In a business where human talent and their expertise is your product, workplace design becomes more than a commodity, says Martin Blake, it’s a critical driver of success. “We’re operating in a complex and disruptive world, with challenging competitors and a limited talent pool of bright young people to deliver our value. We need to be agile in our thinking to stay ahead of the competition.” The physical workspace, argues Blake, is central to the wellbeing and mindset of people and their productivity. From the 28th floor of Sydney’s spectacular Barangaroo office tower that is home to accounting, tax and advisory behemoth KPMG in Sydney, chairman Martin Blake reflects on how the simple need for office design impacts the capacity of the firm’s ultimate success and shapes its culture. “We have 2,500 employees in Sydney alone with an average age of just 27. It’s essential to create a positive environment that allows our people to work in the best way they can and to stimulate their sense of belonging to something bigger than just themselves,” says Blake. Davenport Campbell collaborated with KPMG Australia to create an agile workspace that would encourage interaction and connectedness and stimulate creativity and innovation. KPMG is in the business of solving complex problems for clients so putting people together to create and challenge thinking is critical. The design has been years in the making. Chairman Blake recalls long conversations starting more than three years ago about the firm’s vision for a new workplace with DC’s principal, Neill Johanson. Blake says the discussions focused on the core challenge: How do we create a space where our people and their talent could come together quickly, easily and think with agility. “That’s how you create innovation and entrepreneurialism. It’s not by sitting at a desk writing a document.” Blake says he wanted to give people freedom and choice about how they work, reflecting the firm’s guiding principles of autonomy, connection, edge and conscience. “Today, you can’t control bright, ambitious people and expect them to exceed and excel. You need to allow them freedom and space to get the job done. The physical workspace has a visceral effect on people; it stimulates positive emotion and interaction.” “Connectedness creates a deep opportunity to deliver better advice and solutions for clients.” The way teams have been co-located has enabled the firm to get the right people in the right places, leading to more collaborative thinking and working, especially across teams and service lines. Blake says he’s already seeing changing behaviours and work patterns, with people and whole teams moving on and between floors freely, finding collaborative spaces to huddle and check-in on projects. What’s more gratifying for Blake is the social dividend. Employees are sharing meal times and collaborating at communal tables in the central kitchen area. Fuelled by KPMG’s commitment to healthier work through better nutrition and wellbeing, a new sense of community is shaping itself. The bottom line, says Martin Blake, is the realisation that a happier workplace is more productive. Ultimately clients visiting the new offices will see and feel the difference design has made to the culture and atmosphere of the firm. “When clients notice the engagement of our people we will gain a competitive edge.”