David Ward, Macpherson Kelley

Over the past couple of years, Macpherson Kelley collaborated with Athena Blue Global to reshape the way they worked and how they worked. We catch up with David Ward, Chief Operating Officer at Macpherson Kelley, to talk about their workplace, way of working, and what effect the transformation has had on their business.

What does Macpherson Kelley do?

We’re a full-service Commercial law firm, primarily advising medium to large private companies from our four east coast offices. We see our role as helping our clients to succeed – our clients do lots of amazing things from developing leading tech to building skyscrapers to feeding the country. Whatever it is they do, if we enable our clients to achieve their goals this in turn enables our people to succeed as well.

Macpherson Kelley’s history began in Dandenong 118 years ago. We’re proud of our legacy but it’s our culture and modern values that set us apart from other law firms. Our focus is on working as a team to deliver a client experience that revolutionises what clients should expect from their law firm, in a straight-talking commercial way.

What is your role?

I’m the Chief Operations Officer. I’d describe my role as an ‘enabler’ or ‘jack of all, master of none’. Our National Managing Principal Lawyer, Grant Guenther, and the four Managing Principal Lawyers at each of our four offices are hands-on practicing lawyers (I am not a lawyer). I tend to be involved with more of the day-to-day business operations, drawing on my experience across all practical areas in the firm, be it business development, human resources, premises, firm performance, finance, tech, and ESG initiatives. Every day is different.

What complexities were you grappling with when you were looking for a workplace partner?

As an industry, law has a reputation for being traditional and operating in conventional office space. We knew this way of working didn’t reflect our vibrant and collaborative workforce, so we sought to make changes that were more aligned with our values.

Internally, two of our offices are designed to be activity-based while the other two were a fairly traditional layout with enclosed and insular workspaces. We knew we wanted to redesign these offices (in Brisbane and Sydney) to get better use out of the space and in turn, create a workplace for the future.

The challenge was how to marry up what works best for our staff, our clients, and ultimately for the business as a whole. We had a culture of flexibility before the pandemic and easily adapted to the capability of working remotely since early 2021. So, we wanted to work out what was best practice, considering the good and bad elements of all our offices and the ways in which we see hybrid work evolving over the coming years.

What were you looking to achieve by conducting a workplace strategy and change management with Athena Blue Global, what’s next and why?

We wanted to work with an experienced workplace strategy team to guide us through the discovery and change components with a unique approach and thinking. We also ideally wanted to work with an existing client of the firm – which they were.

Athena Blue Global’s strategy and change management process has helped to engage staff in the project and vocalise their values when it came to the workplace. The exercise proved invaluable in connecting our people to the project and understanding the different needs and personalities of each office. It solidified our stance that client service, inclusivity, and advocating for a sustainable future are at the core of our firm and what we believe in.

What key success metrics within your organisation will you be looking for as a result of your workplace strategy?

We want our workplace to do lots of things but first and foremost, it needs to be a tangible manifestation of our brand, our culture, and our values. We’re already doing a lot of things internally, such as our  Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion commitments,  which includes a market-leading parental leave policy, and we’ve kickstarted a big ESG project since joining the Australian Legal Sector Alliance (AusLSA). We’ve also launched a client feedback program that allows us to get holistic data on how we can better service our clients.

A successful work environment will be a place our clients and people are attracted to work and be in but also aligns with the progressive work we’ve done to be “better each day” – one of our firm’s internal values.

We’re looking to get the balance right of client space, internal work areas that foster collaboration and teamwork, and quiet places for focused work, all while thinking about the fourth element – working from home, which is here to stay.

Sometimes the best thing for the future requires some short term discomfort now

David Ward

What have you learned along this workplace journey so far?

Having been through a couple of workplace strategy projects now, including our recent Brisbane office move to Waterfront Place, I appreciate how important change management is to the overall success of a project through the design/build phase and even beyond into using the new space. Curating how you want the workplace to function requires active ongoing management and you have to be prepared to change things that you thought were good ideas at the time.

Another element is the importance of data to accurately plan for the future. Time/motion studies and utilisation capture are crucial to accurate planning for your future workspace. Consistent communication on the progress of our workplace journey is key to maintaining staff momentum and involvement. We’ve made sure that we engage staff from all levels and are utilising their skills to make the change as seamless as possible. We’ve made it clear that our workplace projects are an “all hands on deck” affair, so it’s integral to keep staff involved and motivated each step of the way.

What advice would you give anyone who is thinking about how they can future-proof their workplace?

My first step would be to reach out to your industry contacts/network. Everyone is in a similar boat – some will be starting a workplace project, some will be finishing, and some will be like you wondering what to do. I found it really useful to hear the experiences of others.

Working with Athena Blue Global, helped to align our key stakeholders on our way of working, translating all the data into a tangible workplace strategy, including future-proofing scenarios, what this meant for our workplace requirements, and a clear framework to bring our people on the change journey. Once you’re in the thick of strategy and change with emotions running high, I’d encourage leaders to stay the course. Take all the inputs and data available but ultimately ensure the thing you are building has no one individual in mind but the firm/culture as a whole. Sometimes the best thing for the future requires some short-term discomfort now.

At Athena Blue Global, we help organisations shape your future of work, by aligning and equipping leaders with the tools needed to make workplace decisions through our Workplace Strategy services. Contact us to learn more about building your next strategy for your workplace and people.


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