Workplace environment: how to get it right

Alice Weil

Alice Weil

Features Editor at The Executive Magazine

Richard Newton, co-founder of Engine Room, tells The Executive Magazine about what business owners need to consider when choosing a new office space.

When did the workplace environment become so important, and what are the most important factors to consider when planning a new office?

In my opinion, the workplace environment really became a big issue when the traditional office occupiers, corporates and professional services companies started to compete with the new breed of tech companies who were able recruit the brightest and best graduates from all sector disciplines – from law to accountancy and science graduates.

These fledgling, well-funded, tech companies created office environments that reflected their youthfulness with great social and collaborative team spaces. Their places inspired creativity but also diluted the usual environment that re-enforced corporate hierarchy the moment you walked in.

Therefore in my opinion, it has been the competition between employers that has pushed the office environment up the “Corporate Agenda”.

Similarly, with the advancement in the capabilities of mobile devices and tech generally, we can all work anytime, anyplace, anywhere – otherwise known as “The Martini Moment”. This in turn has allowed designers to create spaces which are much more exciting, efficient and effective, unshackling us from our traditional fixed desk, but without compromising people’s ability to do their jobs.

The unshackling from the traditional desk has also allowed corporates to look very carefully at their office footprint. At the end of the day the second highest cost after staffing costs for most companies is property.

However, before companies start thinking that creating a cool-looking office environment will solve lots of HR and corporate issues, they need to look really long and hard at themselves and consider what it is that they do, and how they do it.

At Engineroom we invest in researching and understanding the client and how they work, before any design ideas are even contemplated.

Not all organisations are the same, therefore the design solution needs to be like a Saville Row suit, tailored to fit but with the ability to accommodate a changing size. Flexibility is required for expansion or contraction when necessary as office space is very expensive to occupy and furnish so you need to get it right for your organisation. Don’t get swayed by glossy photos of other companies’ offices – they probably work for them but won’t necessarily work for yours.

Often when looking at new offices, companies see it as an opportunity to implement change and adopt new ways of working, which invariably brings Agile Working onto the agenda in some form or other. So what is Agile Working? There are many definitions, but I prefer the following:

Agile Working is about bringing people, processes, connectivity and technology, time and place together to find the most appropriate and effective way to carry out a particular task. It is working within guidelines but without boundaries.”

And that definition can be the problem for some organisations as Agile Working forces a move towards task-driven management style rather than process-driven.

In a large Agile Environment, the traditional ‘look over the shoulder of a colleague’ to see how things are going, is now not as easy. So how you manage individuals, teams and workflow may have to change focus on setting defined tasks and then TRUSTING people to deliver. This in management terms can be the biggest issue for an organisation going down the Agile Working route. You have to have people you can TRUST to deliver without too much supervision, so you need to have a long hard look at your people and be confident they can adapt to new ways of working across all levels, from C-suite executives to junior staff.

That’s why I believe that Agile Working is not always the best solution for some organisations, so don’t get sold on glossy pictures of very cool office environments just yet! It just might not work for your people, as I often joke “Creating cool offices probably won’t make your people suddenly become cool” if that’s what you are trying to achieve!

Unfortunately, I’m not cool but we have very cool designers as our clients will attest to!

Finally my top 5 tips to clients when looking at new offices are as simple as this:

  1. Location: Is it convenient for your people, clients, customers to get to? You don’t want top talent leaving just because they can’t do the new commute. Look carefully at where your people live and their travel to work times for the majority, but you can’t account for the few.


  1. Budget: Set a realistic budget that is affordable, don’t underestimate the costs of office furniture – the cool multi-functioning kit that everyone wants comes at a price.


  1. People: Understand how they currently do their work. Can the design of the new office help improve how they work (it’s all about productivity)? Will it improve better collaboration between people and teams? You want an environment that inspires ideas and creativity for the business.


  1. Business Plan: What is the Business Plan for the next 5 years? Make sure the new office can meet those objectives at least. Align the Real Estate Plan with your Occupational Strategy, basically work out how much space you really need now, and in the future. It can be very expensive extracting yourself from an office lease before its contractual term is up. Oh yes and don’t get persuaded by big rent-free periods and capital contributions. Does the space work for the business? Anecdotally, loads of companies are in spaces that don’t really work for them, but they took a soft initial rental deal.


  1. IT Infrastructure: A truly Agile Environment requires a bullet-proof IT infrastructure. Your people have to be able to work from anywhere in the office, no dead spots and remote access for those who work away from the office has to be seamless, not clunky. Also check the broadband speed to the building before doing anything, it’s the 3rd utility now.


Richard Newton is the Co-Founder of Engine Room, the office design and build specialists. Richard has many years of commercial property experience having worked with both investors and developers from large institutions to private and public property companies. Across his career, Richard has worked for a number of international property consultancies. He has an in-depth understanding of property risk and works closely with both the architects and designers in developing a greater understanding of occupier and investor requirements

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