Getting the most from your office redesign
Creativedesign of the physical environment around us has the power to innovate businesses and reinforce a company's identity. Our personal identities can also be strongly linked with our work environment, not just our home setting, which makes an aspirational workspace a key contributor to our overall wellbeing.Especially in the context of fast evolving work patterns, how a company’s surroundings appear and function are instrumental in creating a positive culture and a resonating brand.
If you’re thinking of creating a new work environment to accommodate business growth or to facilitate a change in direction, here are some key things to consider before starting to give you the best chance of success:
Understand the user experience.
As design professionals, we start by getting into the mindset, interests, preferences and routines of those who will be occupying the space. Consider the space from the perspective of a manager, a member of staff (full time and flexi), a visitor, supplier, client and maintenance staff. During the concept stage, our team tend to do this by creating a few fictional ‘personas’ who represent each group. The more quirky and personal you can make this the better! This exercise will inform the spatial arrangement and facilities in your workplace, to ensure that the needs of everyone who engages with the space are met seamlessly. Consider this alongside the culture that you want to foster, not just the habits that already exist. A change of physical environment is a great motivator to also implement positive habitual change!
When the interactions and priorities of a range of users are considered successfully a space ‘works’; and productivity and enjoyment increases. When this is not given due consideration oversights or clashing needs become a daily annoyance which will compromise the atmosphere and management of your space.
2. Noise Control.
Noise control can be a big issue in an open plan office. Think about all the different functions needed in your workspace and begin by grouping them. Locate vibrant areas together, and plan quiet areas for concentration further away; possibly buffered by tranquil breakout or planting. Retaining a visual link between these areas such as through acoustic glazing prevents isolation. Remember also, that like in a restaurant, comfortable background noise is beneficial to individual privacy!
In early 2018 we worked on the redesign of a London workspace for Linchpin Labs, in collaboration with Texaa; who design, develop and manufacture acoustic materials. There was a desire for a collaborative working/meeting table centrally in the space, where team members could informally review projects without disturbing the surrounding workstations. To give acoustic and visual privacy without creating a full enclosure, we proposed angled timber fins running either side of the table, with a bright Texaa acoustic fabric on the reverse. The unclad side gave a slick wooden aesthetic when approached from the reception and a colourful, more playful, aspect from the staff side of the room.
We wanted to define the zone further, so we removed an area of the low ceiling and installed matching whitewashed timber planks and recessed pendants - which could drop to create a cosy dining room feel for night-time working. The slim shadow gaps between the planks gave additional opportunity for concealed acoustic insulation as well as diffusing air flow from the AHU above.
We proposed a practical yet contemporary carpet tile from the sustainable flooring company, Interface, from their Net Effect collection, inspired by the ocean. Carpet tile has come a very long way in recent years, and this range gives texture and interesting colour variation as well as acting as an acoustic dampener to soften the sound of the space.
Varied (rather than necessarily open plan) workspaces are highly conducive to collaboration between colleagues. With staff increasingly preferring to personalise their working patterns, should seek to think innovatively to positively foster the benefits of this growing culture; as well as accommodating traditional desk based working. There are many great innovative acoustic materials and furniture options available that can be incorporated to control noise levels and create acoustically separate zones in a workspace; without the need to physically screen off areas. Sometimes the budget or space just isn’t available and that is when you need to find creative solutions with the company’s goal in mind.
3. Lifetime of the look:
Longevity is a key consideration for workspace design. Part of this is related to maintenance, and another aspect is avoiding ‘gimmicky’ decor that quickly dates and become unfashionable. So how can you maximise the longevity of your investment? A trap that many people fall into is oversterilising the space in an effort to achieve lasting ‘flexibility’ that will accommodate maximum people and scenarios. A landlord’s one-size-fits-all specification is a classic example of this. On paper these offices tick all the boxes but, in reality, their lack of user specificity means that they often don’t function optimally. Awkward spaces, inadequate sockets and uncomfortable lighting are examples.
Avoiding this is where the user personas are really effective. By understanding what the common themes and practical requirements of the people in an organisation are, overlaid with the desired company culture, we can start to build a personalised picture of what would make an environment successful for them.
A few years ago, Christine worked on the new office fit-out for a travel publishing company in Bristol. To coincide with a management change the family business moved from a cosy farmhouse in the country into a modern rented office space in Bristol Harbourside. The management wanted to retain the informal friendly culture, whilst encouraging the staff to engage with the city on their doorstep and project a more professional image. By creating a hierarchy of design interventions based on permanence, it was possible to create a timeless backdrop with the finishes, personalised with reused furniture and decorative elements.
