At ASB’S new head­quar­ters in North Wharf, even the CEO is free to work wher­ever she wants

Idealog - - Contents - – HAZEL PHILLIPS

Avol­cano. A meringue. A tur­ban. Whether you eat it, wear it or run from it as it ex­plodes, ASB’s new head­quar­ters in Auck­land’s North Wharf has been com­pared to an odd va­ri­ety of ob­jects.

The workspace has made waves for its ap­proach to the use of its foot­print in a mea­sure called ‘ac­tiv­ity-based work­ing’, a ‘demo­cratic’ work­place plan­ning method­ol­ogy in­volv­ing free­dom of choice about where work­ers sit.

Even chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Bar­bara Chap­man doesn’t have a set space and is free to roam the wilds of the of­fice.

Set on Jellicoe Street, the new build­ing of­fers about the same staff per square me­tre ca­pac­ity as the old joint in Auck­land’s Queen Street, but it feels rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent, Chap­man says. That’s largely due to how the use of space has been des­ig­nated; it’s split up into ei­ther dense clus­ters of desk space for worker bees to churn out the goods, or a huge choice of meet­ing pods and spa­ces that of­fer a bit more leg room.

There’s even a café, a BBQ deck area and a place to play Xbox and PlayS­ta­tion games, should the mood strike. (You can ap­ply for a job at ASB at ca­­b­

An atrium area has been de­signed with ship­ping, nau­ti­cal, wharf and gen­eral sea-go­ing ref­er­ences in mind, which can be seen by look­ing to­wards the out­side: think trawlers with nets, ships with hoists and masts, and cranes un­load­ing cargo.

But while staff are free to choose their desk, the build­ing has been split up into var­i­ous ar­eas. Pub­lic spa­ces are known as ‘boathouses’, while free work­ing spa­ces are known as ‘neigh­bour­hoods’, made up of a va­ri­ety of work set­tings rang­ing from quiet rooms (‘cock­pits’) to open col­lab­o­ra­tion lounges.

Teams and busi­ness units are based in their var­i­ous neigh­bour­hoods, where their stor­age space is also lo­cated.

All staff have mo­bile de­vices – be it an iPad, lap­top or iPhone – and a locker to store a small amount of items. All doc­u­ments were scanned be­fore leav­ing the old build­ing, the pa­per de­stroyed and ev­ery­thing now sits on servers. It’s a cloud-lover’s dream.

Com­mon­wealth Bank Aus­tralia has a cou­ple of sim­i­lar spa­ces in Syd­ney’s Dar­ling Har­bour and ASB was in a po­si­tion to learn a lot from them be­fore the huge shift to the tur­ban-

meringue-vol­cano be­gan in June this year.

“They gave us a lot of guid­ance,” Chap­man says. “They told us, ‘get pre­pared be­fore you come’. Make sure you’ve done all your scan­ning and that peo­ple are used to liv­ing out of a box size of pa­per.”

Be­fore the shift, peo­ple started “prac­tis­ing ” mov­ing around, Chap­man says.

“I was talk­ing to one of the guys who’s been here for­ever and said ‘How’s it go­ing?’ and he said ‘it’s lib­er­at­ing ’.”

Chap­man wasn’t around when the build­ing de­sign was set up but has been in­volved in the in­ter­nal fit-out. (Jas­max and Syd­ney ar­chi­tec­ture firm BVN were con­tracted to bring it to life.) Still, the ma­jor­ity of the work has been down to ASB’s prop­erty team, which has made the fun­da­men­tal de­ci­sions.

“I think they’ll leave be­hind a legacy to the busi­ness that’s far be­yond just this build­ing,” Chap­man says. “It’ll be a legacy around how we work as a busi­ness.”

ASB has an 18-year lease with Kiwi In­come Prop­erty Trust.

“It’ll be in­ter­est­ing to project for­ward in 18 years’ time – I think this is still go­ing to be a pretty spe­cial build­ing.”

The build­ing has a par­tic­u­lar fo­cus on sus­tain­abil­ity, with in­no­va­tions such as us­ing rain­wa­ter to flush the toi­lets, a tem­per­a­ture con­trol alert for when it’s more ef­fi­cient to open the win­dows than have them shut, and a gi­ant fun­nel that takes heat out when it gets too hot.

“You don’t get in­volved in a new build­ing with­out think­ing those things through. The sus­tain­abil­ity as­pects aren’t nec­es­sar­ily there just be­cause it’s the right thing to do, there’s also fi­nan­cial ben­e­fits be­hind it. All those things are low­er­ing our op­er­at­ing costs and that’s im­por­tant to us.”

Chap­man es­ti­mates the ef­fi­ciency will save ASB around 25 per­cent in an­nual op­er­at­ing ex­penses per square me­tre, com­pared to the old build­ing. But for now, it’s all about cul­ture. “You al­ways hear that en­vi­ron­ment makes a big dif­fer­ence to the cul­ture of a busi­ness, but it’s pal­pa­ble when you walk into this build­ing,” Chap­man says. “You can ac­tu­ally feel the ex­cite­ment and see the ex­cite­ment that peo­ple have. That whole open­ness and col­le­gial­ity it en­cour­ages – and is ac­tu­ally de­signed for.”

ASB’s new space fea­tures quirky group meet­ing places, such as the ‘aquapods’.

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