A DEXUS office, designed by Woods Bagot

DEXUS liked the new WELL Building Standard so much it’s adopting it for its own internal HR processes, starting with five “communities” to progress key elements of the standard’s objectives.

Agent CBRE is also seeing the benefits, establishing a partnership with WELL creator Delos and rolling out a workplace wellness program.

In a conversation last week with two of DEXUS’s executives – general manger people and culture Dan Cook and group general manager leasing office and industrial Chris Hynes – the clear message was that this standard was a two-way street.

Landlords and tenants, as we’ve reported, have taken to it like ducks to water, but the opportunity is to adopt it in parallel within the landlord company structure, which is expected to have all sorts of spin-off benefits, from improving staff motivation and retention to creating a role model or path for clients.

On the client side, DEXUS has registered its new building at 480 Queen Street, Brisbane for WELL and thinks its tenants – a small procession of the city’s leading corporates including BHP Billiton, PWC, Herbert Smith Freehills, Allens and HWL Ebsworth – will be well pleased.

Chris Hynes

Mr Hynes says the standard is a winner with clients, especially those that rely on “human capital” for their businesses, in the accounting, financial services and legal sector.

“Certainly from our perspective it’s everything we’re looking to do as a building owner of office space, trying to improve the environment for clients and the staff of those clients.”

In the long term that means increased attraction and obviously retention.

Dan Cook

On the internal side HR expert Cook reveals an interesting expansion on the idea of using the physical space to drive the culture of an organisation, but not just incidentally as the industry has seen in previous green building iterations, but in a structured and measurable way.

Right now the company is in the midst of formalising five communities – that’s right, communities, not committees – to roll out this experiment.

The genesis of these communities, Cook says, is the internal culture and engagement work that’s already taken place at the company and during the past two or three years of trying to stimulate change.

“We’re calling them communities, so we’re hoping that they are self-directed and that it’s not a top-down approach,” he explains.

“We’ve got a really strong culture and a highly engaged workforce and it’s looking for empowerment.”

One of the communities focuses on diversity and inclusion, and another on mind body and nutrition.

“The questions are, how do we as a workforce get fitter and improve the food and drink we have through the organisation? We have a few fitness fanatics and we also have people who like walking and track their steps every day.”

A third is workplace and social.

“This is about how we create a welcoming and interesting workplace and how to create connections between different groups. For instance there are three offices in Australia, –in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane – but there are also people who are placed in our assets, our buildings, and we like to keep them engaged in what we do.”

A fourth is around professional development. Traditionally the HR department determines the capability and training but here there’s “a big push for people to communicate what they see as important to their own career, for the development of more self direction around what’s important”.

A fifth is the benefits around recognition, more precisely the non-financial benefits to employees.

“Are they aligned to what people actually want?”

The question, Cook says, is how do we recognise individuals or teams for their efforts amid a staff of 400 people?

He says the five groups align “really well” to the WELL certification. The thinking is that learning from the internal work will benefit the external work and clients.

These foci of attention are probably not all that novel, admits Cook, but what’s different and challenging is this is driven and run by the work force and people.

“We’ve empowered them and given them a budget and accountability and responsibility.”

Historically, of course, it’s been management and the HR department that’s engaged in this work and pushed ideas out to the organisation. With this new way the staff gets to more closely own the solutions and drive change.

“We had a concept we launched a few years ago, a ‘lean-in’ circle based on conversations with staff around topics, and that generated a lot of discussion but we didn’t have the mechanisms to generate change so these committees give structure to invest in new ideas and give mandates to solve some of these topics.”

Like nutrition and how to track progress from a health perspective. More on that soon, Cook promises.

480 Queen Street, Brisbane

Challenging the way we work from the inside

“It’s challenging the way organisations interact with the way work on the inside, from a physical perspective to mental health, resilience and stress,” Cook says.

“As an HR professional I love the concept of thinking more about what the individual needs to flourish and be successful, and allowing the community to drive the initiative. Typically in the past it was considered a management and HR function to come up with the idea.”

Cook says this line of thinking will go down well with the new crop of staff, the Gen Y and Millennials who in five years will be in management roles. Their mindset, he says, is “quite different”. For instance they tend to see work as an extension of their personality, not quite what his cohort was used to, “leaving work at work”, and that’s a challenge in itself for the organisation.

“There’s more blending going on,” he says.

Cook says a few other property companies are looking at these potential changes to their internal systems but most are still focused on the physical manifestation of WELL.

He considers DEXUS is ahead because it’s been focused for two or three years now on changing the culture, especially through a more team-performance-based approach rather than individual.

On the client side, Hynes thinks corporates need little convincing, especially if they are big on “human capital”, as he puts it, and especially if they are Australian.

“It’s something that’s gained pace very quickly. It started in California only a couple of years ago and something that Australians have adopted with a vengeance,” he says.

Partly it’s because Australians tend to be early adopters, he thinks, pointing to take up of Green Star and NABERS; the partnership between WELL and the Green Building Council of Australia will also push the movement along.

Some firms might not get the full rating because it’s “fairly onerous” he says, but at the same time they can adopt the elements they see as feasible to adopt.

“That’s still of value to our clients.”

Cost is hard to determine. Certification is straightforward, he says, just “a cost per square metre”, but adapting the attributes of change management might come at minimal cost.

Clients can also choose what aspects they want to focus on. For instance with just 80 from a possible 100 points, it’s still possible to obtain a gold rating.

Agents also seeing the benefit

On the agency side CBRE has also established a partnership with WELL founder Delos. It’s set up CBRE Active, which also taps the standard to improve workplace wellness.

The move has been spearheaded by senior managing director Victoria Mark Coster, and a similar committee has been launched in NSW.

“The idea is to get staff involved in activities that develop team work, collaboration, fun and fitness but also enable greater involvement at CBRE for family and partners,” a media statement on the initiative said.

In Victoria a seven-person committee has been established with the first event – an outrigger canoe event – recently held at the Melbourne Outrigger Canoe Club at Docklands.

“The philosophy is essentially to promote a better work–life balance, which in turn should feed through to higher levels of productivity and more engaged employees,” a CBRE spokeswoman said.

“It’s also forming part of the broader discussion that our Global Workplace Solutions team is having with clients around how to implement wellness initiatives to help attract and retain tenants and improve investment performance.”

Coming up will be a six-week personal training challenge run by former AFL player Ed Barlow or a boxing program run by One Way Fitness.