The legal sector has traditionally adhered to a strict workplace hierarchy, with senior staff alloted a private office and entry-level employees assigned to the ‘open-plan’. Designed by Warren and Mahoney, the new head office for New Zealand law firm Russell McVeagh, challenges this antiquated workplace approach with a daring, material-rich agile strategy.
August 22nd, 2017
The rise of the agile workplace has been widely adopted by almost every professional sector the world over, with the legal industry being the very last to let go of its prized personal office status symbol.
Russell McVeagh is among the first of New Zealand’s legal firms to go fully open-plan. Having transformed its Wellington office, it has followed with the Auckland branch, opening two working floors horizontally and vertically with a spectacular new stair void and common area. “Law is probably one of the last industries to embrace agile working,” says Craig Columbus, Russell McVeagh’s chief information officer. “The global financial crisis shook everything up, and as our client base has become more mobile and nimble, we realised we had to do the same.”
To be a success, the new open-plan environment had to be supported by a wholesale change in technology. Russell McVeagh swapped desktop computers for laptops, soft-phones and headsets so that employees are no longer tethered to their desk. The confidentiality required for legal cases requires a variety of unique, alternative support spaces, particularly sound-proofed rooms for phone calls and small, private meetings.
“The library and other focus zones have been key in creating a workplace to meet all needs,” says Warren and Mahoney interior design principal, Scott Compton. A strategic briefing process arrived at three prominent themes – discerning, intricate and coveted.
These represented practice values of the highest quality service and output, and a workplace that would support employees to perform at this level. ‘Intricate’ and complex legal cases are matched by refinement and attention to detail in design. And the theme ‘coveted’ means a workplace where clients and staff want to spend their time. The exquisite interior is a physical embodiment of modern company values to attract and retain the best legal practitioners in the country.
At the social and intellectual heart of the firm is an open common area with a kitchen and café-style seating on the lower level, and the library and quiet workspace on the upper. The spaces are linked by a stunning helical stair and void, and have one of the best harbour views on the floor.
By swapping distributed kitchenettes for a large central one, people move around more in a dynamic office environment. “It was controversial to cut a hole in the floor and build a new stair,” notes Columbus. “We already had stairs and a lift. But by creating one common area, we now get the co-mingling we never had before, with cross-pollination of expertise and happenings in the business.” From this democratic main hub, a very organic planning module of work points and curved sit-to-stand desks flow across each floor. Curved meeting pods and concentration spaces are positioned near the core, while every inch of real estate is utilised around the window perimeter with built-in seating and storage.
Within hours of commissioning the first laptops, people were up and about, working from the common hub or café. Since completion in December 2016, Russell McVeagh has recorded higher employee satisfaction levels around technology and flexibility, as well as higher productivity levels. A promising sign from the final frontier of agile.
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