Health was central to Medibank's new offices

We recently featured a story on WELL ratings for buildings, the latest rating tool on the block, pushing sustainability ever outwards past the regular boundaries. One of the buildings that aspires to similar outcomes is the Medibank offices in Melbourne, developed by CBUS and designed by HASSELL.

In the health insurer’s new Melbourne offices, among the amenities are sit-to-stand workstations, an edible garden and a demonstration kitchen that is used for school groups and members of the public, plus links with the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden program and other healthy eating initiatives.

To ensure workers move around throughout the day, each office floor has two sets of stairs, and in the middle of the building there is a plaza level with facilities including a healthy cafe that can feed 130 people; a collaboration space; executive meeting area and terrace; and an “integration area” with an open gas fireplace, pinball machines, comfortable seating and a balcony.

Staff also have access to the multipurpose sporting courts on the ground floor, and there is a group of staff that looks after the kitchen garden.

Medibank is into health, right?

Medibank said the major driver for the new style of offices was research it commissioned through The Allen Consulting Group that showed almost half of Australian workers believe their workplace has a negative impact on their health.

The 6-Star Office V3 Design Green Star headquarters at 720 Bourke St in Melbourne is designed to provide high levels of natural light, views and social engagement, as well encouraging movement throughout the workday through the instigation of activity based working and a range of health-promoting staff facilities.

Gardens and healthy food are part of the story for Medibank’s new offices

Executive general manager of people and culture at Medibank Kylie Bishop said the report, Workplace Health: Australian Workers Perspectives showed that 64 per cent of Australian workers perceive that their health and wellbeing was impacted either positively or negatively by their workplace, and that 44 per cent report their health and wellbeing was negatively impacted in some way.

“We also commissioned another piece of research called the Medibank Health Check which also revealed that poor workplace health and wellbeing is costly to Australian employees in terms of health impacts like stress and depression, and also to the business in terms of increased absenteeism, low productivity and high staff turnover,” Ms Bishop said.

Since moving into the new office in October 2014, the company’s staff has reported improved wellbeing.

Medibank claims absenteeism in the contact centre down by about 5 per cent and that 77 per cent of staff say they feel healthier, 66 per cent more productive and 71 per cent more connected to the company purpose of “for better health.”

Ms Bishop said the better environment enabled staff to be more innovative and collaborative and strengthened leadership.

“For our employees, a large proportion of their day is spent at work and we believe it is important that we create a healthy work environment for our people that promotes movement, freedom of choice, flexibility, rejuvenation, creativity, interaction and engagement in order to better their overall mental and physical health and improve productivity,” she said.

The 1600 staff located in the building are working almost entirely with mobile technology, with the exception of those in the contact centre.

The company claims printing and paper use is down by 80 per cent.

The main entry is via a ramp that allows for bicycle and wheelchair accessible entry.

The building was developed by CBUS, and designed and planned by HASSELL, which also designed most of the interiors, handled landscape design and urban planning. NDY provided the services engineering design including lighting, mechanical services, fire, hydraulics, audio-visual and communications, and also ESD consulting.

Anthony Dickens

Anthony Dickens, HASSELL senior associate, said that sustainability in terms of the building’s architecture and materiality was part of the original proposition from Medibank, as sustainability was seen as a key element of developing a building focused around health.

Mr Dickens said the 6-Star Green Star Office Design V3 rating and the Five Star NABERS rating were also supported, as long as the ESD initiatives also supported wellbeing.

Key focus areas were water, lighting, waste and social sustainability, with access to light and views from all work areas prioritised, as it was seen as supporting the physical and mental health of workers.

Extensive greenery is a major feature of the interiors, with 2300 plants installed as part of the fitout inside the building, in addition to planters on the facade and terrace areas, a public park area at ground level and two 25-metre high green walls on the Bourke St elevation.

An operational waste management plan includes food composting for the kitchen garden.

Materials such as flooring, paints and furniture are low in volatile organic compounds, which improved indoor air quality. Mr Dickens said the E0 Laminex used for some of the fitout was becoming “standard” now across the commercial building fitout sector.

FSC-certified Australian plantation timber has been used extensively, with engineered certified timber floorboards have also been installed in some areas. All carpets were tested for VOC content, and a low VOC resilient flooring used that complies with the Green Building Council of Australia’s best practice PVC guidelines.

“We wanted it to look like a building that looks sustainable, without it looking recycled,” Mr Dickens said.

“The [operational] processes and management of waste were as important as the carpet specifications.”

Energy-efficiency elements include LED lighting used throughout, and an underfloor air displacement heating, ventilation and airconditioning system installed that delivers a high level of fresh air to all work areas.

Mr Dickens said Medibank was a “knowledgeable client” in terms of sustainability impact.

It was “refreshing and exciting as well” to work with a client that was positive about the sustainability aspects, he said.

“We weren’t fighting for something all businesses should be doing anyway.”

Costs are lower today

Mr Dickens said the cost of green materials and technology had decreased dramatically since the idea of sustainable building started to be adopted. Today, what used to add a 30 per cent premium on project costs now only cost between 2 and 5 per cent more.

“Now [green building] is just a given.”

Lifecycle considerations were a key part of decision making. The colour palette was simplified, and all furnishings needed to have a level of quality and durability to last for a decade or more.

The furnishings were actually the hard part, Mr Dickens said, because in addition to needing to meet the Green Star requirement of being certified and having Environmental Product Declarations, they also had to comply with an overlay developed by the client’s ergonomics consultant, and meet the aesthetic, quality and lifecycle requirements while also fitting within the budget.

“The workstations were one of the most expensive items, because the sit-to- stand workstations were part of the specifications for health,” Mr Dickens said.

The durability factor was also crucial.

“We had to find what would last in terms of furniture, as activity based items get used at a higher rate.”

The project did not achieve all of the points for joinery, as the Green Star requirement is all joinery must be demountable.

On cycling facilities though, developer CBUS was happy to provide 25 per cent more than Green Star requirements.

The amenities are reached from the main entry ramp, rather than the basement, and include male and female amenities, with natural light in the female amenities; disability-suitable amenities; lockers and communal overflow lockers; and an airing room for sweat-dampened clothing and towels.

Mr Dickens said the data that has been gathered since the shift into the building was important for the bigger picture of promoting both green building and design and this kind of “health safe working” approach.

“People need data, it’s the only way to support change,” he said.

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  1. So many workplaces are lagging well behind this sort of standard. I know of government buildings that clearly are so well down the ladder in relation to this benchmark. Would a better designed workspace contribute to my thinking about where I do, and where I want to work? Absolutely.