MARKET PULSE: Spaceful, the company that started as a construction business in Canberra and is now a growing workplace solutions company on the eastern seaboard, has snapped up Tica Masuku as workplace strategy director, one of 10 new staff the company has appointed in just the past 12 months, bringing the tally up to 30.
Masuku, who comes from two years at Charter Hall and previously Cushman and Wakefield, certainly made a vibrant splash in property circles with her “emotional tech” and “human geographer” approach to office design that she presented our Happy Healthy Offices events in 2019 .
Her views may not have been entirely unique among specialists but in generic property circles they came as a breath of fresh air. It was a human centred approach that resonates even more after the pandemic and staff shortages, along with the pressure to get staffing and office space formula right to encourage productive work.
The appointment is a good call, according to Ben Myhill who co-founded the Spaceful business with his brother Brett in 2007 under a previous banner, launching the current business in 2020.
Demand is on the up, he says.
Despite the work from home movement companies still need to move to new premises, sometimes to downsize. And regardless of the drivers, many seem to generally need more help than they bargained for.
“It’s such an infrequent process and there is a whole lot of touchstones in the project they have to deal with – landlords, designers; then they have to get a builder to do the fit out,” Myhill told The Fifth Estate this week.
“As builders we’re coming in at the end of the line, hearing [about the woes]: ‘we’ve got more space than we needed; it’s taken too long and I hope it never has to happen again.”
In response the business started to think more strategically about how to alleviate those pressures for clients.
A workplace strategy that could identify business objectives upfront, starting sometimes two years out from final delivery, was a natural progression, Myhill says.
It’s a formula that’s worked.
Amid growing demand has been the 5500 square metres office fitout for Temple and Webster at St Peters in Sydney’s inner south that comprises a lot of “really high ceilings, gantry cranes and heritage”.
Another is a very “high end” space of about 1000 sq m on the ground floor of a mixed-use building for the Law Council of Australia in Canberra.
An out of the box project was the fitout for legal firm Bartier Perry because it’s taken a departure from traditional separate office model beloved of legal firms. Instead it’s a hybrid design with open plan to promote more interaction between experienced and junior staff members.
There are other changes underway, he says.
First, ”workspaces need to be attractive, especially to younger generations”.
And it’s important to plan for peak demand even if it’s only “75 per cent of the full workforce on a Wednesday.”
Sustainability is rising
Sustainability is also a rising “good to have”. He’s pleased to say his business is Climate Active certified and that from clients, there’s growing awareness and ambitions to be greener.
“A lot of them say they’ve got a lot of commitments to meet, ‘we don’t know how to meet them’. We help them do that.”
The Law Council fitout for instance is designed to achieve a five star Green Star rating.
But it’s tough work – the documentation, the certifications to get the credits, “even the kilograms of waste that goes off site.”
“It’s doable, but it adds about 20 per cent to the build cost.”
Some clients prefer to do a fitout that approximates the Green Star standards, but without the certification.
Growth is inevitable
The business is growing, Myhill says, because the industry is driven by lease expiries and some businesses might be scaling down from say 5000 sq m to 3000 sq m.
How they make that transition and if it works for their business is where Masuku comes into it.
Masuku (previously Hessing) will be heading up work managed by company’s five person design team.
And her expertise will come in handy as sometimes the job might require some “unending” of plans the client originally had in mind.
She told The Fifth Estate she was excited by the new challenge and was attracted to the company by the strong values that Ben and his team displayed – which she sees as a strategic advantage. Another is the transparency the company has in design, delivery and even pricing, she says.
The trends on the horizon
On her observations on trends Masuku says that in recent years there is more demand than ever to create the right “eco space system”.
Offices and workplaces will certainly remain but “maybe in a slightly different capacity”. Driving people back to the office full time is not such a good idea, she says.
“It’s short sighted to say, ‘all our people need to go back to the workplace’.”
Cities however have their work cut out for them. We need to reimagine city centres by having more people live in them and create greater vibrancy that doesn’t depend on a monoculture, she says.
“I think we’re on the verge of a new city eco system where it’s about experience and people living there which is so much more sustainable.”
Masuku is not swayed by the loneliness argument to come back to work.
“If you study loneliness, you understand if the workplace is not the right culture, you will be very lonely.”
Being in the office in an intentional meaningful way with the right structures and ensuring the right people are there at the same time on the other hand can be highly rewarding, she says.