In Sydney, Australia, the multinational food and beverage company has designed a workplace that puts its people first.
Developed by psychologist Abraham Maslow in 1943, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs posits that human beings are driven by a series of motivating factors. His theory is often presented as a pyramid that charts the human journey to fulfilment, with physiological needs – the things essential to survival, such as air, sustenance, warmth and shelter – at the bottom, and increasingly more complex needs, including safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualisation in the layers above. It is a theoretical model that may help to explain the ideas behind a recent relocation project by PepsiCo Australia & New Zealand, which earlier this year moved its head office operations to a new space in one of Sydney’s major business districts. While the organisation desired a modern, state-of-the-art environment that reflected its brand, it also wanted to create spaces that would have a positive effect on the happiness, health and general wellbeing of its staff.
“You can put in all this shiny new technology but all people really want is access to light and fresh air”.
PepsiCo made a series of dramatic changes to make this happen. It moved from five disconnected floors to three consecutive storeys in the same hi-rise building, while an open staircase was built to connect all three levels. The organisation swapped the old, siloed layout – where senior staff occupied offices on the edges of each floorplate and everyone else sat at desks in the centre – for an activity-based working set-up that encourages people and departments to mix, for example, open plan neighbourhoods and huddle spaces. Other actions included the removal of traditional desk phones, with every employee receiving an i-phone and the addition of sit-and-stand desks. Among the plethora of changes, however, it is the simple physiological ones that have had the most notable impact. In the old workplace, for example, people who sat in the middle of the building could only access second-hand light. But with this new, egalitarian design everyone is provided with an equal amount of natural light. Laura Sprules, PepsiCo’s Culture, Diversity and Engagement Manager in the region, explains: “These features have been identified as the biggest improvements to the space, which shows that you can put in all this shiny new technology but what is also really important is access to light and fresh air.” Food also plays a big part in shaping the user experience. Sprules says that a central kitchen/social hub has become a popular spot for people to meet and eat lunch, and acts as a meeting point to discuss the organisation’s various wellness programmes. She adds that during the holy month of Ramadan it was a place where PepsiCo’s Muslim employees used to break their fast together after sunset at 5pm.
Another of the organisation’s objectives was to create a workplace that staff could take pride in. Sprules admits that many employees were reluctant to invite customers to the old building because its offices were not to the standard that people expect from a global company like PepsiCo. This, of course, evokes the next layer on Maslow’s pyramid: love and belonging. But how exactly has the design of the new workplace changed the dynamics between the building and its users? “We were very clear that we wanted to be this agile, collaborative organisation, and the previous workplace created obstacles to that in the form of physical walls and an inability to move between floors without getting into a lift,” says Ursula Phillips, Chief Information Officer for PepsiCo Australia & New Zealand. “So it was about removing the obstacles that prevented us from reaching our aspiration.”
Both Sprules and Phillips refer to the importance of a “bump factor”. Activity-based working, mixed neighbourhoods where different functions sit together, alternative meeting rooms, increased recycling options and centralised kitchen areas have all been introduced to give PepsiCo staff a better chance of bumping into each other. “We didn’t want to do the typical hot-desking across all levels” says Phillips. “But we did want people to be able to move around in neighbourhoods, to be in locations that are dictated by the activity they are doing, and be mindful that this wouldn’t be the same activity every day.” As a desk based office, Sprules adds, the team understood the sedentary lifestyle much more than an active one, so they had a job on their hands to engender true behavioural change. “We know that when we connect with people we release the hormone oxytocin, which makes you feel good. This is an easy way to increase performance, so creating an active office was a core objective,” she explains. The organisation has reached the top of Maslow’s pyramid, among esteem and self-actualisation. “We talk a lot about our workplace as a place where everyone can bring their best self and grow and learn in their career,” says Sprules. “It’s about giving people the right tools and the right workplace so they can perform and, to a certain extent, choose their own work habits, whether that’s their working hours or where they sit. It has really been about giving people the tools to decide what works for them and what conditions they can thrive in.”
It is possible to consider PepsiCo’s Sydney relocation and design project as the construction and completion of its own pyramid, because the organisation has realised that a great workplace and motivated staff are foundational to its success.