Posted by Yvonne on 25.02.2010

Coles is the second largest supermarket chain in Australia. It has over 740 stores nationally and over 100,000 employees.

Their head office in Tooronga, Melbourne, has been going through an extensive make-over in the last 18 months; from a rabbit warren (affectionately named Starship Enterprise, because of its size and white shiny exterior), to open plan offices.

The main reason for the change was to encourage employees to communicate more and better with each other. Where individuals would pick up the phone to talk to a colleague or invite them to a ‘formal’ meeting, Coles saw benefits in creating an environment that encourages staff to ‘just walk over’ to someones desk, and have more informal and impromptu meetings.

Melbourne architects, Woods Bagot, did a great job opening up the building, but Coles found that navigation was still too difficult, with the result that staff still did not get of their chair enough! ID/Lab was asked to develop a navigation and placemaking strategy to ‘improve communication’ and ‘get staff to utilise it to it’s fullest potential – actively & easily engaging through the building’.

Critical to any solution is an understanding of how the current environment is perceived and used, and we issued a 3minute (yes-no answer) online survey for all staff, held focus group interviews and observational surveys to fully understand the building navigation and typical paths of travel.

The Coles Support Centre is inherently complex. The building is essentially several, linked buildings. The floor plates on each level have significantly different configurations and the work places are configured in a grid layout, with ‘streets’ cutting diagonally through the grid. Some of the results from the focus groups and surveys were that very few staff were able to create an accurate cognitive map of their workplace, and that the bad navigation created significant staff down-time, missed or late meetings, and an overall feeling of ‘not belonging’ and ‘feeling isolated’.

We have developed a strategy that addresses the issues found in the research stage, and are developing design guidelines for an holistic information system, which will address the current inconsistencies and provide a clearly comprehensible set of navigation tools. As soon as it has been implemented, we will show you the results!