Inside the Future Office Design Revolution
17th October 2015
Gone are the days when tenants would be happy with a refurbished office space – now they want something that truly reflects their brand and what the company stands for. Here NG director Jonathon Seddon and Andy O’Sullivan, Client Director Workspace at Green Room Design, discuss the revolution in office design.
How have tenants’ needs changed over the last decades when it comes to the interior design of their offices? And how have you responded to this?
Jonathon Seddon: I think the biggest change has been in people’s work patterns. On the whole, I believe there has been a cultural shift towards a work life balance. Technological advancements allow people to effectively carry their whole office in either their pocket or purse. People very often are working early in the morning and late at night, fitting in their work around other aspects of their life, and, as a consequence, office time falls away which raises the question: Does everyone need a fixed place of work? As agents, we can’t prescribe to our clients and tell them what they’ve got to do, but what we can do is highlight the various options available to them to assist them in making an informed decision.
Andy O’Sullivan: Companies are transforming their spaces as they refocus on their need to recruit a younger, more creative and collaborative workforce. Their preference for buildings that reflect their values puts a premium on sustainability, wellness, loft-like spaces and locations that are active, and easily accessible on both foot and by car.
Do you think an office can mirror a company’s culture?
Jonathon: Absolutely. I can walk into an office, or a factory for that matter, and within seconds of arriving have a pretty clear understanding of the culture of the business just by looking at the quality of the fit out, the configuration of the space, how people are working, how tidy it is, whether there’s any art or imagery on the walls, whether people are eating at their desks etc. There’s no right or wrong culture – businesses do what feels right for them.
Andy: Using a visible brand personality to drive home a core business mantra remains a solid strategy. For brands in the process of diversifying, this unification can be particularly beneficial.
How do you go about understanding a client’s needs when you first meet them?
Jonathon: It sounds simple, but it’s to talk to them and understand what is important to them. Once I feel I’ve an understanding of what they are after, it’s then to find the best way to realise their ambitions. However, it’s not a one way process; I will ask questions that get them thinking about the reason why they want something. As an example, many businesses talk about saving money by bringing their own existing furniture to a new office which can be a false economy. Very often the desks are 1800mm long, which is a size designed to accommodate a cathode ray monitor that would take up half the desk. Most monitors now are a flat screen and, because they are light, they can be mounted on a swing arm, enabling a desk to be significantly smaller whilst still providing sufficient desk space. Therefore, by adopting smaller desks you can fit more people to a given space, enabling a business to save on rent, rates and service charge which would very quickly payback the cost of a new desk and then make savings into the future.
Andy: Our focus is to design from this place of empathy – taking time to develop a clear brief and allowing the design solution to emerge from a real understanding of a business’s key drivers. Design should be about creating a way to get something done rather than simply being the way something looks. In my experience designs developed from this perspective can lead to much better business results.
Is there still resistance to change from landlords looking to rent offices?
Jonathon: Hopefully, our landlord clients use us because they trust our advice. At the outset of a marketing campaign we’ll very often identify areas of the building that would benefit from alteration or refurbishment in order to make it more marketable. Holding an empty building can be an expensive business and, by following our advice, we can bring about lettings sooner and with a smaller incentive package than would otherwise be the case.
Andy: The barriers to change are a mixture of: fear; loss of identity, an ingrained paper culture; management culture; old and faulty IT; and perception to access of information. A change to any working environment requires investment. The recent economic downturn has made change an even bigger risk. However, this investment will save businesses in the medium and long term.
What are the major changes in office design you’ve noticed over the last five years?
Jonathon: I think we’re now in a phase of the market where the bottom line in terms of capital expenditure is still important but there’s now a realisation that the people within the business are its most important asset and so, there has been a shift towards providing a working environment that works for the staff. Happy employees are typically better motivated, less likely to leave and ultimately more profitable.
Andy: The future workplace will be flexible, adaptable and fit for purpose. It’s efficient, but it’s also sustainable and healthy. It’s imperative to align one brand, mission, purpose, and workforce, but it should also deliver knowledge sharing, teaming, and a culture of innovation and “getting it done.” The energy industry is a pioneer in working the global/local terrain, staying agile and connected while attending to the bottom line. Companies will also begin to push parts of their private world into the public to boost brand perception, while simultaneously getting closer access to their target audience for the benefit of core research and development.
How can an agent such as NG help in the process of bringing about change in office design?
Jonathon: Typically, business owners turn their mind towards revising their offices when they are either looking to move or commit to a new lease on their existing premises. The best way is for any business to simply pick up the phone and talk to either myself or one of my colleagues on 0115 9588599 well before any decisions need to be made and we’ll see if there’s a way we can help but, in most cases, I would be confident of adding value to the decision making process. The design of a space is important, but it’s not the only consideration that should be taken into account. Aspects such as location and running costs all need to be thought about to enable a holistic decision to be made.
Andy: There are very good commercial agents like NG who are happy to question a client’s reasons for searching for larger premises or taking additional space early in the process. This may seem like madness as the larger the space, the larger the fee. However, by changing their own mindset, the commercial agent has already demonstrated change to their client. In addition to this, introduce an independent Design Consultancy that places value on the business and creativity and not simply on the supply of walls, furniture and carpets.