the water because they have actually visited the site and know what they are going to be getting.”

A comprehensive communications strategy utilised social media, enabling employees to voice opinions.

“We thought really open, transparent communication on how people were feeling about the change was pivotal to ensure we had them engaged along on the journey,” Casinader says. “I guess the proof of it is how everyone loves working out of here. It’s kind of the place to be at the moment.”

Agility promotes wellness

While it’s too early to know the impact of the new workspace on absenteeism (the move to Barangaroo was only completed in March), Casinader says Westpac’s Melbourne experience shows it will have a significant effect. Twelve months after staff arrived at 150 Collins Street the positive impact was evident.

“There’s been a 15 per cent reduction in sick leave in Melbourne – moving from the old static building to the new agile building.”

Replicating success

Casinader admits she has had to put in some access restrictions at Barangaroo due to its popularity.

“Definitely there is a strong demand for occupancy in this particular building … [but] I was really cognisant that I didn’t want to overrun Barangaroo. I wanted to make sure it ran really well.”

Luckily for staff at 275 Kent Street, their building is now also set for a transformation.

“It’s now going to undergo exactly the same program as we have done [at Barangaroo] to bring it up into the same level of agility and technology enablement.”

This story was published with permission from The Fifth Estate.

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