Property Australia

The brave new workplace


“Our offices mean a lot more to us than just workstations and computers,” says Investa’s group executive for people and culture, Amy Wild. How is Investa adapting to business-as-unusual?

One of Australia’s largest commercial office real estate companies, Investa has 26 properties, 850-plus tenants and $11.8 billion in assets under management. The office specialist also has 220 employees who have been working remotely during the COVID-19 crisis.

Wild says the pandemic has highlighted the importance of authentic communication, compassion and flexibility.

“People will remember the companies who really looked after their employees and acted with genuine care, concern and authenticity.”

Transparent communication is at the heart of Investa’s approach, Wild explains.

“We hire smart adults and have treated our people as such – transparently sharing information on working arrangements, company performance and planning for a post COVID-19 world – even when it hasn’t been all good news.”

A host of communication strategies and platforms have been rolled out to “share the highs and lows of working from home”. Think Masterchef competitions, weekly trivia quizzes and pet pictures. One favourite activity saw children of employees compile a video capturing the experience of their parents working from home.

“The integration of home into our working lives has further ‘humanised’ our relationships and interactions,” Wild adds.

The pandemic has “levelled the playing field,” as Investa’s team all “share the same experience of dodgy home internet connections, printer and technology fails and the blurred lines between work and home”.

“Feedback from our remote offices has actually shown they have felt more connected to head office teams throughout COVID-19.”


Let’s get flexible

Investa was already a “step ahead” with work-life integration; its ‘Invest in Me’ program offers 21 different options for staff to work flexibly.

“Flexibility looks different to everyone – whether it’s supporting someone wanting to start late to enjoy a morning surf, a millennial keen to volunteer or someone wanting to take a gap year.”

Investa is adopting the same flexible mindset when it comes to its employees returning to work. Staff can opt in to attend the office based on a roster system with set days, and can book a workstation that complies with Safe Work Australia’s advice on social distancing.

“We know that some of our team are desperate to get back to the office, whether due to a poor set-up at home, children and home-schooling challenges, or simply just loneliness and a desire to reconnect with their colleagues.”

“We’re carefully balancing the physical health risks associated with a return to work against the mental health impacts of remaining isolated at home for a prolonged period.”

An employee survey revealed 80 per cent of Investa staff most missed connection and interaction with their colleagues, Wild says.

“Even the best technology can’t replicate the power of a face-to-face conversation for some things, particularly in my line of work. Then there’s all the serendipitous interactions and ‘bump’ conversations we’re missing out on – which generate so many important ideas.”


Agile and adaptable

Investa is taking an agile and creative approach to ‘business as unusual’ to support its customers.

“Our priority is to protect the health and wellbeing of all visitors to our buildings by reducing the risk of virus spread,” Wild explains.

“Social distancing signage, traffic management in common areas, increased cleaning regimes, provision of hand sanitiser and active management of lifts are just a few of the steps we’ve taken. We’re exploring options for touchless taps, entry doors and bathroom facilities, as well as technologies to enable real-time tracking of occupancy numbers.”

Longer term, Wild is positive the office has an important role to play in a post COVID world.

“We will be forever changed in some ways, and each individual will redefine their own new normal,” she explains.

“I foresee a lot more emphasis on large collaborative and social spaces, with meeting spaces getting bigger to enable people to come together physically, yet safely. At the same time, perhaps less desk density, which will be a bold step away from the trend we’ve had in recent years.

“The office will continue to be a place where people want to come because it has the facilities they need and atmosphere they value. It has a unique purpose that simply can’t be replicated from the dining table of a share house.”