In partnership with British Land, CR is embarking on a new workplace report, with a focus on wellbeing within the working environment. While the subject has become increasingly relevant to all sectors over the last few years, we’re specifically interested in how workplace design can influence and encourage better creative work – and how organisations are responding to the demands for different ways of working in 2017.
With that in mind, we would also like to hear from you about your place of work. Our ‘wellbeing’ survey is at surveygizmo.com – and should take no more than five minutes to fill in (there’s even a chance of winning one of three £50 Amazon vouchers if you do so).
In May, we hosted a round table discussion that addressed how creative businesses can work to make their workplaces better for staff. Wellbeing is a broad subject and the talk was wide-ranging – from discussions of the trends and challenges people were encountering, to how companies can establish a sense of place or become part of a community, when they relocate.
Along the way, we also talked about some of the newer approaches to wellbeing, such ‘biophilic’ design with Oliver Heath, while Araceli Camargo, Director of Lab, The Centric Lab, was on hand to explain the influence that neuroscience is playing in the design of the contemporary workplace.
From British Land, Matt Webster (Head of Wellbeing and Future Proofing), Amy Hockley (Leasing Director) and Juliette Morgan (Head of Campus) discussed how they have been focusing on how the internal environment impacts upon wellbeing – thinking that can also be applied to the public realm; from shopping centres to retail parks. Hockley stressed the importance of recognising that people want more than just a building from their office space – and British Land now looks after several outside spaces, too, such as its ‘pocket parks’ in Paddington.
Lee Schuneman of Microsoft Lift talked us through moving the company out of London’s Soho and into its new offices in Paddington. As commuting times were affected, he was keen to try to change the working practices within the company – with more flexibility so that people could work from home – but with a refocusing on the building as a “honeypot” for where the best interactions with colleagues and collaborators could take place. The space, he added, was optimised to encourage this interaction; it became less about promoting focused work and more about conversation.
At Framestore, an upcoming office move has given co-founder and CEO Sir William Sargent the chance to rethink what the workplace can look like. Some 70% of his employees are ‘millennials’, so any shift in office environment needs to take into account the way the workforce is constructed. Interestingly, the move is set to take the company into a deliberately ‘untrendy’ part of London, Sargent said – an opportunity to start with a blank sheet of paper. To ensure this works, he added, you have to articulate that the move will give people the opportunity to do things they currently cannot – and he’s a keen advocate of surveying his staff regularly to get updates on their opinions.
For Webster, a new location is rarely a blank space as there will always be an existing community to become part of. British Land’s Paddington redevelopment, for example, is the first site where the company has applied its Wellbeing Principles. ‘Sociability’ comes into play here, he said, as one of the biggest indicators of wellbeing is the absence of ‘social isolation’ i.e. daily contact with friends and family – and even incidental contact with strangers – can be a real boost. So how can this be encouraged at work?
If companies can introduce those kinds of encounters, if they can “slow people down”, even encourage eye contact – he cited making use of more benches (and nature) as a key part of this – then the benefits are numerous. Also, a new site needs to ensure there is still an opportunity for ‘ownership’ which will foster community thinking and can result in things like events programmes, running clubs, yoga workshops, drawing classes etc.
A new staircase in British Land’s own building was brought in to literally get people moving around the space, Webster added. “It’s the best memory jog you can have – better than a to-do list – when you start walking up and down there and bump into someone,” he said.
Yet rather than “over-define” a new place, Matthew Hook, Chief Strategy Officer, DenstuAegis, cautioned, it can be more beneficial to introduce a space and ask staff how they would like to use it.
People need to be able to fill in the gaps, he said, and this can leverage people’s desire to customise and create. While definitions of millennials usually mention ‘entitlement’, he added, the fact that they are often keen to “contribute” and “give something back” should be recognised also. It’s not a simple picture – the danger is that people working within new spaces can almost become commodities in the eyes of those experimenting with different methods and approaches.
