Offices ‘seismic shift’ underway to attract talent

Wednesday 30 September 2015

Office design is in the middle of a ‘sea change’ and ‘seismic shift’ as companies across the capital use architecture to try and win the battle for talent.

That was one of the headline views to emerge from the NLA’s half-day conference ‘Retaining London’s talent: how well-designed workplace can help’ last week. Held fittingly at the top floor of Nabarro’s City offices, itself used by the law firm to entice graduates and other new recruits, the event was introduced by Nabarro partner Marie Scott, who said that real estate was ‘in the very fabric of the firm’. The company’s new offices at London Wall, which it moved to a year ago, never fails to lift the mood and morale of its staff, said Scott, and its views, daylight and layout still causes ‘a buzz’ for its staff and is a relevant factor when trying to recruit new talent.

The Financial Conduct Authority’s property and estates manager Peter Hewitt-Penfold said that the office of today is ‘part of the total value proposition’, and its new Rogers Stirk Harbour-designed building at Stratford’s International Quarter needs to be accommodation fit for four generations of staff. Younger staff were looking for café culture, while the FCA is also ‘empowering’ its staff to work away from the office, not just at home. The public realm has a ‘massive’ impact on retaining staff, so what better place could there be than the gateway to the Olympic Park, asked Hewitt-Penfold. Another big driver is wellbeing, with a gym, doctors, and occupational physiotherapy on site, as well as quiet spaces for intensive work like a library and collaborative spaces. ‘I am absolutely convinced that pride in a building equals productivity’, said Hewitt-Penfield.

Talent, said Lendlease head of offices Kevin Chapman is a crucial ingredient for business success, and providing a variety of workspaces is the key to attracting it. Stratford’s offer is as ‘London’s feel good workplace’, with the International Quarter featuring buildings with ‘100% fresh air’ in a bid to eliminate sick building syndrome and keep people alert, as well as staggered atria, terraces and staircases emphasized to encourage mobility.

But it is in the area of co-working, said The Office Group’s CEO Charlie Green, that the most marked changes are happening. ‘I have a problem with the term growing trend because it implies a slow, steady incline towards something, and actually what we are seeing is a profound, radical shift in the way we work’, he said. One example of this is Henry Wood House, said Green, in which the firm has created ‘an ecosystem for how people work.’ With rents in London ‘going nuts’ and people working longer and harder, we are becoming more demanding about our work space, more discerning, and today’s is much more of a sharing culture. ‘We feel that offices are a forgotten sector. We feel we are in the hospitality service…I don’t think it is overstating it to say that there is a revolution happening in the way we work.’

The conference also heard from Matt Yeoman of Henry Wood House architect Buckley Grey Yeoman, who declared that the days of TMT are now ‘absolutely gone’ – ‘it is generational specific’, with occupiers’ penchants turning to authenticity, character and the cool and clever. This was easy in existing, but more of a challenge in new buildings. ‘This generation has changed office design and we wont go back to tick boxes,’ he said. And while RTKL director Paul Dunn said the modern workplace had to deal with stress as much as physical fitness and AKTII director Steve Toon showed the role of the engineer in workplace, Cordless Consultants’ Tracy Badau showed how in Australia it is the banks that are leading the way in creating offices to support a more diverse workforce. Finally, BNP Paribas director Nick Rock said the market could broadly be split into ‘new school’ and ‘old school’, with media tech continuing to grow and footloose occupiers looking to new areas of the city and the current pipeline unlikely to meet demand. ‘If you build it they will come’, said Rock, ‘as long as it’s the right spec and near to good transport.’

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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