‘If we can’t attract the best talent, we can’t succeed as a company. We have to attract and keep great people.’ So said Gordon Frazer, Managing Director of Microsoft South Africa, when his company was declared ‘Best Company to Work for in 2004’ gaining first place overall as well as winning the IT sector.
In1992 Microsoft opened its first office in Johannesburg with four employees sharing one small room and a single telephone. Since then, this fast-growing subsidiary has ballooned to over 300 employees, supporting the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, and leading in 2004 to the need, for the second time to move offices to accommodate growth.
Says Gordon Frazer ‘We wanted an open plan environment that was conducive to co-operation and communication but still allowed people the space and privacy needed to do their own work.’ From a field of around 20 local and international suppliers, the workstation choice was whittled down to the Herman Miller Resolve system.
‘As a company on the leading edge of technology we wanted to ensure we created a work environment that takes advantage of the changes we see, such as flat panel displays and wireless networks’ says Frazer. ‘Resolve gave us this while offering the benefits of an adjustable and open system.’
Bill Helyar, the partner at Johannesburg based Paragon Interiors who led the fit- out project, designed the floors using two of the Resolve workstation clusters, positioning them precisely on the floor grid to allow for maximum flexibility. ‘It’s a clever plan’, comments Bernard Gotkin of All Office Equipment, Herman Miller’s South African dealership, ‘because it allows workstation clusters to grow – when a team enlarges for instance from 6 to 9 members – by the simple addition of a few components that join two existing clusters together.’
‘As a technology company we are acutely aware of the impact of ergonomics on productivity’ says Frazer and there was a deliberate decision by the management to ‘walk the talk’ as far as using technology to increase efficiency was concerned.
The workstations accommodate 310 people over 4400m2 on two open-plan floors. Initially the scheme envisioned the directors in closed offices with traditional furniture, but during the course of the project the designers were called in and asked to replan the open plan area to include all the directors as well, using identical Resolve workstations with an extra screen for slight extra degree of enclosure.
‘They were an unusually well-informed client,’ says Bernard Gotkin, ‘and were aware of all the health issues surrounding workchairs.’ So although the initial intent was to re-use existing
seating, following enthusiastic trials of the Mirra chair, Microsoft decided to use them throughout the facility.
‘Ergonomic design is important for more than productivity—how you type, point, and click can also affect your long-term health,’ says Gordon Frazer. ‘The Mirra chairs and Resolve workstations ensure that the contact points are as comfortable as possible.’ Microsoft ordered equal quantities of three different colours of Mirra chairs and together with the choice of three subtly different worksurface colours, there is a constantly and subtly changing colour palette that prevents monotony within the facility.
‘The Resolve system has certainly created a buzz in the office’ says Gordon Frazer. ‘People are finding it easier to work together, and the flexibility of the layout allows for teams to personalise their space without having to rearrange the floor plans.