An Auckland Law Firm Moves to an Open-Plan Workplace

A New Zealand law firms gets an open-plan office with elegant bespoke touches. 

Warren and Mahoney was appointed to refurbish the offices of Auckland’s Russell McVeagh law firm, located in the Vero Centre across three levels. In a bold move for the legal field they elected to move to an open-plan workplace. This significant shift provided challenges on many levels to ensure that a productive and flexible space was created.

A workplace with wellbeing at its heart, Russell McVeagh opted to give all staff “sit-to-stand” work points in a bid to promote movement between spaces. The open-plan layout cleverly utilises all available real estate by placing seating and storage in the window bays, whilst hugging the core with small VC and quiet rooms.

The helical stair is one of the most unique design features of this Auckland law firm's new office. Image courtesy of Simon Devitt.
The helical stair is one of the most unique design features of this Auckland law firm’s new office.

When was the project completed?   

2017

How much space? 

3,000 m2

Was this new or renovated space?

Renovated space

How many employees, and what is the daily population?

250

Is there a mobile work or work from home policy?  If so, what percent of employees are remote workers?

Yes, but there’s not much uptake.

What kind of meeting spaces are provided? 

Bookable meeting rooms with full VC capabilities; informal breakout tables for groups; and small individual rooms for quiet focused work or phone calls.

What other kind of support space or amenity spaces are provided? 

A large social hub anchors the space and creates connection between the two floors. This space provides a large social kitchen and the country’s largest private law library. Internal services such as IT and a services center were needed for quick internal turnaround.

The new design contain's New Zealand's largest law library. Image courtesy of Simon Devitt.
The new design contain’s New Zealand’s largest law library.

What is the project’s location and proximity to public transportation and/or other amenities? 

It’s in close proximity to Britomart, Auckland’s main transport hub which includes buses and trains, and the Auckland city ferry terminal.

Was the C-suite involved in the project planning and design process? If so, how?

A steering committee of six senior members of staff were formed to be the main driving force behind the project. This team was made up of IT, HR and four partners (lawyers). Weekly meetings and presentations gave opportunities for buy-in and feedback from the steering committee, with each week focused on a specific area.

Creating appointed quiet space was important to the design of the open-plan office. Image courtesy of Simon Devitt.
Creating appointed quiet space was important to the design of the open-plan office.

What kind of programming or visioning activities were used?

It’s a process of taking the client on a journey from verbally articulating their future experience to visually describing it. At the inception of a project we workshop using post it notes and descriptions, moving into imagery and context to arrive at the founding language of the project. These are broken into three sections: People, Tech and Brand, once combined they formulate the basis of a brief for the place. I find that often the brand description is quite different to the people description, meaning the place can be challenging to define.

If we are able, it is good to find ‘the big idea’ which can drive a project. For Russell McVeagh the big idea was to appeal to the “aspiring lawyer,” which led us to determining unique differentiators of their organisations such as their perception of being a place that is Coveted for its prestige. They response to the idea that they are a discerning practice, being particular about who they work with/for and why. And finally, they really love a complex challenge and thus the term intricate was raised as it alluded to the many facets of legal practice which are delicately balanced to achieve success.

The palette of materials were deliberately selected to enhance the natural light across the workspace. For instance, the office features a mixture of reflective and absorbent surfaces, with a showcase material in Dinesen, a European timber supplier who provided large Douglas Fir planks with a Lye and Oil coating. Image courtesy of Simon Devitt.
The palette of materials were deliberately selected to enhance the natural light across the workspace. For instance, the office features a mixture of reflective and absorbent surfaces, with a showcase material in Dinesen, a European timber supplier who provided large Douglas Fir planks with a Lye and Oil coating.

Were any pre-planning surveys conducted to get employee input?

Yes. A workplace strategy phase was completed before pre-design commenced. This involved an online survey issued to each employee and interviews with selected members of each team recommended by the steering committee. Interviewing employees helped validate the online survey results.

