It’s not about the building


One Shelley Street, Sydney

Macquarie Bank’s Financial Services Division has embraced activity based working to break down internal silos by improving collaboration and transparency. People are empowered to work and connect with each other as needed in order to build stronger client relationships. Staff engagement has increased significantly.

An interview with CEO Peter Maher of Macquarie Bank.

How does the type of business you are running influence your thinking about the type of workplace?

In a retail business, you are more likely to have an inter-connectivity between functions and teams. The thing that I had very clearly in my mind and which the leadership team talked about was big floor plates. Let’s try to get to a point where we can have 300-400 people on a floor, because we could see the business growing to the point where we would need those types of spaces. The type of business being retail definitely influenced the design.

How did you become aware of ABW?

I think we had started researching reference sites for who was doing interesting new stuff and then Veldhoen + Company came up. They described a broad concept. The concept sounded interesting, but also, at that point, probably a little weird, and some questions remained unanswered. I think, when we had people on our steering committee on various parts of our business go to Interpolis in the Netherlands, that things definitely computised – ‘OK, this is what we’re talking about’. They were very open about the fact that they had been on a journey and that they were at a different point to where they had started and that it was not about a building – it was about change management and culture. As a result, the journey and learnings that we’ve gone on we are sharing with everybody. My belief is that we actually end up with a better community if more people are more effective at their work –and there should be things other than just the working space that make the difference for us being an employer of choice. So, if we can share our learnings and it ends up with more buildings like this being built in Sydney, that’s better for everybody.

In terms of the concepts that feed into ABW and the outcomes that it creates, there is an element of connectivity between those elements and concepts. If you didn’t understand that, if you hadn’t experienced that, you might say like some people, ‘Oh, it’s hot-desking’. But it’s not hot-desking. It is like a little coherent eco-system which is different from other eco-systems.

“My belief is that we actually end up with a better community if more people are more effective at their work.”

It is very important to Veldhoen not to impose or prescribe a solution. Instead, they like to work from the inside out and get their clients to take responsibility and ownership of the solution. How did you relate to that process in your role?

We had a discovery process with our leadership team before we got Veldhoen + Company involved which was actually getting our leadership team to articulate the concepts which we thought were important. So, we started with ‘What are the attributes of the working space and how would we like our clients to see us?’ and came up with that list. Then we went through a discovery process of who might be doing
interesting stuff around the world, found Veldhoen and sure enough their process more or less matched the attributes we were trying to define. So, it worked quite well from that point of view…transparency, open, collaborative, teamwork.

Youtube: ABC interview with Peter Maher and Luc Kamperman.

I think our team really enjoyed their work process, because it is a combination of quantitative analysis, design, ergonomics and workspace concepts. It’s not all left-brain or all right-brain. It’s a combination of the two. So, for those people who were more interested in the analytics, what communicated was the compelling nature of the workspace studies showing that you could basically save a lot of money on rent by understanding when spaces weren’t being used. So, for those people being quantitative, big tick. For those people who were more interested in the abstract concepts of how people related to each other, seeing the different styles of spaces we were going to create, I think, appealed to them. We have quite a diverse leadership team, and I think everybody had a chance to take something out of the process that resonated for them.

How does Shelley Street relate to your brand?

From my point of view, one of the simplest definitions of a brand is its promise. And it is promise which has a number of connection points with the stakeholders who you are exposing your brand to. So, in the case of the building and the workspace, what’s the promise that we are making to our team? What’s the promise that we’re making to our clients who might come in here? What’s the promise we’re making to our suppliers who might come in here? If the promise is about building a sustainable business, then we needed to make trade-offs and decisions around sustainability. When we first went out and surveyed the staff in our previous location, about the things that were important to them if we were to go into a new building, sustainability definitely came through. You know, our average age in BFS is 33-34 and so sustainability was a very important point. Therefore, if that’s part of the brand promise, you then need to make decisions and trade-offs against the various elements of that promise. So, that’s where it came back to paper independence. It came back to the design of the building from an energy usage point of view. It came back to follow-me printing. They all end up being a consequence of getting clarity on what are the components of the brand and how you maintain coherence with that.

You have spoken about it as a journey. What is a journey for you?

It’s about change management. It’s not about a building. It’s about moving our team and our business forward and our relationships with our clients forward. You never get to the destination. It’s always about improving, the movements along the journey and recognising how they can inform decisions that you may make. So, when we went out to teams six or nine months after they’d been in the building, what we found was quite illuminating. Some of the conclusions or assumptions hadn’t been validated. Some spaces weren’t being used the way we thought – the library is an example. We’ve got an evolving group of people and if, as a consequence of having moved in here, some of the assumptions that we made aren’t correct, you change it. You don’t actually criticise, you just change and evolve. That’s consistent with it being a journey. To me, that’s a really important part of how we’ve gone about it and it informed a lot of the design decisions. Some of the decisions – lightweight furniture, an absence of fixed partitions etc.– was actually taking into account the fact that we probably wouldn’t get everything right. And that’s OK. It’s a journey.

About three-quarters of the way through the design process, I started to get quite concerned about some of the language that some of the team were using. It had become quite prescriptive – like ‘You must change’ and ‘You must rotate’. No, no, no, no. That’s what we are moving away from. This is much more about: ‘We’ll create the freedom for you to use the space in a way that works for you. So, we’ll create a variety of flexible work spaces and there are no rules.’ We had people asking ‘If I stay in the same seat the whole day, is that an issue?’ Well, no.

This is not a culture where one can sit back and be a passenger. Here it’s about being the best you can be. Our brand stands for ‘Forward Thinking’ – challenging our people, not just in the space of innovation for the client, but also displaying leading edge behaviour in how we lead our people and come together collectively within our business. This is what earns us the right to proudly wear the badge of our brand – inward-facing, as well as outward-facing excellence.

Other media and architects about Activity Based Working, Macquarie Bank and One Shelley Street:

Request the book, One Shelley Street we have written;

For more about this project please contact Luc Kamperman

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Marijke Verstappen City CouncilActivity Based Working at Bankwest in Perth