TransGrid office by Bates Smart

A lead speaker at our Bring Your Office to Life event in Brisbane on 27 March, Bates Smart workplace and education strategy lead Kellie Payne, knows what makes us tick in the office and what makes us flop.


Kellie Payne, who leads Bates Smart’s workplace and education strategy team, is big on evidence-based design and its impact on psychology and health.

We know that day traders who have had heart monitors strapped on, as they get to certain stress zones, make more mistakes, she says.

The device might sound invasive, she says, but “watch, as soon as it has a personal benefit, [people will say] ‘I will want one too.’”

Payne says the world of monitoring and sensors is getting interesting.

Kellie Payne

“There are programs such as Microsoft 365 that will let you know if you haven’t sent an email to a particular person in a while.”

Google Home will apparently turn down the lights or play some soothing music if you sound stressed. Alternatively, it might suggest counselling.

But if we’re worried about technology and its invasive power, Payne thinks most interesting of all is “how often futurists get it wrong”.

By now we were supposed to be spending half the week on leisure, she notes. It hasn’t worked out.

“I’ve never worked harder in my life,” she says.

What people forget is the human “in the machine”.

“We underestimate the human spirit… it’s me that drives myself.”

Which ties into neuroplasticity and our ability to build ever more synapses and brain power to push ourselves.

How apps can help with the dangers of stress

Payne takes a dive into the future herself and says that apps that help you get “10 minutes of calm” or remind you to take “three breaths without thinking of something” will be very useful in the near future.

Stress leads to cancers and heart disease, she reminds.

The big corporate clients that come to her team for help with their new offices take all this very seriously.

Clients such as Australian Unity have a wellbeing index they’ve developed with La Trobe University.

Encouragingly, “they understand you can be terminally ill and have a high level of wellbeing.”

Even better, she says, Australian companies lead the world in workplace design.

“In the end it’s all about emotional and psychological benefits.”

You need to get the C-suite aboard

Here’s the crunch, though, it’s not so easy to get some leadership teams aboard and get them to understand that workplace benefits pay off. Someone has to make the point that “our people are most important”, Payne says.

So how do you do that?

First is to demonstrate that good outcomes don’t have to cost more.

HR people these days tend to have new titles like “head of transformation”. Which is probably on track.

“When we work on the leadership we should show them different ways to achieve the outcomes and show it doesn’t cost any more.”

So many people are disengaged

But while Australian workplace design is out in front among corporate leaders, about 25 per cent of Australian workers are “actively disengaged”.

What’s needed in “plotting from within”.

“For any workplace over 7000 square metres, it’s a given that they want workplace wellbeing.”

A sense of belonging is key and for this – a team of 30 is about right.

What do we want?

And as for what people want, “what they really, really want?”

Executives often don’t believe it, Payne says, but when you ask you invariably get the same answer: natural light and high-quality air.

Next best thing for engagement is if your best friend is working near you.

“You’re twice as likely to be there next year.”

If you’re in a hot desk office and feel like a “wandering minstrel”, well… that’s not such a big attraction to stay.

The Department of Education, Payne says, has a kitchen table-style setting where staff can “always find someone they know”.

“There is a lot of evidence that food is glue.”

In fact Italian architect Renzo Piano gets his team to not just eat together, but to cook together (but then he’s Italian).

As for legal firms the move is to more transparency and shared learning by becoming more open plan.

And for those who are stuck in the past Payne quotes a legal client: “ I want to judge my staff by the size of their brains, not the size of their office.”