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How to create a Living Office

Unprecedented change and disruption in the workplace are calling into question the standards that have guided how, where, and why we work for decades - and Unison directors Matthew Vyle and Jane Roulston say there is no one-size-fits-all, off-the-shelf solution for an optimal workplace. Instead, each office is unique and should be based on the distinctive purpose, character, and activities of its inhabitants.  

Auckland-based Unison Workplaces is a commercial furniture company with a twist… it doesn’t just sell furniture.

Every decision the company makes for a business’ fit-out is based off 5 years’ experience in the industry, as well as access to furniture giant Herman Miller’s wealth of research and design concepts, including the Living Office. 

Unison also doesn’t view updating a workplace’s design as a one-time event – it sees it as an evolution that will continue to change and grow, future-proofing an office for the long run.

Vyle and Roulston share their expertise on what makes a well-designed workplace below.

What is the Living Office?  

A holistic approach to office design that provides a framework to analyse the daily activities of your teams, so we can customise a tailor-made workplace layout and product solution to support your business needs. We workshop with companies using a variety of analogue and digital tools to establish their unique modes of work that they wish to support and from this data we create furniture settings and a layout that supports these modes. It’s based on a global study undertaken over several years by Herman Miller.

What sets you apart from other furniture suppliers?

We don’t just sell furniture.  We have 25 plus years of experience and we combine a Living Office strategy with great product solutions, which really means we can provide the right advice to ensure you make the right workplace choices. We help companies create fun, healthy, collaborative, flexible and engaging environments that attract, nurture and retain top talent to ultimately help organisations improve idea generation, productivity and profitability.

 What are the latest trends in office design?

It is becoming more apparent that even the smallest organisation is starting to think about their business strategy and how their space can influence their brand and bottom line. Work zones are becoming much more simplified. Complex desking products are no longer required as technology allows us to move people not desks. Screens are being lowered or removed altogether as we encourage collaboration. There is a bigger uptake of sit-to-stand desking, but it needs to be managed carefully. Collaboration is key to all our spaces, so the introduction of informal meeting spaces near the work points are critical. Meeting rooms are smaller and larger social spaces which we call Plazas feature much more now at the entrance of offices, acting as an important external and internal brand identity as well as a larger, collaborative, social work zone. 

How do you design a working space for the future?

There needs to be a full connection of all parties from a very early design point. Strategy, architecture and interiors needs to come together. You need to ensure you have the right divided space, quiet space and meeting space so your built environment meets your needs. Then, as a further step, using a framework such as Living Office will define modular furniture solutions to further divide space and support different activities.  Basically, you need to ensure that there is a lot of flexibility to change as inevitably how we work now may not suit us in five years. Leasing of furniture is another option that supports a flexible workplace solution.

How is advancement of technology impacting office design?

Technology creates mobility, so wireless solutions allow us to work anywhere. This now allows us to create a wide variety of settings to work at so we are no longer tethered to the desk. Also, we think the next step is bringing self-quantification systems further into the office environment. Why don’t we know more about how and where we work? You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Employing new technology such as “Passport” by Herman Miller, our space utilisation app, can give companies a tool with real-time facts on where and how their people are working, as well as a platform for staff buy-in to change.

Can the layout of an office have any impact on a company’s bottom line?

Intangible cost efficiencies, such as improvements in productivity, used to be viewed as an interesting concept but not really a realistic cost-saving measurement. This is now changing significantly. Designing activity-based spaces that really meet your organisation’s needs can be critical to productivity, staff retention, your culture and the actual success of your brand.
 

You mentioned leasing as an option.  Is this getting much traction?

Absolutely. Progressive leaders and companies are more and more viewing the workplace as an investment as opposed to an expense to help engagement and in order to attract, nurture and retain top talent. If it can’t be facilitated from the capex budget, how about spreading the cost over a five-year lease term? Helps cashflow and is quite often tax effective. Also, finance rates can be very competitive and comparable with bank funding rates under certain circumstances.

What is your ideal customer?

We work with sole traders, SMEs, large corporates and tertiary and government bodies. We also work across the pricing spectrum, albeit we always like to see our customers invest wisely into quality product that will stand the test of time and be flexible to change when they do. With 25 years in the industry, a lot of our customers are repeat customers who trust us to be more than just a furniture supplier. Some of our larger customers include ASB, Spark, Air New Zealand, Ministry of Justice and the Whangarei District Health Board.

What is your message to company owners who are considering a refurb?

Please get in touch with us and arrange a Living Office tour. The engagement level we have with stakeholders is very encouraging. Indeed the strategic discussion that underpins the Living Office is a key subject of interest with progressive leaders. If they are not thinking about how to attract, nurture and retain top talent they should be, because its likely their competitors are.

What’s Unison’s long-term agenda?

We’re looking to take on new staff to support our growth model. We are a small and very inclusive business with a flat management model which supports our family culture. Via our exclusive relationship with Herman Miller, we have access to all the latest industry trends and analysis supported by detailed research. We love design and get excited about delivering new fit-outs for our clients. We have recently been given access to the Herman Miller Healthcare range which includes procedural hospital carts, recliners and sleepover beds. With this range, we will be targeting the aged care sector, as well as hospitals and private clinics. 

  • This story is part of a content partnership with Unison Workspaces.