ABW, modern workplaces, and challenges for facility managers

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Activity based working (ABW) has moved from being a buzzword to becoming a must-have. Most recently, Medibank’s new headquarters at 720 Bourke Street, unofficially Melbourne’s latest landmark, has shown the industry how a well-planned and executed ABW fitout can benefit building occupants and avoid the issues that usually accompany collaborative spaces – niggles around cleanliness, noise and the use of common areas. While Medibank’s headquarters was a bespoke project from the ground up, Macquarie Bank’s (MBL) home at 48-50 Martin Place is a testament as to how older buildings, even Heritage ones with strict council guidelines, can benefit from a strategic refurbishment plan. In the case of MBL, it successfully transformed the historical banking chamber into a state-of-the-art commercial workspace.

HASSELL senior associate Anthony Dickens has elaborated on the trend of sustainable design and the push for integrated workspaces. He also talks about the impact on facilities management with more firms finding new ways to organise their offices.

Sustainability has been at the forefront of workplace design considerations for about 10 years. Dickens says, however, that the next challenge for the FM industry would be to get buildings’ technology ready and fitted out with cutting edge services. These may include facilities such as elevators with destination control functionality, for example. Achieving Green Star ratings will become mandatory and more avenues for achieving energy efficiency will have to be explored. “Companies want to go a bit further now to use the data available on hand to push energy and cost efficiencies. For example, in Medibank’s case, they were looking at water usage, and real-time data was collected and analysed to monitor how much water was being used or wasted by staff,” says Dickens.

While property developers like Cbus, CBRE and Mirvac are listening to clients’ demands for integrated workspaces, they are also facing challenges that come with the ABW trend. How would property developers tackle the challenge of recalibrating buildings and spaces for the next tenant? Dickens puts forward that since ABW has been out in the market, every developer has found a different way to manage this. The challenge he points to is density. “Densities being asked for in typical buildings are 10 square metres per person. Some ABW workspaces drive densities higher. While most organisations ask for higher densities, these are not practically achievable. While in most situations that would be fine, when it comes to repurposing a building like the Medibank HQ on Bourke Street, the bulk of the fitout will have to be removed, leaving the building as a shell with your standard system of light and basic air-conditioning. While that may seem like a waste considering the amazing fitout there, this is the case even with your traditional cellular environment. Hence, ABW workspaces aren’t really that different from traditional ones in terms of their impact on facilities management in terms of infrastructure.”

Dickens does say, however, that some work would have to be done in terms of installing additional air-conditioning points, but the work involved wouldn’t be more extensive than your average fitout upgrade.

Overall, there are challenges across the board with ABW. Spaces are used harder and worked harder. The lack of ‘space ownership’ at times can become an issue with spills going uncleaned in shared areas and communal furniture not being returned to its rightful place. While all these may seem minor in the larger scheme of things, these issues place more pressure on service providers such as cleaners and facility managers to respond quickly to issues.

Medibank has taken a step further to ensure the cleanliness of its new home, hiring cleaners separate from the base building cleaning team. Two highly-trained full-time cleaners, in addition to their property and facilities management team, help keep things running smoothly while staff adjust to the new culture of working and shared responsibility.

Dickens explains that the key to running an ABW workspace efficiently is for facilities managers to put in place a ‘resetting’ policy, which will ensure that meeting rooms, workstations and any shared workspace is reset by maintenance staff as the building occupants adapt to the cultural change of shared ownership in collaborative spaces.

Dickens lauds Medibank for commissioning a project like this one, as buildings of this nature require a large degree of spend with an equally large degree of the unknown. “These big projects all boil down to quality and if you have a quality project, you’re going to get a lot of longevity to it,” he says.

Photo credit: Earl Carter and HASSELL

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