The battle for Hong Kong | Traditional office layout fights back

The battle for Hong Kong | Traditional office layout fights back

Is the traditional office layout fighting back?

You still see articles trumpeting the failure of Activity Based Working (ABW) but I’ve not seen a single new office layout plan for Sydney or Melbourne CBD that has completely abandoned it.

The lawyers may be dragging their heels and tenured professors may be clinging to their books and small offices, but it looked to me like game over for commercial enterprises.

The 30-40% real estate cost savings experienced with a more contemporary office layout are just too compelling.

The goals to make the organisation an attractive place to work, more collaborative, more able to innovate and be agile in response to competitive pressures and market changes are too important.

The corner offices and cluttered cubicle land had to go.

Not so in Hong Kong. Up here the traditional office layout is fighting back. Which is strange given real estate costs and supposedly hyper competition.

On a recent trip in partnership with MTM, we were privileged to look at nearly a dozen new office projects in various stages of the development process. In quite a few of them, it was clear that the corner office and permanent cubicle live on.

I was intrigued. In one case – a regional HQ for well known financial services company – I quizzed their head of property over what happened. This was a large subsidiary of a European HQ company that had embraced ABW elsewhere. But here floor plate for their new office layout looked very like the office they were in now – only with lots more very small meeting rooms.

How did it happen?

“ Well we used senor technology on everything for 3 months when we were preparing our plans for the new office”. He said. “Actually, people mainly stay at their desks all day here. They don’t meet very much and when they do meet it’s usually 2 or 3 people. They don’t use whiteboards very much. Our people mainly keep their heads down and get on with their work… there is a big rush to leave at 6pm”.

Senior Management responded to this data by fighting hard for the retention of high sided fixed cubicles for their people. The need for privacy and focus work was paramount. Chinese walls (SIC) needed between divisions. Open plan wouldn’t work.

They were happy because they could give global cost savings, because they could cut the size of their meeting rooms to better suit meetings of 2 or 3 with no wasted chairs. But the big dogs kept their corner offices. Only slightly smaller.

office layoutAhhhh. The corner office. When I see a company stumble and hold back the ABW tide, you can be sure why.

My Property Manager said it was the ‘Executive Committee’ decision.  But you can be sure it was some of those with the corner offices who fought the move.

And they would have been supported by many of those below them who were close to getting one.

That’s not the reason they’ll use. But it will be the real reason. And it’s understandable. You spend your whole career fighting for the status of the big office. The big chair. And here are some Europeans telling you to muck in with all the minions! It’s unacceptable.

My head of property was clearly frustrated, however. He looked embarrassed while presenting the plan. He was up for the change. Fought for it. But he’d lost the fight.

To me it’s incomprehensible that these executives were not terrified by what the sensor data was telling them. After attracting and retaining talent, where your new office is your chief recruitment tool and calling card, the only game in town for vulnerable organisations is to create conditions where your people give discretionary effort to their work.

You need to focus on intrinsic motivators for employees to flourish.  Flourish by Martin Seligman

office layoutA sense of purpose and meaning from the work. More Autonomy to make decisions, Engagement, Mastery of new skills, and recognition of Accomplishment. Positive relationships with their boss and peers.

To me the sensor data was telling an alarming story. Did these cubicle dwellers have a clear sense of purpose or meaning from their work? Or were they just going through the motions?

Were they squeezed to within an inch of their lives on performance targets and given little autonomy to decide priorities? Were they were drowning in emails?

If so, no wonder they were clock watching and bolting for the door at 6pm.

No engagement is what you get when you feel no great purpose in your work and you have little autonomy over how you spend your time.

Judging buy the new office plan, they didn’t appear to care too much about learning either. The new office had only a tiny allocation of space for the learning environment. Not much mastery of new thinking or sense of accomplishment for this lot.

Then there is positive relationships. These people were talking on the phone all day and typing emails. Not much face to face activity with any of their colleagues.

This tells you right there that this place was all about business as usual with very little effort going into business improvement.

This is a dead man walking I thought. They have no idea what’s coming. They will be eaten alive when they realise how fast their old business models are going to be disrupted. And here they were creating a NEW office (18 months away) maintaining all the old silos!

People throwing bricks over the wall to their upstream and downstream colleagues. No spaces for creative problem solving. No moves to equip them with tools such as Agile Method or Design Thinking. No spaces for bigger groups to get together to talk. To noodle ideas. A place you want to come to. A clubhouse where you hang out with your tribe. A place to really work together to solve the big problems that are hurting customer experience.

But my Property Manager did assure me they do have a culture goal to be more collaborative!

People who don’t talk to other people face to face are the ones most vulnerable to AI and outsourcing.

The new style office with unassigned seating, lots of social spaces and places for creative problem solving, are coming – ready or not.

And people will flourish better in them if they believe in what they are doing. Where it’s understood that employee experience is the primary driver of customer experience. Staff feeling a sense of purpose in trying to deliver better customer experience. Freedom to get involved with teams that are trying to fix the things that are broken. Developing their skills. Being recognised for their contribution and achievements on behalf of the company. Having lots of colleagues you think of as friends.

This is the company of the future. But north Asia will be the last stand of the traditional office layout.  How long will they withhold the tide?


Video: The next frontier of productivity and innovation.

Video: The next frontier of productivity and innovation.

Interview with Peter Brady at Worktech, Sydney 2017

Collaboration & Mobile Work Walls

Collaboration is all about the next frontier of productivity and the next frontier of innovation.

