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

Ian Bushnell 22 November 2021 30
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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30 Responses to Sirius Building fit-out to allow health department to consolidate staff under flexible work model
bigred bigred 12:44 pm 25 Nov 21

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

Garvin Francis Garvin Francis 6:35 am 25 Nov 21

Refitting a relatively new building. Seems like money well spent.

Steven Harris Steven Harris 11:30 pm 23 Nov 21

If "meeting rooms are the most valuable currency" then I submit there are too many meetings.

Erin McKnight Erin McKnight 10:33 pm 23 Nov 21

Anthony it’s catching!

Michael Ilsley Michael Ilsley 9:56 pm 23 Nov 21

My desk and nobody will touch my stuff!! Grow up.

Onelia Herriot Onelia Herriot 9:23 pm 23 Nov 21

Flexible does not work as people who get in early will always claim the same desks.

It really means that the late starters have to be flexible with were they sit and may find themselves a long way from their colleagues

    Kiriel du Papillon Kiriel du Papillon 10:44 am 24 Nov 21

    very good point - as a traditionally late starter, that does worry me!

    Amy Willmott Amy Willmott 1:31 am 25 Nov 21

    Kiriel du Papillon I can confirm that it isn’t much fun 😕

Susan Loring Susan Loring 9:10 pm 23 Nov 21

Terrible way to work not having a desk to go to, keep some lunch stuff in a drawer, put a couple of photos up. My son is a Police Officer and he has no where allocated to him to even keep clean uniform or plain clothes - he has to go home to change if his clothes get soiled during duty! Ridiculous!

Maslow ‘Theory of Needs’. - No wonder people would prefer to work from home.

Margreet Philp Margreet Philp 7:16 pm 23 Nov 21

Alan Philp good time to retire!

Laura Elise Amos Laura Elise Amos 7:12 pm 23 Nov 21

Carol Redden say goodbye to your own desk 🤣

Angela M J Brown Angela M J Brown 7:09 pm 23 Nov 21

It is a crap way to work, noisy impersonal and germs spread like wildfire as there is nothing to stop them. Covid and flu season here they come. If this is the future I want to work from home permanently

Peter Mackenzie Peter Mackenzie 6:03 pm 23 Nov 21

Flexible working isn’t hot desking. Chalk and cheese. The savings associated with not having desks sitting empty should be music to the taxpayers ears.

    Lin Van Oevelen Lin Van Oevelen 6:05 pm 23 Nov 21

    Peter Mackenzie As an employer I also like that there will be more money to spend on more useful stuff than paying for empty office space. Maybe upgrade some of those ancient IT systems for example. That would have a far bigger impact on my work life than having a fixed desk.

    Peter Mackenzie Peter Mackenzie 6:41 pm 23 Nov 21

    Lin Van Oevelen absolutely. It’s not just health that needs this.

    Angela M J Brown Angela M J Brown 7:09 pm 23 Nov 21

    Peter Mackenzie it pretty much is hot desking, I know from experience

    Peter Mackenzie Peter Mackenzie 7:26 pm 23 Nov 21

    Angela M J Brown that’s your take on it. What defines hot desking to you?

    Kytie Mclign Kytie Mclign 10:33 am 24 Nov 21

    Lin Van Oevelen Mever happens.

    Amy Willmott Amy Willmott 1:19 am 25 Nov 21

    Peter Mackenzie The problem is that senior executives don’t like the negative connotations associated with the terminology “hot desking”. So instead it gets marketed as “activity based working” or “flexible working”. The common definition, and what is broadly understood to be hot desking, is:

    “an organizational workspace system in which desks are used by different people at different times, on an ad hoc basis. Typically, the aim is to maximize space efficiency and lessen real estate risk by reducing redundant office space”

    Flexible working to me is being able to work from other locations (I.e. home) or to work non standard hours where possible to accommodate ones personal needs alongside employer needs, so long as this flexibility causes no inconvenience or detriment to the employer or the work quality produced by the employee (in fact, sometimes the work quality may be better where flexibility is allowed!). The notion of staff not having a designated desk so that there aren’t any “spare desks” and associated floor space is not going to “waste” is hot desking, not flexible working.

    As someone who works in a hot desking environment, I can 100% confirm that it sux. Not only is very undesirable in a pandemic, it is also very inefficient having to schlep around the office as a somewhat late starter (not by choice) looking for a desk somewhat close to my team, the unpacking and repacking each day, not to mention spraying down and sanitising each desk used throughout the day. I can’t believe there are organisations that are still buying into this model, especially in such close proximity to COVID.

Murray Lembit Murray Lembit 5:30 pm 23 Nov 21

Good luck. It takes a very flexible, adaptive and collaborative workforce to pull this off. In a previous life, I did some analysis in my workplace that estimated that the maximum workforce attending the office on one day is only about 70%. So why have so many spare desks?

Luke Felton Luke Felton 4:50 pm 23 Nov 21

Till you have to accommodate those with special OHS requirements that will need allocated desks, then the whole thing falls apart

    Lin Van Oevelen Lin Van Oevelen 6:02 pm 23 Nov 21

    Luke Felton We have some in our building. It's a tiny minority. They have their own desk. It's not a problem?

    Amy Willmott Amy Willmott 12:59 am 25 Nov 21

    As someone who works in an office where we hot desk, we have an “OHS” desk on our floor - all labelled up to ensure we don’t sit in it - and I swear we have never seen that person actually sit in. We’ve emailed about it and were told to continue to not sit in it 🤦‍♀️

Briony Young Briony Young 3:39 pm 23 Nov 21

If you’ve been lucky to see the floor it’s an amazing space and I loved working there.

Ryan Cantrill Ryan Cantrill 3:25 pm 23 Nov 21

Leah Hollyman interesting

Abby Carey Abby Carey 3:09 pm 23 Nov 21

Robynne Carey enjoy that

    Robynne Carey Robynne Carey 3:12 pm 23 Nov 21

    Abby Carey I’m happy to WFH. It’s a nightmare working in the building with construction going on!

Lachlan Gilchrist Lachlan Gilchrist 2:52 pm 23 Nov 21

We still doing the whole Covid/distancing thing?

Marc Edwards Marc Edwards 2:20 pm 23 Nov 21

Hot desking is rubbish for the workers, for a place you seem to spend 1/4 of your life, you should be able to have ownership of a space. And happy employees are more productive employees. Pity the powers to be don’t listen or care for their staff.

    Sarah Nash Sarah Nash 5:24 pm 23 Nov 21

    Marc Edwards shown time and time again to not work. It's ridiculous!

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