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