Raising the Bar for Well-Being in the Workplace: How Meredith Connell Became the First Law Firm in New Zealand To Achieve WELL Certification

by Alyce Lampe and Liz Peters
Mar 16, 2023 6:00 PM ET

As part of its signature interview series, IWBI met with Steve Haszard of Meredith Connell to learn more about how the law firm's headquarters prioritized health and well-being

In a pandemic-era world, how does a business compete with working from the comfort of home, a cafe or even a favorite park bench? And how do you create a working environment that’s the best place for top lawyers to thrive while working?

This was the challenge at hand for New Zealand law firm Meredith Connell (MC).

Celebrating the island country was a core component in the design and creation of its office space, with two-thirds of their fittings made in Aotearoa New Zealand, and purchasing as much Kiwi-made products as possible for the project.

Meredith Connell is the first law firm in New Zealand to achieve WELL Certification–it remains a key component to MC being one of the best places to work in the country. The team met dozens of requirements to achieve certification, selected from the WELL Building Standard, which contains over 100 features based on 10 WELL concepts: Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Movement, Thermal Comfort, Sound, Materials, Mind and Community.

During their WELL journey, the project team delivered on a host of health and well-being strategies, from deploying high-tech acoustic profiling in meeting rooms and terrariums to repurposing rainwater from the roof.

We sat down with Steve Haszard, Managing Partner, Meredith Connell, on the firm’s transformation and WELL Certification process:

What inspired you to pursue WELL Certification?
WELL served as a measure against which MC could assess how well it supports staff well-being, whether in the design layout or the policies and procedures that underpin the different work spaces.

With all of the WELL Standard being evidence-based, stakeholders could see the business case behind each WELL feature, knowing we were acting on hard science, not the latest reckons.

What are some of the interventions that you are most proud of?
A benefit of WELL Certification, because of its 10 concepts, is the multi-faceted nature of the certification. This meant, when contemplating how to incorporate certain features, these discussions often transcended design disciplines and applied in building and construction too. By way of example, the Community feature C02; Integrative Design encouraged our project to incorporate a celebration of culture or place, the integration of art or a sense of human delight. These themes had already woven themselves into weekly building progress meetings and decision-making, however, the WELL feature provided us with research and science behind the importance of integrating beauty and design in our project. Holistically, the entire MC office incorporates celebrations of culture and place, integrates art and gives the occupant a sense of human delight.

Additionally, six artworks were commissioned and sit throughout the project, reflecting contemporary values of Aotearoa New Zealand. The artworks represent six “neighbourhoods” around the themes of Land, People, Exploration & Immigration, Diversity, Enterprise & the Human Mind and Capital, the things we build to make the things we value. Six contemporary New Zealand artists were commissioned to provide their interpretation on the themes: Israel Tangaroa Birch (land); Xoë Hall (people); Yuki Kihara, Aotearoa’s representative at the 2022 Venice Biennale (exploration and immigration); Evan Woodruffe (diversity), Mary-Louise Browne (enterprise and the human mind) and Michael Hight (capital). Further expression to the neighbourhood themes through impactful graphics and uplifting illustrative language.

In some instances, these artworks had to be installed in situ, which required attentive collaboration and support from the entire project team to ensure we could meet installation deadlines whilst also complying with the WELL features relating to air quality, volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions, and construction pollution management.

WELL Certification provides strong support for the importance of biophilia, and even encourages projects to provide enhanced access to nature.

Inspired by the research in this area, coupled with a desire to ensure our project celebrated contemporary Aotearoa New Zealand, the project’s architects, Jasmax, suggested taking that idea to the next level by centralising indoor plants into terrariums, to create a true native bush feel, evoking the Waitakere Ranges to the west of Auckland.

These terrariums were brought to life and are professionally maintained by Outside In, a company which specialises in merging nature and design. Our reception area, along with formal and informal meeting rooms, are located within the firm’s terrariums. These terrariums are truly dynamic spaces, with plants growing (thanks to the inclusion of LED Grow Lights and precise temperature controls), and are maintained and Outside In, who avail themselves of the Garden Sheds secreted away in each Terrarium in order to do so.

Did you face any challenges? How did you overcome them?
The design and build of the MC offices occurred during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. This resulted in uncertainty and shifting timeframes for the build and design; due in particular to various lockdowns that prevented the ability for contractors to be on-site. Another unexpected challenge along the way was the blocking of the Suez Canal by the Ever Given cargo ship in March 2021. This impacted supply chain certainty in relation to the workstations and other office furniture.

During the weekly building progress meetings, it was not uncommon for contractors to whip out their phones and show, using an app or website, where certain container ships were located in the world at that exact moment. This evidenced how earnestly the team were managing supply chain delays, having regard to both practical completion deadlines and the WELL framework within which our build was designed. There were particular concerns that the supply chain delays could cause issues with sourcing furnishings that satisfied the WELL criteria in relation to VOC emission thresholds.

However, through a collaborative approach across disciplines (our WELL Accredited Professionals, Norman, Disney & Young (NDY), along with engineers, project managers and architects), we were able to source locally-manufactured furnishings that met the WELL criteria and gave us supply-chain certainty.

Including NDY as WELL Accredited Professionals was particularly helpful in addressing and overcoming any challenges we experienced in relation to WELL Precertification and (ultimately) Certification, as well.

Achieving WELL Certification required innovative thinking and creativity of, and the end result is nothing short of impressive. We’re thrilled to see Meredith Connell achieve WELL Certification and excited to follow along as they continue their WELL journey.

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