22 November 2021

Sirius Building fit-out to allow health department to consolidate staff under flexible work model

| Ian Bushnell
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Sirius Building, Woden

The Sirius Building in Woden is only 11 years old. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

The Commonwealth Department of Health will run its consolidated operations at the updated Sirius Building in Woden at about 60 per cent occupancy under a hybrid work model, a parliamentary committee has heard.

The Public Works Committee is inquiring into the proposed $64 million fit-out of the building, which allows it to absorb staff from nearby Scarborough House and operate under its New Ways of Working program, which includes unallocated desks and offices and working from home.

The department opted for the consolidation and fit-out over a new building after a cost-benefit analysis, and the four-year work program will conclude in 2025 when the Scarborough House lease expires.

The committee heard that the department had secured an extension of its current lease which was also due to expire in 2025, until 2035.

The department has about 4600 people working across the two Woden sites but expects that to settle at about 4000 when the pandemic response subsides, which would fit into Sirius under the current, traditional office design.

First Assistant Secretary, Financial Management Division, Paul McCormack told the committee there would be no room for temporary or permanent expansion and “with very limited provision of modern, adaptable, collaborative and responsive workplaces”.

Mr McCormack told the committee that just before the ACT lockdown in August, about 2500 staff were in both offices on any given day, which is about 60 per cent occupancy of the buildings.

“That has been the level of occupancy a bit over a year into our flexible work journey,” he said.

Mr McCormack said that post-lockdown the rate of occupancy had recovered, but many were still working from home.

“We would expect in the long term, given our commitment for work, that we will have in the order of 60 per cent on a busy day,” he said.

“Typically those days are in the middle of the week, when the collaborative activities – meetings and so-on and so-forth – tend to be scheduled.”

First Assistant Secretary, People, Communication and Parliamentary Division, Rachel Balmanno said staff had not raised any concerns about the consolidation and a pilot started mid-year on level nine had eased any concerns about the new approach.

“In terms of the approach we’re taking – the New Ways of Working approach which includes unallocated desks and offices – there is obviously a change journey that we’re going through with staff on that,” she said.

“On the pilot floor … we now have about 500 people, and the concerns that they had prior to starting to use the floor have been assuaged. They’re comfortable and are seeing the best sense of the space.

“So we’ll keep working with them to make sure that we understand all the potential issues, work through those and support staff to make that change.”

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The Sirius building, developed by Canberra-based DOMA Group, is only 11 years old but Mr McCormack said that with the changing nature of work the open plan design was no longer suitable.

“It doesn’t have anything like the capacity to support collaboration,” he said.

“As with many traditional offices, meeting rooms are the most valuable currency for the people that occupy them, and that’s certainly the case in Sirius at the moment.

“It constrains the way in which we operate and, as we have identified through our engagement, the way in which staff wish to operate, moving forward.”

The fit-out will allow for 10 square metres of lettable area per person and more collaboration space because there won’t be a workstation for each staff member.

The refit will cover nine floors and enhancements will include greater staff amenities to support “wellbeing and improved productivity, improved utilisation to meet whole-of-government targets whilst retaining a COVID-safe workplace and a greater ability to modify spaces to support a greater variety of work”.

But Level 10 will stay as it is, with 450 additional workstations to remain available for temporary surge capacity, for sublease or for further refit.

The cost of the fit-out is calculated at $1812 per square metre.

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I hope the fit out includes proper ventilation. This building is the stuffiness one I have encountered. A real Covid petri dish!

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