Wouldn’t you know it, we plan an event on happy healthy offices in Brisbane on 27 March and suddenly it seems the whole world is talking about jobs and workplaces. Key emerging themes are flexibility and placemaking. Certainly, that’s the view of our investor panel on the day: Craig Rodgers, innovation lead with Charter Hall, Liam Timms fund manager, International Towers with Lendlease and Deborah Bishop, asset manager, with Dexus.
These two ideas seem contradictory, right? Stability in a space is what constitutes placemaking you’d think. While flexibility is for the peripatetic, and the opposite of placemaking.
It turns out we need both in this strange world that’s galloping towards us, on the one hand bearing wonderful gifts of technology, sustainability, renewable energy, ethical business and alignment of our home values with those of work. On the other bringing deep fear of the unknown and worse, the unintended.
How disruptive exactly will the new disruption be?
Will we need thousands fewer workers or thousands more?
In a work future that is flinging itself at us even faster than flying cars big corporates are scrambling for flexibility.
They’re driving a sharp rise in co working spaces and already account for about 20 per cent of the desks on offer. Not so long ago these were the domain of start ups and techy types, mostly in cool and funky converted warehouses. Think hipsters and table tennis.
Today corporate Australia has snapped up around 20 per cent of that cool and funky space not only because it’s more creative, but because it needs to prepare for an unknown future. This ratio is forecast to grow dramatically.
According to Craig Rodgers Charter Hall has relationships with all the major co-working outfits. Other office owners tell us they are delighted to be leasing space to co-working operators, who conveniently take the headache of short term rentals off their hands.
Rodgers told us in our briefing session for the event last week that the big demand for flexibility is because no one knows how to predict future staff needs.
Hiring desks by the week is one way of dealing with the uncertainty. Another version of Airbnb, Uber and the short term rent-don’t-buy phenomenon coming to a desk near you.
The counter tension to that is the desire for placemaking.
Humans want to connect, no more so than in the age of hyper cyber connectivity. We’re social animals and online just doesn’t cut it for all our needs.
Liam Timms says you can use that desire for placemaking and connectivity to pull together communities of like-minded people that together can stimulate greater success than you’d otherwise get in more atomised environments.
At Barangaroo tenants align with the values of the community, he says, and that’s about being innovative, sustainable and ultimately thinking long term success.
In such an environment, Timms says, you don’t have to regulate for cafés to not use plastic; it kind of goes with the territory that tenants chose not to. There is a collective sensibility and set of values at play.
“If you are aligning with other organisations in the same space then you’re likely to have the same mindset and thinking about diversity and about the future, you’re also more likely be to be successful,” he says.
“At the end of the day, we are investors in a community that needs to be healthy and successful.” And community is critical to creative output, alongside the move to greater transparency, he says.
Yes, transparency is part of the connectivity and the creativity.
“Life is on display; there’s none of this hiding away in far flung dark rooms and coming up with a brilliant solution for something.
“We’re social animals and good ideas come from social interactions.”
The third space
Charter Hall likewise is focused on community.
“The tenants we talk to are acutely aware of place creation and its impact on attracting good quality staff,” Rodgers says, “from providing healthy environments for staff to providing amenity where they can unwind and enjoy themselves at work.”
Rodgers says trials of what he calls a “third space” has been another success in generating this feel good factor.
This is a space that doesn’t generate rent but provides a benefit to the tenants out to the community and then back again in a kind of positive feedback loop.
Project 504 (pictured) is one such third space. It started with a space at 504 Pacific Highway in St Leonards, Sydney.
“It was a space we couldn’t rent so we put a dedicated art space in the lobby,” Rodgers says.
It’s created great interaction with tenants and fostered a “good reputation”.
Another third space idea is a café where profits go to charity. And these have been so well received there could be more on the way.
Rodgers points out that although you don’t get rent from these spaces they lift community sentiment and, it’s hoped, loyalty from the tenants.
The good vibe so to speak “doesn’t reside just in the tenancy but spills out into the community as well.”
Dexus’ Deborah Bishop likewise says that at Waterfront Place in Brisbane where she is based, key is a community feel and sentiment.
The first thing the company did when it bought into the property is to create a Dexus Place meeting and events space which tenants can use to interact with customers in person or elsewhere using state of the art technology.
For Bishop what’s so good about her patch is that’s it’s an existing building that demonstrates that age is no barrier to placemaking nor the very best technology and facilities.
Who would have thunk it when Taylorism was around, when boredom and repletion with little interaction was pretty much the definer of most work.
Times have definitely improved.