Were there any other kind of employee engagement activities?

Whilst holding weekly meetings with in house RMV project champions we also produced animations, visuals and other forms of communications to keep the business interested and drum up enthusiasm and educate appropriately for the change.

Please describe any program requirements that were unique or required any special research or design requirements.

A huge emphasis is placed on the acoustic performance of the workplace. That relates to both insulation and absorption. Robust rooms which enable confidential conversations combined with ample absorption to control the reverberant noise in the workspace are a massive factor in a successful open plan legal environment. Also, technology was tested to ensure that simple things such as Wi-Fi were consistent and did not suffer drop off at any point. A lawyer places high value in the phone time with clients, and in the world of video conference a drop-off  can be fatal, so clever tech was initialized to avoid this at all costs.

The centrepiece is the arrival ‘hub’ over two floors connected by a helical stair. Image courtesy of Simon Devitt.
The centrepiece is the arrival ‘hub’ over two floors connected by a helical stair.

Was there any emphasis or requirements on programming for health and well-being initiatives for employees?

Yes. Russell McVeagh had an existing emphasis on employee wellbeing. Sit-to-stand workstations were rolled out for each employee along with ergonomic task chairs. Break out spaces were important to offer a moment of respite and relaxation as well as social connection. A dedicated wellness room is open to all staff and is serviced by a trained nurse once a week.

Were there any special or unusual construction materials or techniques employed in the project?

The use of Dinesen Douglas Fir from Europe was a deliberate nod to the pallet turning its back on mahogany row. Dinesen is a specialist product where the trees are only felled once the order is placed. Highly skilled joiners were employed to finish and install the timber as wall and ceiling linings.

The chevron pattern of the Tundra stone floor was waterjet cut to size and intricately laid. And the internal meeting pods around the work floor are finishes in an oak veneer, with curved panels.

The stair and bulkheads in the hubs are designed to draw you into the space and to the views beyond of Rangitoto Island. Image courtesy of Simon Devitt
The stair and bulkheads in the hubs are designed to draw you into the space and to the views beyond of Rangitoto Island.

For specific examples, please describe the product, how it was used, and if it solved any specific problem.

The fibrous plaster to the helical stair’s soffit and curved void was installed by a master craftsman. By using the age-old, hand-applied technique, we could achieve the exact look we wanted.

What products or service solutions are making the biggest impact in your space?

Custom sit-to-stand workstations were developed by us alongside furniture supplier Aspect Furniture Systems. By developing them together we achieved the bespoke look we wanted with the functionality the client needed.

What kind of branding elements were incorporated into the design?

Russell McVeagh were undertaking a branding overhaul alongside the new workspace so branding was applied afterwards but takes the same pale palette into its color-ways.

What is the most unique feature of the new space? 

The large, soft triangular void and helical stair, connected the previously disjointed teams.

What kind of technology products were used?

Crestron meeting room systems linked through from meeting room booking to VC and audio. A very comprehensive multi bevel screen panel and related audio for the staff hub to support events and public speaking.

If the company relocated to new space, what was the most difficult aspect of the change for the employees? 

One of the challenges was the company decanting into a temporary open plan space without the correct support spaces they would have in the final fit-out.

To create a dynamic open-plan arrangement the design uses 120-degree workstations offset against curved walls to help guide you through the space. The curved rooms help create the sense of a seamless transition from space to space. Image courtesy of Simon Devitt.
To create a dynamic open-plan arrangement the design uses 120-degree workstations offset against curved walls to help guide you through the space. The curved rooms help create the sense of a seamless transition from space to space.

Tell us more! Is there anything else that would help us tell the story of this project?

Architect: Warren and Mahoney Architects Ltd

MEP:  Norman Disney Young 

Specialist lighting: WSP

Structural: Structure Design Ltd

Acoustics: Marshall Day 

Contractor: Alaska

Project Manager: RCP

Quantity Surveyor: RLB

Images courtesy of Simon Devitt

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