Putting wow in the workplace

Modern office space
By Anthony Harrington, CA magazine

12 September 2016

Defining the right office premises is crucial if you want a happy and productive team.

Finding the right new home is a test of anyone’s patience. However, it pales into insignificance in comparison with the problem of finding and specifying the right new headquarters for a large organisation. 

According to a survey of more than 200 of Scotland’s Top 500 businesses, more than 90% of respondents said their business was looking to expand or relocate within the next five years; and about a third of those said they expected to move to new office premises within the next five years.

The survey was carried out by Yolo Communications on behalf of tHe Haymarket, which itself is one of the biggest commercial property schemes outside London and the biggest in Edinburgh for the last decade.

tHe Haymarket

So what are the primary considerations when organisations start looking for a new head office? According to the survey respondents, the number one priority is proximity to public transport. Some 83% of professional services, 70% of financial organisations and a similar number in IT rated this as their first consideration.

The lure of a 'posh' address was another powerful factor. The 'right' business postcode was third on the list of “must haves” with 94% of respondents rating a location in a well-recognised business location as an important determining factor in their decision making as far as new premises are concerned.

Not every company, of course, needs an entire head office building to itself, and the study found that businesses saw value in sharing office locations with similarly ambitious and successful organisations. Apparently, being seen to be in good company counts.

Graham Haydon-White, Development Director at Tiger Developments, who are working on tHe Haymarket with partner Interserve, pointed out that tech companies in particular see the value of collaboration with peers, but most organisations, including service sector companies, favour being co-located with other successful firms. 

He said: “It is very much about the company you keep. It is clearly easier to do this if you are based either in the same building or a nearby space, which allows for a cross-fertilisation of ideas and best practices."

Companies are also highly aware of the role an inspiring office environment with excellent facilities can play in helping them to attract top talent to their organisation.

On top of this, organisations tend to favour locations that make it easy for staff and clients to get to and from the building. Graham believes that one of the strengths of tHe Haymarket development is the fact that it is right next to one of Scotland’s busiest railway stations and is just 22 minutes by tram from Edinburgh International Airport.

Brian O’Neill, Head of Communications at Grant Thornton, said that before the firm chose its new Glasgow offices at 110 Queen Street, the firm carried out a really thorough analysis of its needs, desires and priorities.

He commented: “We created a consultative group made up of representatives from each service line in the office and we all worked together with an experienced office design company. Everyone came up with ideas and fed thoughts back to the consultative group."

We’ve found that people have more energy and are more engaged because they’re not sitting at their desks all day.

This holistic, inclusive approach was fundamental to making both the choice of new office space and the move itself a success. 

Brian noted: “Shared enterprise is at the heart of our strategy in Grant Thornton and that’s why we involved people of all levels, from all teams. We all had a role to play in the project and we’ve all benefited from it.”

In the main office space, people wanted to see sound-proof pods and breakout areas to encourage staff to move about and work in different areas with different people.

“These have worked really well and we’ve found that people have more energy and are more engaged because they’re not sitting at their desks all day," said Brian.

Grant Thornton also created a larger, more comfortable staff canteen area with more coffee-shop-style seating, fresh bean-to-cup coffee and a wider variety of vending machine supplies.

One major feature of the office is a large client space, which takes up about a third of the entire floor space. The client space includes traditional meeting rooms, but also has a large area that resembles a café or bar.

Brian commented: “The point of the design is to encourage guests to come in and use our WiFi, get a cup of coffee and do some work or networking in a friendly, relaxed environment.

“Our previous office was cramped and old-fashioned, and our people often held external meetings because they were a little bit embarrassed about showing clients around a building that really didn’t reflect our approach or ethos."

Cameron Stott, Head of the Office Agency team in Scotland with real estate specialists JLL, pointed out that with staff retention being a primary focus for all knowledge-based service companies, modern offices have to maximise both the productivity and lifestyles of employees. 

As he put it: “A central location and ease of access are critical, but the building also needs to have that ‘feel good’ factor if people are going to be able to give their best.”

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