Q&A with Harrison Grierson - moving premises after 18 years

Moving their offices after 18 years gave Harrison Grierson opportunities to shape their workspace into a modern environment.

Interview with Karen West - General Manager Marketing, Harrison Grierson

Tenant: Harrison Grierson
New Home: 96 St Georges Bay Road Parnell
m² Leased: 2,836
Move date: June 2018

How long did you stay at your previous premises? 
Harrison Grierson were based at 71 Great South Road for 18 years.

How far out did you start looking for new office premises? Was it long enough?
We started the process in May 2016 which was just over 2 years and we committed to our premises in April 2017, and moved in at the beginning of July 2018, so yes it was long enough to allow for the business change required.

What were the key drivers for your move?
We had a final lease expiry and no right of renewal and our premises were leased to another tenant in the building from our lease expiry, so we had to move. We had a number of project objectives we wanted to achieve from moving including room to grow, flexibility and agility, to deliver better client experiences and to empower and develop our people. The old building also had an inefficient floor plate which resulted in the business being disconnected. We wanted to enable our people to work in a more collaborative way and the old building didn’t help this, so the lease expiry was a catalyst to facilitate change.

How did you determine what your future office should look like? Did looking at other sites help?
A trip to Melbourne in May 2016 really opened my eyes to what was happening with workplace strategy in Australia. It showed me what the possibilities were for Harrison Grierson. We then had a follow up trip to Sydney to look at more companies with other parts of the leadership team and this helped cement the future direction for our premises.

Did the move enable you to change the way you are working?
Definitely, and we started initiatives one-year prior where we actively started electronic filing to reduce the amount of
paper we used. We also installed a “demo” space with the new furniture in our old building. This was great as the Managing Director moved out of his office into the open plan demo space which sent a clear message to the business that this change was being adopted right at the top. We also worked on the technology piece and everyone was provided a laptop before moving.

Do you provide all staff with a fixed desk? Why or why not?
We used to have a fixed desk for everyone, now we have over 220 desks and only two are fixed. The two fixed desks are for specialist skills and equipment.

Activity Based working (ABW) - fad or fabulous? Why? 
Fabulous – ABW enabled us to push through a lot of cultural change and at present we are still providing a ratio of one desk for every person, they are just not allocated to a person. In the future as our head count grows we can adopt a different ratio of people to desks and grow without needing additional office space. We have also implemented a different view on neighbourhoods, where a neighbourhood is not a geographical area of desks, but rather we have allocated a team to each neighbourhood which comprises lockers.
The team can meet each morning at their lockers and then they are free to find a suitable work point depending on the type of work they’re doing or who they need to work with that day or how they prefer to work. This has given staff huge flexibility of choice to work wherever they want to.

Now that you are occupying the new space, how has the feedback been from staff? What is the biggest change?
The feedback has been fantastic. A few people were nervous about the change given we had been in our old premises for so long, however as soon as they moved in, they were grateful for the journey we have brought them on.
The biggest change has been that there are no fixed desks and staff have really embraced this. We have a clear desk policy and we don’t even have to enforce it. Staff respect the new premises and there is real engagement.
Each staff member has a dedicated locker and the door is painted in chalk paint, so the staff can personalise this space. You can put a lock on your locker if you want, but 99% of the people haven’t, and this is symbolic of the level of trust within the organisation. The staff have pride in their workspace

What piece of furniture has made the most impact with staff and how they work?
Collaboration booths have made the biggest impact. They offer ease of use as they don’t need to be booked, it’s an informal setting and each booth is technology enabled with a screen to project onto from laptops, so everyone can see what is being discussed. They are just easy to use.

Are end of trip facilities becoming more important? Have staff changed the way they are commuting to work because of this?
The move to Parnell meant driving to work was going to be more difficult for some staff and we are also subsidising public transport for staff over the first 12 months.
It is amazing how everyone has just adapted and the reduction in car parking for staff has not been an issue. We do have end of trip facilities onsite and those that wish to cycle to work can easily do this as well. At the end of the day, we have to move with the times and recognise that the way staff commute to work cannot only be by car.

What happened to your onsite storage needs? Have they changed? Are you using less paper?
We did a huge amount of work starting 12 months prior to our move and really focused on how we used paper and digitised as much as possible. In the new premises we halved the size of our utility room and now that is still too big.
In the first week alone, I didn’t print a single piece of paper and we still have dedicated shelving we thought we needed which is still empty.
It’s interesting that the focus on reducing paper for 12 months and then the physical move to new premises has really resulted in a much larger reduction than we had envisioned.

What is the one thing you did right with the fit out?
We had a great team – architect, project manager, construction and leadership team all worked as one. We were prepared to make a big change to help embody our culture.

What is the one thing you would do differently with the fit out?
That’s a tough one….. I think the kitchen could flow a little better but we’re working on ways to improve that.

What is the one piece of advice you would give another company looking to move premises?
One piece, I think there are probably three things:

  • The more you see of other companies office premises the better. It really opens your eyes up to the possibilities and Australia was a great benchmark for what is happening with Workplace Strategy.
  • Get the right parties on board – architect, construction, project managers, senior leadership team
  • Back yourselves. Staff will give you reasons why it won’t work, but we felt strongly from the get-go that this was the right thing to do. We also had done our homework with utilisation and observation studies of our old premises that showed we had a peak occupancy level of 55% of our workstations, so we had the evidence to back up our decisions.