The New Legal Office - Corrs Chambers Westgarth Workplace and Technology Strategy

Corrs Chambers Westgarth Sydney OfficesThis case study was originally published by Tech Research Asia in 2014 and written independently of any sponsorships or funding. Images courtesy of Corrs Chambers Westgarth and Batesmart.

Executive Summary

This Tech Research Asia end user case study analyses the results of the adoption of a flexible workplace strategy by Australian law firm, Corrs Chambers Westgarth. This case study delivers a comprehensive analysis of how Corrs approached its cultural, client confidentiality and technology opportunities to achieve its business outcomes. It includes an overview of the business drivers for the workplace strategy, an outline of the technology used to support the offices, an analysis of the results of adopting flexible working along with the next steps for Corrs.

Key Findings

Corrs has successfully adopted an open and flexible working strategy, breaking down the long-held notion that these work styles can’t be adopted by law firms or other industries that require high levels of client confidentiality.

High density WiFi, VoIP and audio visual components are critical to get right in a flexible office environment.

IT leaders have an opportunity to play a driving role in workplace projects and more deeply integrate technology needs with business outcomes.

Recommendations

Establish a long-term vision for your workplace with the input of a broad cross-section of stakeholders in the organisation. Evaluate flexible office approaches such as activity based working for your future needs as it offers a broad range of proven business benefits.

Make sure your workplace strategy harmonises and optimises the physical spaces you use, the processes and practices in place, the supporting technology, and the broader culture of the organisation. A greater level of success is evident with organisations that take a holistic view of the workplace.

The Dashboard


Name: Corrs Chambers Westgarth
Size: 450 employees in Sydney, 1100 employees total
Industry: Legal Services
Countries: Australia
Project snapshot: Adoption of a flexible working strategy in Australia by a law firm.
Results: 74% of Corrs Chambers Westgarth employees believe the new office is an “inspiring place to work”. This is an increase from 56.14% at the previous offices.
Future: Corrs Chambers Westgarth is now adopting the flexible working strategy at its other three offices across Australia.

The When, Who and What

In late 2013, Australia-based independent law firm, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, moved into a new office in Sydney. Corrs was the first law firm locally to ditch the traditional closed office workplace in favour of an open and flexible working model. Located in a new building – 8 Chifley Square in the CBD – Corrs took up 8000 square meters across 10 floors as part of a 12-year lease. Corrs’ lawyers and partners have forgone their traditional offices and now share a variety of unique spaces for team-based and flexible work, and collaborative meeting spaces in addition to their own workstation in an open environment. The eight work floors are arranged in groups across three “villages”. The floors in each village are linked via an internal stair case and each floor hosts different teams. The top two remaining floors comprise client meeting rooms, formal dining, board room, a cafe and an outdoor terrace. The key elements to Corrs design approach in building an Inspiring Workplace included:

Transparency – to be known for its open environment, egalitarian workspace with partner visibility

Knowledge sharing – to enable formal and informal communication and collaboration across the firm

Real time – to have integrated technology solutions enabling real time collaboration

Confidentiality – to have secure areas, sophisticated sound proofing and acoustic engineering

Choice and flexibility – to adapt easily to changing requirements, a choice of workspaces suited to team and individual work

Pioneering – to be innovative for the legal industry, creative and inspiring

Efficient space use – to encourage sharing of spaces

Although not a pure activity based working (ABW) environment, like those agile offices being adopted across Australia, the Corrs’ offices feature a variety of working areas which allow employees to choose the appropriate space for the task at hand, in addition to their personal workspace. This includes focus rooms for quiet work, meeting and team spaces for collaborative work, breakout areas, client entertainment and event spaces, including a level 18 terrace and cafe looking out over the Sydney skyline. Critical to the success of the open solution is the high ratio of quiet rooms and focus rooms located immediately adjacent to the workspace. Highly tailored and technology-enabled work desks and meeting rooms ensure ease of transition between work points, and enable staff to select the work environment to best suit their task. The new office design has attributed to a 60% reduction in paper reliance.

The Why

There were many reasons offered by Corrs for choosing this open and flexible office approach. As part of the firm’s strategy to provide an environment for greater collaboration for its clients and people, Corrs also needed a workplace that was attractive to first class partners and staff, including new graduates. This was in addition to striving for offices that could act as a great place to work for employees of all ages, while supporting them through industry changes, including the digital disruption happening across the legal system.

