An Interview with Kristie Smart, Senior Associate Strategy at Studio DB

In the wake of the pandemic, we have seen many new companies labeling themselves as workplace strategists but very few have the depth of knowledge required to bring meaningful impact and benefits to companies. Our Senior Associate Strategist, Kristie Smart is here to discuss Studio DB's Workplace Strategy offering and why it is so important for companies to invest in a good strategy.
27 Oct
Studio DB
Workplace strategy

Can you tell us about your role and what your team does at Studio DB? 

I lead the workplace strategy team here at Studio DB. We work together with our clients to help them understand how they work in their current workspace and how they could work in the future. 

We have quite a large suite of tools for interviews, surveys, utilisation, and heat mapping. As well as drawing on our experience and the research that we conduct in the industry on an ongoing basis, we help to inform our client’s strategy and how to plan for the transformation of their workplace to align with new work practices. 

Workplace Strategy is a new thing that formed out of the pandemic. Why is it important for companies? 

I think that the industry has jumped forward five years in the space of a year. Mostly due to COVID and the lockdowns, where suddenly people were still working, but no longer in the office which accelerated thinking about what that space should and could be used for.  

Essentially, many businesses were thinking, what should we do with our office? The main challenges companies are facing now are: 

  1. They do not know what to do, nor where to start 
  2. They also do not have the time to conduct the in-depth research that needs to be done nor the in-house capabilities that is required to plan and execute these transformational projects 

Our approach is unique and tailored to the New Zealand market, rather than being a carbon copy of overseas trends. Our key differences are: 

  1. We start with analysing the psychological and functional needs of our clients. We can categorise how people think and behave (understand how extroverts/introverts prefer to work) through surveys and then use this information to inform the design 
  2. Benchmarking. We grow our own database of local data. Our recommendations are relevant to the NZ market 
  3. Boutique offering. Each project does not look the same and the process is not the same. We tailor our solutions and take our time to dig deep 
  4. We bring in property knowledge and can connect the dots across all the disciplines involved in delivering workspace change
  5. The set-up of our team and the fact that we have all the required knowledge and skills under one roof. This allows for efficiencies but most importantly ensures that the findings from the strategy get appropriately translated into design and construction

What changes have you seen happen from last year?  

Companies are now open to question how they should be working and understanding from a different point of view. They are coming to companies like Studio DB and asking for our opinion, whereas I think even three or four years ago, they would not be looking for that type of advice on how their company should operate.  

The other biggest change is Gen Z coming into the workforce. Our last sort of pool of graduates have completed their degrees online and they have never worked in an office full-time. So why should they?  

In addition, they are the first generation that is challenging their thinking and putting pressure on employers to think from their point of view, because simply if they do not, they will not join. I think if we do not address or consider these things now, we will have a leadership shortage where that knowledge transfer has not been passed down. 

What are the key challenges companies face now?  

The biggest drive for most of our clients now doing their office designs to attract and retain talent that comes up continuously. 

Another driver is that technology has advanced broadly, but the technology within the workplaces has not advanced at the same pace. Therefore, there are a lot of discussions around workplace equity and steps companies need to take to ensure that everybody has the same experience, whether they are working remotely on at the central office. 

Leases and real estate are getting more expensive as well as the cost to build. So being more efficient with how you use your floor plan or how you construct presents a fantastic opportunity for the bottom line. 

In New Zealand, we are seeing a lot of companies that are afraid to decide and change how they work or change how their offices are. They are sort of sitting stagnant. The ones that are deciding to move, which a lot of the time is fueled by lease end, an external factor or they are still genuinely concerned that things are going to change a lot again. They want us to make sure that we have a future proof for future change, which is difficult to predict. 

New Zealand is 60th in the world in terms of rental cost but third in the world in terms of fit-out cost. The fit-out cost in New Zealand sometimes is equal to 4 - 6years of rent. This is quite unique to our market, and it means that CAPEX planning and leasing need to go hand in hand with the strategy being at the forefront of the transformation with the priorities in this order:

  1. People
  2. Technology
  3. Time (when people work)
  4. Place (the office or third place)

What do you think are the key factors that will drive change in the future? 

Some of the challenges that we talked about are going to change the way that we think about things. We talked about Gen Z coming into the office and they are the first generation to really stand up and say, “No, this is what I want. This is what I expect, and I am not going to accept anything less.” We must respond to that or there will not be a pipeline of future leaders in the decade to come.  

Technology is also going to continue to change, and the Metaverse is absolutely going to happen. We need to be thinking about how that will affect the workplace. 

Office locations will be changed to include pilot offices or spoke offices. I do believe that the 9-5 is something that would change. It is simply crazy to think that this developed because of the industrial revolution and had not been challenged until now. It does not suit the work that we do now, and it is not efficient either. Maybe if people were able to work more flexible hours, we will be more efficient, or people could commute at times that are more efficient too. 

There is a strong drive, especially with the customers working now, to select products that are sustainable/build-in methods that are sustainable, and to choose New Zealand made or manufactured products wherever we can. Moreover, it is just something that we need to address because we have come to a point where we cannot ignore it any longer.  

What advice would you give to medium businesses in New Zealand that are now looking at their workplace? What would you say to them? What is it important that they should think of that? 

The biggest piece of advice is to not underestimate the decision you are making and how much time should be dedicated to thinking about it.

For many of our clients, we are encouraging them to start thinking about these things and doing an in-depth research piece, 2 - 3 years out. Also, do not be afraid to embrace a bold strategy. We must remember that the events that happened have brought a never seen before change to the world of work, probably as important as the industrial revolution and the office as we know is bound to radically change. 

The benefits that lie in embracing fully the hybrid way of working are tremendous, across employee wellbeing and productivity, real estate cost savings, and long-term benefits to the environment. We must take advantage of the opportunity and challenge the status quo. 

Want to learn more? Get in touch with our Strategy Team here.

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