Firm for the future: G+T goes open plan

by |
Gilbert + Tobin has done completely away with personal offices in the name of collaboration.

The firm of 450 picked up from Park Street over the weekend and on Monday opened-up-shop at Barangaroo, following a nine-month period trialling an open plan work system.  Now, not one member of the Gilbert + Tobin Sydney team has an office.

“I just like the engagement with people, it just gives you energy,” managing partner Danny Gilbert told Australasian Lawyer.

“If you think about what an office does, an office is a place where you can imagine you can have quieter time, where you can own the space, you can chuck your rubbish around and you don’t have to meet anybody’s requirements or needs other than your own.”

For Gilbert, a self-declared people person, the idea of needing permission to enter another person’s space is incredibly stifling to collaboration and immediate communication.

“It’s about setting the work environment up for the future,” he said.  

“The future is about collaboration, the future is about mobility and flexibility and the immediacy of the interaction and the breaking down of traditional office hierarchies.

“In a highly flexible and dynamic environment, you need to think about and breakdown as many barriers to communication as you can.”

The idea is that actually seeing other people might make lawyers better at sharing information.  It’s a mindset change, Gilbert said.

“There is the other argument that says that people can’t work as well in open plan because their powers of concentration are interfered with,” Gilbert said.

“You’re going to have the full spectrum of what it is to be a human being here and for some people, they don’t like change and some people like their own space.

“But the benefits that flow from open plan across a large cohort of people, in my opinion, outweigh those negatives.”
Confidentiality was the other hurdle, said chief operating officer Sam Nickless.

“The big thing is about making sure that most of our information is digital,” he said.

“That helps a lot with confidentiality.”

Nickless said that putting the necessary infrastructure in place was huge part of the planning process.  Everybody has a laptop and headset, and the office is fitted with plenty of breakout rooms.

“We’ve tried to mitigate the negatives by having big work stations with plants around them so there’s sort of semi-privacy and there are little rooms so if they’re more comfortable in that, they’ve got those available to them,” Nickless said.

A refresh of the firm’s brand was also launched this week in conjunction with the move, complete with a brand new logo.
Gilbert + Tobin

  • Nikita Robertson on 30/05/2016 11:37:35 AM

    “We’ve tried to mitigate the negatives by having big work stations with plants around them so there’s sort of semi-privacy and there are little rooms so if they’re more comfortable in that, they’ve got those available to them,” Nickless said."
    So in other words we realise open plan makes working difficult so we've tried to make our open plan office as 'non open plan' as possible!!

  • Tom on 17/05/2016 3:53:56 PM

    G+T are likely paying many millions to make this move. It's very unlikely that the move is premised on a secret penny pinching agenda

  • Louise Steer on 16/05/2016 12:09:40 PM

    The real reason open plan is popular is because it's much cheaper than building offices. Make no mistake, that's always the real agenda.

  • Louise Steer on 16/05/2016 12:08:24 PM

    I've worked in open plan for many years. It's not ideal but it can work if the partition panels are high enough that you can't see the other people. But phone calls are terrible, everyone can hear your business. I've only worked in one office where open plan really works because everyone values being quiet and calm and works for a harmonious atmosphere. The worst bit is when anyone comes up behind you without warning to read your screen or peer at the documents on your desk. The lack of privacy is nerve wracking and often threatening.

  • Nosy on 11/05/2016 5:11:27 PM

    The test is, are all the "big name" partners occupying the cubicles with the nice harbor views? If so, just another form of hierarchy, isn't it?

  • Terry Smith on 10/05/2016 1:15:02 PM

    Gilbert + Tobin, advertised 16 vacancies per the latest job data period. It may or may not be relevant.

  • Nosy on 10/05/2016 11:32:12 AM

    How much actual drafting and research does Danny do in his day to day work?

  • Peter on 10/05/2016 10:10:42 AM

    Lawyers provide a professional service that is most often the product of very careful, quiet consideration.

    We do not benefit from spit balling over the top of cubicles.

    If we wish to benefit from the wisdom of our colleagues, make an appointment, explain the issue, and have a detailed discussion.

    We do this in the privacy of that person's office, to avoid distracting others from the careful analysis they are performing for their client.

    All professionals need particular tools to assist them in their work. For lawyers, that includes a space that encourages concentration and calm.

  • SonofKevin on 9/05/2016 9:30:14 AM

    I find that having my own office (even if small, unglamorous and lacking a view) boosts my productivity by between 10-20%. I really do not need to be exposed to more distractions, noise and time-sharks than I am normally subject to! If you value 'collaboration' so much, why not conduct all meeting on a train platform during rush hour?

  • JC on 6/05/2016 9:27:19 AM

    I find Alysha may have the old way of thinking with hierarchical - so its okay for support staff to be in open plan but not the higher earners? Many businesses are moving to open plan layout in offices for many many reasons. It is the way of the future!

  • Tom on 6/05/2016 9:26:20 AM

    Lol @ the above introverted hermits who need to shut themselves away in hidey holes to feel comfortable. Keep aspiring to your grand corner offices and mahogany desks and let us know when you reach the 1970s

  • Keagan on 5/05/2016 11:15:22 PM

    There's plenty of evidence to show open plan can increase productivity and collaboration. G+T is one of the most innovative and successful firms in Australia and continues to grow its client base and talent pool. And contrary to what people think the vast majority of lawyers and partners are on-board with Danny's vision.

    Positioning a cutting edge firm in one of Australia's hottest move if you ask me!

  • Me on 5/05/2016 10:07:08 PM

    It's cheaper, and therefore popular.

  • JDM on 5/05/2016 11:11:24 AM

    I suppose a "people person" would love inflicting himself on others. Did he ever stop to think that perhaps his desire for "collaboration" and "immediate communication" was not reciprocated?

  • Alysha on 5/05/2016 11:07:02 AM

    Yuk. I would leave a firm if it went open plan. I suffered through open plan for a few years previously. Things I wouldn't have otherwise noticed started getting on my nerves, even trivial things (eg a noisy eater). I couldn't take it any longer and had to leave. Never again!

    Bad move G+T.

  • Denyse Dawson on 5/05/2016 11:02:40 AM

    I adopt Wayne's comments, well put.

  • Wayne on 5/05/2016 10:51:10 AM

    Wow - they must really be struggling to try a gimmick like this. The need to "energise" and "re-brand" seems to have outweighed common sense.

Australasian Lawyer forum is the place for positive industry interaction and welcomes your professional and informed opinion.

Name (required)
Comment (required)
By submitting, I agree to the Terms & Conditions