Now if you want increased productivity and innovation, what you are going to have to do is solve complicated difficult, conflict laden problems.

Getting people to be candid, but also considerate to the feelings of others, is the critical challenge that companies face if they want to get further with where they are going with becoming more efficient or importantly (re)inventing themselves more quickly, developing products more quickly and being more agile.

So our mission… is to help with that in a very practical way.

What we do is we say to companies, “Right, you want to see different behaviours in the meeting rooms, you can’t do that with existing meeting rooms.”

Mix it up, take out some rectangular tables and enable stand-up meetings in those rooms.

Our product is Mobile Work Walls so what we enable is for people to work vertically, to put stuff on walls, to move around a lot.

We advocate for people to take Work Walls out of meeting spaces and put them everywhere, use under-utilised spaces, places where people can just stop and noodle something on a wall.

An example

At Westpac, for example, in their new offices at Barangaroo, they have a nice open plan template where they have got Work Walls all throughout the open plan areas.

So people don’t book meeting rooms as much there. They just have spontaneous stand-up meetings and the agile working model of having a Kanban board – which is a big infographic that sums up in an analogue way (beautifully designed these things) – that shows the gantt chart and the cluster diagrams. Something everyone can gather around and see the common purpose that they’ve got.

There are a hundred Kanban boards throughout Westpac at the moment and with a very practical tool like that they have achieved some really big things.

Innovation “capability” hubs

In these big collaboration hubs – these innovation hubs – don’t just see them as a place where people go to do projects (which is what a lot of companies do), they’ve got a big open space and they use our Work Walls to put project teams in there for a week or a month.

[You should] use them as a place that incubates new kinds of behaviour. Teach people how to bring a group in and get them relaxed and how to stand up in front of walls so there’s basic facilitation skills that we also train companies in – to make better use of those spaces.

And where you see companies seeing that, not as a place where you go, but as a capability hub, where people come and learn new skills and then take them out to other parts of their offices – that’s where you get the biggest bang for buck basically.

Book your free space assessment by Collaborative Design Space.

Video: How to create an environment for effective collaboration.

As an innovative company, it’s your job to create an inspiring workplace. Otherwise, in the age of disruption, you’ll fall behind.

But how do you create the perfect environment for effective collaboration? Somewhere flexible, creative and motivating for your staff?

Watch our video to learn how, or keep reading below…

At Collaborative Design, we’ve created innovative Work Walls to stimulate high performing, happier teams.

Work Walls help people to develop new, more collaborative ways of working and learning.

Directing the room from a front-facing whiteboard re-enforces outdated ideas about hierarchy. Instead, you can have your whole team collaborating around adjustable work walls.

Run stand-up meetings to keep your teams engaged. Now they can visualise solutions to complex issues and create new opportunities, together.

In traditional offices, rooms are either under-utilised or overbooked, wasting time as your staff seek available rooms. With Work Walls, you will create abundant, semi-private meeting spaces, easily, wherever you want.

Work Walls can be used to create semi private meeting spaces within open plan desk areas and within Large Multi Purpose Spaces. Perfect to create a visible beating heart of collaboration, within your organisation.

Operating in Australia and Singapore, with over 50 iconic clients including Google, Westpac and Standard Chartered – Collaborative Design Space are industry-leaders in driving innovation and collaboration.

Enquire Now to learn how you can transform your workplace with Work Walls today.


Y? System: So much more than a whiteboard.

Y? System: So much more than a whiteboard.

Our Y? System is a 3-in-1 agile methodology tool designed to maximise space, productivity as well as your equipment budget.

agile methodology
Does your space need…

  1. A mobile magnetic whiteboard,
  2. A visual management system, and
  3. A space partitioning system.

Y? is all of these things. So there is no longer a need to invest in separate tools when the Y? System offers a complete solution.

agile methodologyAnd the versatility of the Y? System continues to include a plethora of different configurations by interconnecting the individual boards.

Create straight, angled or curved configuration – without loss of stability. Create war rooms, plenary, Y-shape etc etc.

Key features of Y? System:

– Large vertical surface (4m²+)
– Can be nested for compact storage
– Quality writing surface, easy to clean (no “ghosting”)
– On wheels for good mobility
– Durable & magnetic Polyvison e3 ceramic steel
– Frame and side bars can be customised in a wide range of colours
– Also available with acoustic foam on one side

More about the Y? System >>

The Y? System is used by the following successful companies:

agile    agile  agile

Herman Miller Caper: Why pay more than you need to?

Herman Miller Caper: Why pay more than you need to?

Herman Miller Caper and Mingle are so similar it’s actually hard to tell them apart… so why would you pay more?

Herman Miller Caper
To the left is an image of a Herman Miller Caper chair.

It is stackable, made from durable steel and polypropelene, has castors for good mobility, an ergonomic back support, and is available with or without arms.

The Herman Miller Caper chair is available from $400 RRP.


And to the right is an image of the Mingle chair by Collaborative Design Space.

It also is stackable, made from durable steel and polypropelene, has castors for good mobility, an ergonomic back support, and is available with or without arms.

But in addition, the Mingle chair has a sculptured upholstered seat, is ultra light (marginally more than many laptops) and much more cost effective!

The Mingle chair is available from $170 RRP.

Stacking castor chairsAnd when buying 20 or more Mingle chairs, we provide a free lightweight trolly (shown here) to stack and store 20 chairs at a time.

Request a quote here >>

Buy online now >>

Mingle chairs are used by the following successful companies:

JLL    UTS BS    Printvodafone             Gilbert + Tobin    electronic_arts