The smaller floor plates and layout of the building with large atria lent itself to an open plan approach and thus sparked an internal discussion around whether the company should change the traditional law firm work style. This discussion and the eventual decision came from the highest levels of the organisation including the CEO (who has a work desk like everyone else in Sydney, not an office). As the office is a long-term lease and is central to the organisation’s desired culture the company also wanted to design the workplace of the future. Notably and unlike many ABW office projects, real estate cost reductions in the form of lower occupancy costs wasn’t a key consideration in this project. Corrs has been liberal in offering space to its staff with a (Staff:NLA) ratio of 1:21.4sqm per employee and hasn’t taken the hot desking (or free address seating) route in order to reduce costs. On the contrary, the company has for all intents and purposes taken a value generation over cost reduction approach.

The How

What tech steps were taken?

For the technology component, Corrs employed a Senior Project Manager for premises and worked with external parties including Data#3 and Cisco. In its previous Sydney offices, Corrs had what could be termed a traditional law firm office layout. The perimeter of the workspace had enclosed offices and in between that were cubicles in rows. There were not too many kinds of meeting places and partners generally used their offices for internal meetings and as storage areas. In short, there wasn’t a high ratio of meeting rooms on each floor. There also weren’t enough collaboration spaces and video conferencing spaces.

The old office only had WiFi on the client floor for visitors to get internet access while the end user computing approach was a desktop computer on each desk with a single monitor with wired keyboard and mouse. The phone handsets were hitting 15-years-old, although some lawyers had digital conference phones. Further, some staff had three headsets depending on their function (for the telephone, dictation, and computer).

As such, and in order to support the new office, Corrs implemented the following:

Remote access and laptops to over 90% of the workforce. Each laptop was pre-authenticated to connect to a new National wireless network;

Microsoft Direct Access to Corrs network from any location with an internet connection as if you were at your desk;

Cisco voice over IP and unified communications;

Canon follow me printing with customised print routing to handle large print jobs. (Nationally, the firm also went through a printer refresh at the same time as the Sydney office move);

High density WiFi in all areas with Cisco switches, routers and management tools, including Cisco’s Borderless Networking and TrustSec tools;

A national room booking system (EMS);

AV and room controls (lighting, blinds, sound, partitions, etc) through iPads in meeting rooms and event spaces;

Two large monitors on each desk along with an IP Phone (video call enabled) and one wireless headset to support movement to the variety of work spaces;

Standardised HDMI connections for all devices and screens.

Corrs CIO, Berys Amor, and senior IT project manager for premises, Tony Pollock, acknowledged that there was a lot of technology change organisationally to support the new environment and how they wanted to work. Throughout the design of the technology component of the project, they determined the biggest change for staff that required formal training on was the telephone system and handset (Cisco DX650). Employees did get two screens on desks, but what they saw on the screens they use on a daily basis was the same as before. All supporting IT infrastructure (like the high density WiFi, the room booking system, the AV controls and presentation tools, etc) were “hidden” in the office design.

What was the role of IT in the overall project?

This kind of workplace technology project is not your ordinary IT project. Corrs established a premises project team that complemented a technology review committee headed up by partners across the country. A technology brief from the review committee was given to inform the project. This was national and allowed the IT team to lay out a vision for the office changes that wasn’t just for Sydney but for all of Corrs national offices (four in total). In short, they needed to drive the technology forward to support greater mobility and collaboration without impacting productivity or satisfaction.

Prior to implementation the CIO and senior IT project manager did multiple technology-related presentations to partners to reassure them and inform them of the project. They highlighted the amount of time they put into the design and testing process – in the order of 800 hours. When they quantified this to the partners, it made sense as it was clear the technology selection wasn’t done ad hoc but had a robust process and investment behind it. They also laid out scenarios where issues could have arisen during the move in and what steps they would take to address any issues. As a result, Corrs IT played a key role throughout all elements of the project and became a general leader and advocate. This was key in making sure the overall project was a success and the tech part ran smoothly.

How did they deal with the challenge of ensuring client confidentiality was maintained in an open office?