Nicola Forristal, UK Group Chief People Officer, Havas UK, described the idea of the ‘village council’ at the company, which features everyone from management to full time and part time staff. This gives people a voice and groups can form that look after or focus on certain areas – it’s about “engaging with people on a village scale,” she said. Fundamental to success is an understanding of what ‘cohabiting’ in a space means – arguments over music will happen, but instead of complaining about it, why not bring your favourites into the mix?
In fact, Schuneman added, if you add ‘noise’ into an office environment, people are more likely to communicate with each other (less so, he said, if the atmosphere is silent). Lift makes use of Sonos speakers that play Boiler Room sets, which appeal to the make up of the studio that wants a space to be more interactive and engaging. There’s even a piano and a drum kit on site – and while these things may sound superfluous, he added, they get used a lot and are seen within the context of the workplace as a way for people to express themselves.
And these aspects also adhere to a wider Lift culture where the aim has been to “make the space more analogue than digital.” Arranging time in a meeting room involves talking to whoever’s in there (the rooms are not bookable); while screens are not embedded into walls (there are always, always problems, he said) but rather placed on stands allowing users to switch connections behind them.
For Heath, who draws influence from humans’ behaviour in the natural world, part of his focus has been on just what kinds of spaces make us feel good or enable us to flourish. He cited Granary Square in London’s King Cross as a playful place, full of natural light and close to water, in the heart of a busy redevelopment. In ‘relaxed’ settings, he said, we are more likely to start up conversations and gave the example of a ‘snow day’ where everyone comes outside and inevitably has several conversations with strangers within a single shared experience. How can we replicate what nature does to us while at work?
Camargo said that in order to successfully collaborate we need ‘cognitive flexibility’ – a mental space where we are comfortable (and calm) enough to take in what someone is saying – but this is, of course, dependent on one’s individual profile.
So can companies create an “enriched environment” whereby people can choose spaces to find their own sense of relaxation – this maybe outside for a brainstorming session, or even in a darkened inside space for collaboration. Flexibility, then, is at the heart of maintaining wellbeing in the workplace – giving people choices seems to increase both their happiness and potential.
The idea of being visible also came up in the discussion – both internally and externally. For architect John McElgunn, Partner at Roger Stirk Harbour + Partners, his work with the Special Exhibitions department at the British Museum brought home the significance of people being able to ‘see’ what each department did – and the resulting benefits of being more aware of staff as individuals.
At his own practice, McElgunn said, they have had issues with lighting. Having been programmed so the lights could follow the circadian rhythm of the sun (from warm cool, to very cool, to softer at night) this echoed real daylight. But while the changing light was generally well received, it proved impractical for those who needed to colour-match on screen.
Visibility in terms of how a company is seen within a community was also an important issue. Should a large reception area have desks in it for people to work? Should clients be able to use the space?
Heath noted that there was a movement to encourage what were once entrance spaces to be used more fluidly – and cited the influence of coffee shops as a working space; while modern showrooms benefit from inviting people in to use wifi, for example, which populates an otherwise empty, sterile space. Forristal recalled that at agency BBH, long wooden desks would routinely be used by clients – which led to the establishment of a kind of club, a networking place that created a buzz around the space.
Similarly, Heath noted, places like Second Home on Brick Lane in London are establishing themselves as desirable and innovative co-work spaces that are able to attract everyone from young freelancers to banks.
Literal visibility is also key to how a company can help to establish itself within a local community, Webster added. People walking by should be able to see activity, that people are working in there and that the working space is integrated into the streetscape rather than just functioning above it.
In fact, this notion of transparency threaded throughout the discussion. From internal to external understandings; from small office spaces to large multi-floor occupancies, it seems that to really understand what people want, companies need to have an honest conversation with their employees and also be willing to watch what happens (and listen hard) when trying out new ideas.
CR’s wellbeing report will be published at the end of July. You can get involved by taking the short survey at surveygizmo.com. Thanks to all our roundtable participants.