To enhance organisational relationships and enrich their culture, Livingstones’ Brisbane office needed to unite its core business units by creating adaptive communal spaces that are both legible and evocative. In mid-2017, each member of the Livingstones team had their own, individual office within the larger floor plate of an inner-city highrise. Offices surrounded the perimeter glazing and wrapped the core, leaving limited common spaces lightless, uninviting and tired. A highly transient staff combined with closed, singular offices, meant it was difficult to know who was in when. Chance encounters were rare, and creating regular, genuine team camaraderie was challenging, although organisational culture overall was considered a strength. With an impending lease expiry and company merger, Livingstones Director, Nadia Taylor, engaged COMUNiTI’s Founder + Director, Melissa Marsden, for strategic and design guidance. Melissa helped articulate the company’s key challenge:
Livingstones are a Human Resources, Industrial Relations and Organisational Psychology practice. They have three key business units in these fields, with offices across Australia, and staff operate in a highly consultative style – time in the office is spent working on reports or preparing for their next client, or they are out running training courses and attending court. The new Brisbane office has approximately 35 staff.
At the project’s inception, Livingstones’ culture was warm and supportive, often described as “family-like”. This strong starting point – despite the organisation’s spatial constraints – meant that Livingstones was essentially interested in evolving: adapting to newer styles of collaborative working that members of their team were engaging with by designing an inspiring workspace that could enhance these behaviours. Livingstones wanted to support their team to reach its full potential.
Livingstones’ new workspace design had to be informed by the uniqueness of the organisation. COMUNiTI coordinated an interview and observation process with senior business unit staff that revealed the similarities and differences between how the three business units operated: the first is highly mobile and completely paperless, the second is frequently mobile and extremely paper-heavy, and the third is somewhere in between. In general, Livingstones have a transient workforce – when in the office, they are either: a) wanting to collaborate and socialise to build a strong sense of team, or b) write reports, participate in webinars, and prepare case material or training course work.
An agile approach would enable flexible use of and movement through the space to enhance team dynamics and connectivity; it had the potential for dramatic results.
COMUNiTI rolled out an all-staff survey to explore this option further and test their understanding of the Livingstones work environment. The results convinced the company board that the agile approach was the right one. After exploring various tenancy options, Livingstones decided to move to Level 10 of their current building. Having been a tenant for the last 10 years, staying put would provide a level of comfort and familiarity for both the team and their clients to balance out the dramatic shift in office design and work style.
The Livingstones logo, a ‘sextant’, is a nautical navigation device, with sub-branding depicting ‘stylised constellations’. These elements reflect the underpinning business philosophy: “guiding clients through rough seas with rocks underneath, whilst looking to the stars for guidance.”
The new space, occupying all of Level 10, combines a defined “front-of-house” client-facing area, and a “back-of-house” staff area with a fluid design that encourages easy movement from noisy, social areas through to quiet, restorative spaces. The design embraces a residential feel to reflect the family values of the business; visitors should feel welcome while staff feel at home. As you move through the space, furniture and joinery is used imaginatively to encourage various new behaviours.
Upon exiting the lift, a tiled planter boundary with brass accents leads into the reception area where the materiality is inspired by the detail and craftsmanship you would see on a boat deck. A lighting installation on the wall reflects the constellations referenced in the Livingstones branding. The reception area is flanked with meeting rooms. Timber-framed glass windows with soft, sheer curtains and oversized timber door knobs are a convivial touch.
The café is a staff member’s first point of call in the morning, where they collect their belongings from their locker, prepare a coffee, and catch up with colleagues. The driftwood-coloured timber and stormy, green-accented marble kitchen is homely and welcoming. A large world map covers one wall and pin points recent staff travel destinations, offering a talking point. Also hanging proudly on this wall is the ‘HMAS Success Bell’. A playful element, it’s rung as a calling bell for social gatherings, and to mark the appointment of a new project.
The café has been strategically positioned between the boardroom and the general collaboration areas, with sliding doors and shutter windows enabling it to be opened up for entertaining and larger gatherings. Alternatively, it can be closed and divided for group training sessions and workshops.
Changing furniture types provide staff with behaviour cues regarding the appropriate work style – standing desks, whiteboards and open working tables imply collaboration and conversation, while contained lounge spaces and workstations suggest a quieter, focused environment.
Each cabin has a light outside the door indicating when the room is in use, so that at a quick glance, staff can identify a vacant room to make that private call.
With the new unallocated seating approach, communal display shelves were introduced to provide a common place where staff could display personal treasured items, much like you would on the shelves of your own home: books, trinkets and photos.
A room was constructed and dedicated to a late Director, Laurie, as a space to have a relaxed and informal chat, inspired by the chats that would often take place in his office. Moving around to the further side of the tenancy, quiet focus pods appear, along with smaller individual meeting rooms, a protected soft seating space, a library and a darker area with yoga mats and meditation books.
Quiet rooms are noise-insulated for staff to complete tasks such as report writing, webinars and private calls.
Complementing the thoughtful spatial planning, the office’s floor plate sits at an ideal height – surrounding buildings are reasonably set back so the large perimeter windows allow abundant natural light to fill the space. In time, greenery will intertwine within wire framing, creating a biophilic atmosphere and visual relief. Collaborative spaces enjoy spectacular architectural views over the neighbouring heritage cathedral.
Teams are more naturally cross-collaborating and supporting each other to deliver projects. This is enabling Livingstones to offer a greater range of services to existing clients, and as a result the company is experiencing growth.
Livingstones have experienced a transformational journey with this project, and everyone is happily on board. We think that’s worth ringing the HMAS bell about!