Inside Investa's new Sydney HQ, designed around 'open, transparent and collaborative' culture

Commercial real estate owner and manager makes move to new digs, an 'exemplar of best practice workplace design'

  • Earlier this year Australia's largest owner and manager of commercial real estate Investa moved its headquarters to offices across two floors of 420 George Street in Sydney.

    The move of 144 staff had been some 18 months in the making. There were scores of workshops, interviews and surveys to discover how employees were working and their future needs. There were also thorough appraisals of the available technology that could help support staff in their day to day work.

    “We asked – what is the Investa of the future?” the company’s group executive for innovation Emily Lee-Waldao told Computerworld on an exclusive tour of the new premises. “How do our people want to work? How are they working now? How is our current space not meeting our needs?”

  • Completed in 2010, 420 George Street, Sydney is 75 per cent owned by Investa Commercial Property Fund, Investa’s wholesale fund. The rest is owned by Mercer Super Trust.

    "We were in a unique position because we understand our portfolio and have options within our portfolio," explained Lee-Waldao.

  • Investa worked with project management firm Montlaur and workplace strategy and fit-out designers Hassell to understand how staff were working and identify what they would need in the new space.

    The research found that more than half of the work done could be characterised as very collaborative and the other half was highly focused and individual. Despite the different teams this range and split of working styles was fairly consistent.

  • “We went through a pretty intense engagement process with people. Investa are very inclusive – they’re not afraid to ask people what they want. But there were definitely no requests for slides or firepoles!” Montlaur change director Stuart Munro tells Computerworld.

    “What we needed from this new space, apart from enabling us to reflect our open, transparent culture, and flat management structure – we needed something that supported the ways of working,” Lee-Waldao says.

  • The office space was previously being used by a Japanese asset management firm.

    “It had quite a traditional, cubicle style fit out. It was quite challenging when we first went through the space to envisage how you could use the space. The views are spectacular but you really couldn’t see them from a lot of the tenancy,” Lee-Waldao says.

  • “There was always going to be desks for everyone. But in the old tenancy there was a lot of collaborative work going on, but at desks and there wasn’t the right meeting room mix. We had enough space but not of the right type and size and without the technology to enable us to meet our needs,” she adds.

  • The office is spread across more than 1700 square metres over levels 31 and part of level 30. The space is a “contemporary reflection of Investa’s renewed vision and brand” the company says.

    Peace of Mind Technology (PoMT) was engaged as technology consultant, providing audio and visual construction and design consultancy and systems support. Buildcorp was appointed as the head contractor, responsible for the construction and delivery of the fit-out.

  • “We wanted to make sure your experience from your desk, to your front of house meeting room, to your collaborative space, to working outside of the office or at home was consistent and intuitive,” says PoMT cofounder and principal Jeremy Pollak.

    “It wasn’t that their devices weren’t good or the wireless infrastructure wasn’t capable. They were already on the way to Microsoft 365 and cloud. They had the core building blocks there. But ultimately it confused the user. When you went to a meeting room no one knew what to do. They were technically integrated but to an end user they weren’t,” Pollak explains.

  • Whether at their desk or in a meeting room, staff simply plug in their laptops using the same type of cable and are ready to go. Employees were each given a choice of either a Microsoft Surface or Pro, and could pick what colourway they wanted it in.

    “We wanted staff to feel like they’re individual choices matter – whether that’s where they work or the device or where they sit. That empowerment drove a lot of the outcomes,” says Microsoft Surface lead Jason Trump.

    There’s also an 84-inch Microsoft Surface Hub in a dedicated innovation and learning space dubbed Think Tank, on level 31, to support interactive workshops and brainstorming sessions.

  • Every technology option was comprehensively compared and tested.

    “At one point we had eight monitors that we were comparing. We had huge debates about one screen or two screens; even the monitor arms we prototyped a few. It was all just around the right experience,” Pollak says.

    “It is hands down one of the nicest desk experience’s you’ll find.”

  • Teams each have their own neighbourhood, which means team cohesion is maintained, while they are still being able to enjoy the varied and flexible workspace options available.

    “We had assigned desks in our last tenancy. We retained neighbourhoods to ensure team cohesion so you didn’t have that problem of people not being able to find each other. But we had a lot of different and varied spaces to enable people to work in teams when they needed to, across different neighbourhoods with different levels of quietness,” says Lee-Waldao.

  • “Our new workplace better supports and reflects our open, transparent and collaborative culture. It is a beautifully designed, functional, light-filled space that we know our people will love coming to work in each day,” said Investa’s general manager, people and culture Amy Wild.

  • “A key pillar of our strategy is the engagement of our people, enabling a high-performance culture and developing the capability of our teams. Our new workplace at 420 George Street supports this strategy by providing the physical spaces that will enable the business to work together to collaborate, create and achieve our collective goals, in the way our staff told us will work best for them and their teams,” said Jonathan Callaghan, who was appointed as Investa CEO in May 2016.

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