On the whole humans are social beasts at heart, with an intrinsic need to be around others and be part of a broader community. The importance of this is increasingly realised by businesses, and workspaces that facilitate greater connectivity are driving productivity, team building and a positive work culture.
When Suncorp New Zealand (with go-to-market brands Vero and Asteron Life, and joint ventures AA Insurance and AA Life) renewed its lease in Auckland’s Vero Centre, it wanted to create a new space that would reflect its strategy, and enable its employees to collaborate across floors and previously siloed areas of the business.
To bring together 800 employees, who were previously spread across eight non-consecutive floors and divided by high-rise and low-rise lift towers, the solution was a major refurbishment to create a vertically integrated workspace.
Workspace caught up with Suncorp and the designers behind the project to understand how it provided the catalyst to a new way of working.
When you walk into Suncorp’s Auckland head office at 48 Shortland Street, the first thing that stands out is how light and spacious the space feels. Although spread over five floors, Suncorp’s newly refurbished Auckland office still feels like a unified space thanks to the feature cascading staircase that opens up and connects the space.
It wasn’t always like this, however. As the original anchor tenant of the Vero Centre in 2000, Suncorp (then Royal & SunAlliance) has had a long-established relationship with the building. But over the years the business evolved, and in 2016 it brought its general and life insurance businesses together into a single, unified entity.
Sean Devoy, Suncorp’s Real Estate Manager and a man who has been in the building from day one, explains:
“The floors our life insurance business Asteron Life occupied were decorated in ‘blue’ and our general insurance business Vero were in ‘red’, and we were the epitome of a siloed business. There was no sense of belonging to one brand and we operated in a traditional, fixed workspace environment that was in complete contrast to collaborative, flexible way of working that is part of our ethos.”
With parent Suncorp Group in the process of completing similar projects in Sydney and Melbourne, an opportunity arose to rethink the way of working in the Auckland workspace.
The first step was consolidating space into adjacent floors, and designing a signature staircase that tied all the moving parts of the business together and created a focal point for the organisation.
Harry Rowntree, Lead Designer on the project from Unispace, says that this key structural piece needed to be more than just a way of getting from A to B.
“A lot of thought went into the staircase, offsetting the design in an L shape rather than standard staircase design to encourage movement and get people around the business. Then, beyond the stairs itself, of equal if not more importance was the space people sat in. Having good sightlines was critical to a unifying focus, based on the psychology that people are more likely to use stairs if they can see their destination.”
A six-by-six metre atrium enclosing the stairs provided the desired effect of allowing people to get a glimpse of floors above and below while creating a void and a dramatic sense of volume.
Going camping over the 14-month critical path
With a final design settled on, the execution and delivery of what was proposed required a mammoth effort. A 14-month critical path programme was created with a staged completion of each of the five levels that Suncorp occupies.
The new staircase required the removal of 140 tonnes of concrete from the building, followed by the installation of a 40 tonnes steel stair.
“As you can imagine, our staircase required extreme feats of engineering and construction expertise, and it was all undertaken in a live environment with more than 800 employees working around it,” says Devoy.
Critically, main contractor Alaska deployed a range of advanced machinery as part of the extraction and installation process which helped to minimise disruption for Suncorp employees. A key advantage in having employees present throughout the build was that it allowed them to trial the new way of working by sitting in unassigned spaces.
“This ‘soft-smart’ approach, as we called it, helped ease employees into unassigned desks,” says Devoy. “The traditional decanting process, to relocate employees off floors during major works, was re-framed as ‘camping’ to create an element of fun during what can be a stressful experience for people. Our landlord, Kiwi Property, played a key role and was extremely accommodating in providing temporary workspaces in patches of vacant floors within the building.”
Exceeding expectations, giving employees a leg up
Delivered on time following 14 months of work, in March 2018 the five floors within the Suncorp workspace (levels 11 to 15) of the Vero Centre building was complete, with cafes located on levels 11 and 15, meeting rooms and lockers on all floors, pockets of collaboration spaces, and training rooms on level 14.
Gone are the red and blue themed floors, and in their place is the light and bright workspace.
Individual desks now a thing of the past. Instead, the new workspace facilitates Suncorp’s ‘any space’ mentality, with most employees able to choose to work in one of the 540 new ergonomic work pods, or from a diverse range of spaces from collaboration areas to quiet rooms to their own home, and with the ability to move around and work in different areas during the day based on the activity they’re working on.
“Our new workspace immediately felt like fresh and vibrant environment, and technology has played a pivotal role in enabling our people to work flexibly from anywhere,” says Devoy. “We’ve achieved a 42% reduction in floor space, yet doesn’t feel crowded or any busier than what it was before. There is no difficulty for people finding an available desk, and although it may sound crazy, we’re essentially doing more with less.
“Our people have embraced the change. We’ve received really positive feedback and people began to circulate from the get-go, which has led to increased levels of connectivity, social productivity and efficiency. I’ve met people I had not met before and probably would never have met if we were not in this new workspace.”
“This experience has been an example of great team work between numerous stakeholders and organisations.It’s a testament to the project and the support from all the key parties involved including Kiwi Property, Unispace and Alaska.”
Top down buy-in to the project of this scale was critical, says Devoy. “Our CEO, Paul Smeaton, has been a champion of the project from day one and we couldn’t ask for a better endorsement of the success of this project.
“I don’t use this word often, but the project has been transformative for the business.”
Looking for new office space in Auckland? Find a workspace you’ll love to work in.