One of the most common barriers to adopting a more flexible office in many industries is a concern over whether these kinds of work styles impinge on an employee’s ability to maintain the confidentiality of client information and communications. Initially, Corrs also had some resistance around this confidentiality question. Many people internally and externally said the open and flexible office approach wouldn’t work as lawyers need confidentiality with clients and can’t have people overhearing conversations. This is a similar concern in healthcare, government and any industry where client information is sensitive.

The Corrs team overcame this concern by reinforcing employee understanding of their data and document protection software while showing how lawyers could take a call and seamlessly move into a private space. The network platform was designed for mobility so that lawyers could easily take a call in one space and seamlessly move into a more private space when confidentiality is required. Further, the office is a multi-floor tenancy and all work desks are the same so they can segregate teams physically when necessary. With in-office mobility they can do this on a day-by-day or hour-by-hour basis. Corrs also does simple things like not retaining call histories and blocking caller IDs in meeting rooms. Follow me printing means that documents aren’t sitting in trays awaiting collection, with physical release required by personalised secure swipe.

The Outcomes

All Corrs Sydney office were invited to participate in an online survey, pre move August 2013 and post occupation February 2014.

General Findings

Inspiring place to work:

Overall survey participants believe that 8 Chifley is an “inspiring place to work”. Participants who either “strongly agreed”, “agreed” or “somewhat agreed” with this statement increased from 56.14% at the former office to 74.15% at 8 Chifley.

Comments give evidence that numerous participants are still concerned about aspects of the physical environment including temperature and reduced light when the blinds are down.

There is a consistent theme in the comments regarding a desire for more colour to be introduced to the work floors.

Working more flexibly:

Participants report using the range of work spaces available - 23.03% “agree” or “strongly agree” that they often work in areas other than their desk, compared to 3.88% at the previous office.

Technology:

There is a significant improvement in satisfaction with the technology provided in meeting rooms and public spaces. 76.41% of participants believe that meeting rooms and public spaces are well equipped compared to only 30.97% at the previous offices.

The comments show a wide variance of individual views on the same topic, for example the ease of moving from work desks to the team and focus rooms and noise.
Corrs Chambers Westgarth Sydney Offices

The Next Steps for Corrs Chambers Westgarth

Corrs has committed itself to adopting the same approach to its three other offices across Australia. Brisbane will move into a new office in October 2014, Melbourne in 2015 and Perth in early 2016. All four offices will then be an open and flexible work environments and Corrs will have the most unique workplace out of all of Australia’s law firms, if not the entire Asia Pacific.

Recommendations

For Technology and Service Buyers looking to adopt a flexible working strategy:

Take stock and assess your current culture and performance trajectory: Conduct a utilisation study and undertake stakeholder interviews or surveys including front line employees. Ensure this is done independently to ensure data captured is valid and provides reliable insights. Consider employing a third party to help with this step, but make sure skills and knowledge transfer is built into any agreements so the organisation can continue to assess its workplace needs going forward without relying on 3rd parties heavily.

Define your vision for your ideal environment and culture through multi-party collaboration: Input from both front-line workers and the executive branch will help ensure the vision is representative. Tour current high performance workplaces to understand what is possible. Seek out the expertise of vendors and partners that have adopted themselves and have multiple reference customers.

Explore a pilot program: You don’t need a huge investment to trial a high performance workplace and many flexible work styles can be trialled using existing offices and technology. However, look at existing research on flexible working and the outcomes being achieved to safeguard against expectations that are inflated or set too low.

Align all stakeholders – internal and external – to the vision and set out your project responsibilities and timeline. Consider the essentials such as security, cost, and compliance and ensure that these are not compromised. Ensure the project management does not result in siloed components pursuing their targets independently of the broader vision. The best results are always those that bring together the four elements.

Evaluate enabling technologies: These will include virtualization, cloud computing, mobile devices, etc. Make sure IT providers have ABW experience themselves and offer you competitive advantage, not just ease of deployment or lower cost.

Plan for how you will reinvent again to engage customers and employees. Work styles and spaces of today will change again – will you have the capacity and agility to stay ahead?

Refer to TRA’s ABW checklist for CxOs and IT leaders. Make sure you have all bases covered – small things matter when it comes to ensuring a successful ABW project.