Consider how often you are willing to invest in redecorating your office, and what level of disruption is acceptable. For most companies, the answer is; rarely and very little. So, we have to think smart:
Pick a uniform style for the whole office which resonates with your brand. This gives consistency and structure.
Long term investment: Choose durable hard finishes which are easy to maintain and repair. Although a neutral palette is versatile, this doesn’t have to be white walls and brown carpet tiles!
Medium term investment: Identify key pieces of furniture that bring personality into the space and tell a story about how you work. These don’t have to be new and may well have some history. You can use these to temporarily screen of areas if your workforce is fluctuating. Be prepared to replace key items every few years.
Short term investment: Experiment with quirky and colourful decorative elements like feature wallcoverings, plants, crockery, breakout accessories and artwork. These add surprise and interest and can be changed or relocated regularly at little capital expense.
Understanding what aspects of an ingrained culture have value is key, and we often find that there is an emotional attachment to certain elements of furniture; like a dining/meeting table or desks. These items resonate with the staff and can often be incorporated successfully into the new design. However, strategic decisions should be made at management level to reinforce the desired culture. Where facilities are removed (such as hot plates to avoid cooking in the office), balance this with alternative provisions suited to the new values.
“If humanity has changed the climate by mistake, can we change it with intent?” [Interface]
4. Branding and culture/personality.
How do you carry the company branding elegantly through to the design of your workspace? This is a question that we are faced with often. More corporate environments often choose to purchase furniture and fittings in their company colours, however this can feel very clinical and unwelcoming. Our preferred approach is to base the material and colour palette on the ‘feel’ of the company, selectively introducing the brand colours in a more subtle way. The ‘feel’ can be formal/informal, playful/restrained, quirky/mainstream, digital/analogue, natural/techy etc. This strategy also allows for variation between different sites whilst maintaining a consistent brand message.
In 2015 we started working with an exciting London based start-up, TEN87 Studios, to support them with adapting empty warehouses into communities of low cost creative workspace for music and sound. We designed 16 studio pods, 2 live group recording rooms and flexible workspaces. The plywood internal cladding with black accents and corrugated glazing is part of a simple materials palette that continues throughout the building and is reflective of the TEN87 brand’s affordable ethos. The space is clutter free and well-lit with bold signage.
5. Lighting considerations.
Ambient, task and natural light levels all important considerations when designing a workspace, especially for changing seasons. Some offices also have a requirement to accommodate 24 hour working.
If constructing a new office building, glazing should be arranged to ensure that there is a uniform light level internally, as contrast within a room leads to an increase in artificial light use because due to a lower perceived light level. Utilising natural light well is a great starting point but not the only option.
Considering innovative ways of designing lighting from the outset can produce greater energy and cost savings than retrofitting. Luckily, workplaces are generally moving away from inefficient, flat fluorescent lighting towards natural light fittings. Natural colour temperature is warmer than daylight fittings, and the light output delivered is less clinical; so better suited to creating an inviting space. Due consideration should also be given to minimising glare, especially on computer screens.
The ability to adjust light levels to suit tasks empowers employees and offers a form of flexibility. For example, creative tasks such as brainstorming may benefit from an ambient environment, whilst brighter light levels for individual desk based tasks mitigate tiredness. Desk lamps adds character and individual control to workstations. Varying the type of lighting within a scheme creates a comfortable atmosphere and should be tailored to the room and use. Although sensor switches minimise energy waste, they are most suited to auxiliary areas such as kitchens, wc’s and storage areas, especially where employees may be working late.Client facing areas should be furnished with statement lamps and fixed fittings to complement the interior style of each space. Also consider the aesthetic of blinds visible from the outside to ensure a tidy first impression.
For Linchpin Labs, we combined three zones of lighting; recessed ceiling lights to offer an even natural light level; warmer recessed perimeter lighting to shine down the blinds for evening working, and individually controlled desk lamps. From the same style, each employee could choose whether they wanted a table lamp, wall lamp or pendant lamp for task lighting. This introduced an element of personalisation without compromising the uniformity of the overall look. The space was accented with decorative wall, floor and pendant lights in prominent locations. Each type of lighting was on a dimmer to maximise flexibility, and the meeting room and kitchen were on separate circuits to the main office.