New office four years in the making marks milestone for firm

by Sophie Schroder29 Oct 2014
Next Monday, Wynn Williams will reach a major milestone that’s been in the making since the Christchurch Earthquake rendered much of the city uninhabitable almost four years ago.

The firm and its staff will be able to go to work in their brand new home back in the CBD - one that’s been designed after firm-wide consultation and that boasts many features that make for a safe and unique working environment.

After the devastating 2011 Christchurch Earthquake, the Wynn Williams office suffered major structural damage, and the firm was left with the task of finding a new temporary home for its staff.

General manager Matthew Jones has driven this journey, having been heavily involved in the unenviable process of securing a suitable short-term site while also overseeing the construction of a new office.

He told NZ Lawyer that until now, most Wynn Williams staff have been working from a big box retail centre east of the city, with some overflow into a house located at the back of the centre.

There are also about 10 staff currently working from an office in Riccarton in order to be closer to their key clients.

And although the original Wynn Williams office survived the earthquake aesthetically pretty intact, it suffered devastating structural damage, and was deemed uninhabitable. It’s since been demolished bit by bit, going from about 12 storeys to just three or four.

“Immediately post-earthquake we looked at a number of options for a temporary premises…We had decided we wanted to get back to the CBD as soon as possible [permanently],” Jones says.  

With insurance settled towards the end of 2011, the firm began the hunt for an appropriate site where construction of a new office could begin.

Eventually, it settled on a prime central spot, at 47 Hereford Street.

Since then, Jones says the firm has been working closely with the owners and developers to get the feel of the space just right.

“We had a number of priorities. We surveyed staff about what was going to be important to them,” he says. “Location was important, safety was absolutely paramount, and natural light was important.”

The new building allows a mix of open-plan and office space, has a wall of windows for natural lighting, and has been constructed to 180% of earthquake code on base isolators.

The firm also engaged an acoustic engineer to make sure that the sounds in the office and between the adjoining workspaces don’t bounce around the area, nor render it unnaturally silent.

The silver lining in this arduous journey is that in what would have otherwise been a huge financial loss, Wynn Williams’ insurance company bought the original office’s fittings off the firm, giving it the opportunity and budget “to start from scratch”, says Jones.

But it hasn’t been without its challenges and he admits that it’s been a long four years.

“[Dealing with] timeframes and managing slippages in that…the building is a complex building,” he says. “Managing what that meant in terms of our temporary lease and staff expectations [was a challenge]. We also had to manage the growing construction costs in Christchurch, and keep to the budget without compromising on quality.”

Jones says it’s also been tricky to plan and make allowances for future growth in the firm when space in Christchurch is so limited.  

Luckily for Wynn Williams, it has the option to take on additional space, but this issue will be one of the major challenges many businesses are set to face in the near future, he says.

“The buildings are a lot smaller and the leases will all be for the same amount of time (rather than older leases coming up intermittently), so I think that will become more and more difficult in Christchurch in the next 10 years.”

Wynn Williams’ staff are all excited to go back to work in the CBD on Monday, and for the vast majority, it will be the first time they’ve been inside the building.

It will also be the first time some of them are able to work alongside their colleagues again, all under the same roof.

“It’s been nearly four years,” says Jones. “Our environment is safe and functional, but it’s not ideal…I think everyone here is really looking forward to [the move].”