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01 August 2017

The new technology workplace

In a world where technology allows us to work anywhere, at any time, those that are enabling this freedom spend more time at their desks than any other industry.

The new workplaces for technology companies aren’t conforming to the predictions of five years ago. They aren’t interested in being digital nomads; individuals working in the cloud who touch base briefly with their colleagues.

Their work is fast paced, innovative and completely team based. For these companies, the success of the individual is tied to the success of the team, so they want to sit in with their team, at their own desk, in the office.

Their new way of team based working, called Agile Development, is sweeping through any part of a business that delivers via technology. Whether in media, finance or marketing there are more teams embracing this new way of working.

If you see a group of people in a corner of your office standing around whiteboards, putting up post-it notes and then sitting down and typing furiously; they’re probably working in this way.

If the office has recently bought a ping-pong table, chances are their numbers are growing.

The way these teams are organised has been the greatest transformation in the way people work that we’ve seen in decades, and if you factor in tech companies explosive growth, this innovation is changing the workplace landscape of our cities.

So how does this look? Firstly, everyone has their own desk, but they are smaller and closer together to support their team dynamic, so they use up less space. Whist tech companies give 30 per cent of their space to open plan desks traditional businesses allocate 40 to 45 per cent.

Rather than leasing less space they are allocating it elsewhere. In fact compared to other businesses, tech companies are relatively generous allocating 12.4 m² per person to their staff rather than the 8-10 m² minimums other companies are achieving.

Clients don’t visit them in house, so why build a big reception space and boardroom? Instead we see space given over to team meeting rooms and extra quiet spaces where you can concentrate away from the noise and distraction of open plan.

Techs revel in this functionality, preferring to reference warehouses and workshops in their fitout design rather than libraries and laboratories.

But don’t think it’s all work and no play — the most noticeable difference is in the larger amount of space allocated to just hanging out.

An in-house chef/DJ, retro gaming arcades and pop-up bars are just a few of the requirements we’ve looked at for clients. In fact Tech companies allocate up to 25 per cent of their space to socialising.

There is a lot of evidence that supports these initiatives as savvy business decisions. If they are asking their teams to work intensively and invest in each other, then they need to trust each other.

Data shows tech teams that socialise, dine, and even play ping pong together, outperform other teams. In fact, studies have shown that great team dynamics can see an uplift of 32 per cent in productivity.

In addition there is a war for talent as these companies grow, and the talent see the ‘lifestyle perks’ as a baseline part of the job offer.

And these companies are growing so attracting the best talent is a serious challenge.

In our work with some of the country’s largest tech brands like Twitter, the ASX and Campaign Monitor in addition to incubators and start-ups, we are seeing tech workplaces grow at an exponential rate.

Some of these businesses forecast growth as high as 20 per cent per annum. This is a massive jump compared to other professional firms, with average growth rates of around 2 per cent per annum.

The result is that we are seeing the profile and make up of the CBD property markets changing. These fast growing companies are moving out of Sydney and Melbourne’s city fringes and into the CBD markets.

Techs are seeking larger floorplates and CBD amenity for their staff, not the traditional marbled lobbies and timber reception areas. They want flexibility, functionality and fun — and it’s serious business.

Kellie Payne is a Studio Director with leading architecture practice Bates Smart and leads their workplace strategy team. She is a co-author of the company’s technology workplace white paper.