The many demands of a modern office

 Calum Wilson, Director of Architecture at Woods Hardwick, discusses the design considerations of the modern office and the challenge of merging the workspaces of two separate companies into one.

Workplace culture has a significant impact on a corporate brand, reflecting the values, beliefs and behavioural norms of the employer, as well as influencing the attitudes of the staff. A strong workplace culture does not only engage everyone in shared goals and visions, thus increasing business performance; it also helps to attract and retain talent. But what if three offices from two separate companies are to be merged?

When the leases for International Game Technology PLC’s (IGT) three London offices were about to expire in 2016, the company acquired a 17,300 sq ft office at 10 Finsbury Square to create one big central office. The project required some sensible creative input; up until April 2015 the three offices were part of two separate companies – GTECH, the largest global lottery business, and IGT, the world leader in the gaming equipment space. The challenge, to create a space that would inspire employees and integrate historically different companies and departments.

Engaging office design plays a significant part when merging companies. Informal meeting spaces encourage staff interaction, which in return increases staff morale and, in the best case, leads to the generation of new concepts through casual, verbal idea exchange. Creative interiors also allow companies to make a statement. However, the functionality of an interior concept should never be compromised in favour of gimmicky features.

Visually marrying two brands, as well as combining three offices into one, required specific design considerations. The environment had to be suitable for HR as well as the more creative gaming/programming division of the company. According to the white paper ‘How to Create a Successful Organisational Culture: Build It – Literally’ by Haworth’s Global Workplace Research department, creating workplace culture is the most important factor to take into account when designing office spaces.

In the instance of IGT’s new office, lively communal areas were created using bold contemporary furniture and flashes of colour. The design and vision for the breakout and link spaces utilises a multi-coloured palette that ties together, and ensures that the identity of each zone is clearly representative of IGT’s creative aspirations.

Open plan offices encourage collaboration and creativity, but they also can be noisy and lack privacy for those employees who prefer a solitary space. While separate offices were kept to a minimum to encourage interaction between staff, the colours for these offices were a muted version of the playful palette. The subdued tones act as a visual signal that the areas are quiet zones for brainstorming and meetings to occur, or as a space where the more introverted employees can take refuge from the hustle and bustle.

Generally, companies have an overarching culture that is often tied to their brand, but there are also strong and varied subcultures that tend to run along business unit lines, such as the aforementioned HR and gaming departments. Unsurprisingly, different units may express very different cultures.

Dr Michael O’Neill, senior research strategist at office manufacturer Haworth explains: “Understanding the cultural context of an organisation can help the designer offer the right mix of individual, meeting and social spaces and even the atmosphere of those spaces that encourage the desired behaviours.”

The desk layout was put in place to further guarantee that social interaction among employees happens organically. The differences and shared features of the various departments were taken into consideration to establish common ground and group staff together accordingly. This resulted in a flat hierarchy in terms of seating, with directors and the VP sitting among their team.

In order to maximise employee wellbeing, breakout spaces and communal areas were created around the perimeter of the building to allow for casual mingling and downtime. Because of the building’s structure, open views and plenty of natural light were provided. According to reports from the World Green Building Council, the International Well Building Institute and Human Spaces, daylight has been proven to have a whole heap of benefits for employees, including 46 minutes more sleep a night and increased creativity.[1]

Using the playful palette and mindful desk layout, IGT’s office has been transformed into a creative hub that merges two brand identities into one, taking work culture into consideration. The resulting surroundings are not only fit for purpose and support the employees’ needs, but are also comfortable, visually appealing and welcoming, making the transition that much easier.