In the Media: North West Business Insider talks to Martin Hunt about the future of productive office design

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Martin Hunt, partner at Powell Williams in Chester, spoke to North West Business Insider about how building owners are responding to the shifting trends in both design and better use of space.

Click here to read the article (page 36) or see Martin's views below.

Changing demands

There is a clear move towards the shared space working model, with many occupiers and tenants, wanting to incorporate those more informal work spaces one way or another.

At one time increased productivity and best use of space was thought to mean cramming more people on to smaller desks. Now businesses are looking at how to encourage self-motivation as the biggest driver of productivity, and a great working environment - where the IT works, it's not too hot or too cold, and where they can discuss ideas with colleagues or work alone if they choose, in shared or personal spaces - all becomes part of the mix.

Designing in productivity

Good design is not just about taking away walls and having open plan desks. In fact some research to show staff satisfaction actually decreases in a purely open-plan office with hot-desking - the previous productivity zeitgeist - but increase when some of the formal desks become lounge areas, booths, and smaller meeting rooms, giving workers the chance to choose their workspace based on their need at that time.

The hope is to encourage interaction between staff and increase collaboration by facilitating opportunities to interact. In a world ruled by impersonal emails and messaging, the aim of the game is to bring back the chance for real life conversations. We all know business is built on relationships, and fostering those relationships has now started to inform office design.

Key to all of this, of course, is connectivity. The ability to work anywhere requires not only wifi but fast download and upload speeds. And it's not just in the tenanted offices, providing for different work spaces within the floorplate, the free wifi reception is becoming standard fare in new office builds and refurbs.

More efficient use of space

Both landlords and occupiers can make better use of communal areas. No one can justify wasted space and many corridors or waiting areas have the potential to become a multi-purpose zone. The clearest demonstration of this is in the changing use of the reception area. Formerly a "walk-through" space for people on their way to somewhere else, receptions are being transformed into shared spaces and informal working areas. The intimidating corporate entrance, with low lighting and great marble slabs, often created a cold welcome, reminiscent of a library or museum where people spoke in hushed whispers.

The trend now is for receptions to offer a refuge from the street or the office upstairs, creating an unofficial break-out area where colleagues can relax and chat without booking a meeting room weeks in advance, visitors can be given an informal welcome, and workers from different businesses can interact in a more natural environment. Some are even putting in coffee bars to further encourage people to linger and meet. We've also seen that ethos echoed on business parks in recent years, with coffee and sandwich shops springing up. Now there's talk of creating roof terraces and converting the scraggy "gardens" into outdoor seating areas to give workers space to think, relax, meet or simply eat their lunch away from the keyboard.

The landlord's role

The landlord's role traditionally is to provide a serviced "shell" which the occupier can fit out to their liking. Most landlords will still seek to provide a space which is as flexible as possible, and therefore as marketable as possible, but they are definitely starting to respond to these changes with regards the common areas and service installation.

Informed landlords need to be attuned to what tenants want, and there's many things they can do to ensure their buildings cater to those requirements. A well designed reception - with good lighting, seating and a welcoming atmosphere - can set the tone for the whole building and can be a catalyst for other businesses to raise their game.

An occupier who can't afford to set aside space within their own footplate for an informal setting, may be attracted by the opportunity to offer such a space to their employees and visitors. And in some cases, where firms cluster with similar businesses, these spaces can become important development opportunity.

Landlords also need to make sure the services and infrastructure are right to support these changing demands. Local infrastructure can hold businesses back, particularly with regards broadband, so investing in a new fibre optic connection could, for example, help that building to stand out from the local competition.

Productive office montage

Design in action

Powell Williams has been instructed by asset managers Cube to renovate five office buildings over the last couple of years across the country, including overseeing the revamp of 55 Princes Street in Manchester last year. Here the brief was to make the most of the street-front reception area, make it more modern and inviting, and add value by creating a more functional space by encouraging people to stay and make use of it. We re-orientated the reception desk, installed a much improved lighting scheme and repurposed the old reception's back office space as a small seating area for use by anyone using or visiting the building making it more appealing for informal meetings and colleagues to relax.


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