The secret acoustic benefits of plants at the office

Acoustic insulation in the form of lush green walls is a sound approach every landlord should consider. 

Phone chatter, obnoxiously loud conversations in adjacent cubicles (we've all been there,) printers, photocopiers, HVAC systems... all distract and make employees less efficient. There are several ways to remedy noise levels in the workplace - sound absorption and sound masking are increasingly popular strategies, but what about living plants?

In 2015,  an agricultural engineer of the University of the Basque Country conducted a research on the benefits of green walls as passive acoustic insulation for buildings. Zaloa Azkorra concluded that “the green wall showed a similar or better acoustic absorption coefficient than other common building materials, and its effects on low frequencies were of particular interest.”

Despite a rising number of studies highlighting the acoustic potential of plants, biophilic design is a resource yet to be explored by acousticians, particularly in sectors like the workplace, still in dire need of fine tuning.

NB: Biophilia refers to the innate love for the natural world, in other words, for nature and the outdoors.

Segment's office reception

How do plants regulate noise in the workplace?

To understand this, we must first brave the acoustic jargon and grasp the meaning of reverberation time.

Let's get technical for just a sentence. Reverberation time refers to the time it takes for a sound wave to die away to a level 60 decibels below its original level. And now, in English: when a source creates a sound wave in a room, what you hear is not only the sound wave spreading directly from the source, but also the sound reflecting from various surfaces around you.

Let's put this in context. The average reverberation time (now that you're an expert, we can call it RT) in an open plan office should be less than 1 second. In an enclosed office, the recommended  RT is less than 0.6 seconds. In a meeting room, 0.6-0.8 seconds. What does this mean? Simply that an open plan office sporting an RT of 0.6 seconds will be significantly quieter than one with an RT of 0.9 seconds.

But how exactly can plants help reduce reverberation time, and therefore noise levels, in your office?

Partitions with integrated living walls. Climate Office Mobile Wasserwand. Manufacturer: C+P Möbelsysteme

Sound deflection

When sound hits a masonry wall, it bounces off the rigid surface and back to its source, like a solitary tennis ball between a racket and the wall. In contrast, when a sound wave hits a plant, the flexible surface will vibrate and transform sound waves into other kinds of energy. This is the same principle behind acoustic panels that absorb sound by converting sound energy into heatwaves.

Partitions with integrated living walls. Climate Office Mobile Wasserwand. Manufacturer: C+P Möbelsysteme

Sound diffusion

There is a clear correlation between the way sound behaves and the surfaces around it. Think of a home with a carpet versus a home with solid floors. Usually, a carpeted room will prevent the sound from bouncing all over and creating echoes. Much like a carpet, plants and shrubbery are naturally uneven - covering surface areas with greenery will help accomplish the same feat. Think vines on walls, lawns, green walls, moss walls, etc.

Moss Wall by Dutch designers Oasegroen

How to use plants to reduce noise?

Genzyme Center, Massachussets, USA. Architect: Behnisch Architekten, Los Angeles

Rough bark and leafy plants are particularly effective but for maximum acoustic potential, you should also consider number of plants, location, size and surface area.

Large planters

Larger planters contain more compost and provide more space for greenery. Combined, these two have a significant impact on noise reduction. As a result, your office benefits from better acoustics, and cleaner air. It's a win-win.

Tip:  For better acoustics, arrange your planters throughout the space as opposed to clustering them. It's all about that surface area - the more spread out your plants are, the more opportunites there are for sound diffusion.

Focus on corners, edges and walls

Along the same principle, plants placed in the periphery of your office - corners, edges, walls - are more likely to reflect sound than plants placed in the middle.

Woods Bagot Melbourne studio

Replace partitions with plant screens

Offices are inherently loud - open plan offices even more so. Oftentimes, this means partitions or rows of filing cabinets. What if you could use plants instead? Effective in reducing noise, and more attractive than your average office partition, plant screens are a great alternative.

If your tenants are reluctant to lose the filing cabinets, these and other surfaces can also be used to place small bushy plants in narrow containers.

Joost Bakker’s Schiavello Vertical Gardens

Biophilic design guidelines for good acoustics

If utilised strategically, biophilic design can drastically improve acoustics in the office and its common areas.

There are few studies on the relationship between plants, architecture and acoustics. In a study performed by P. Costa of the South Bank University in London (1995,) Costa tested several single potted plants and combinations of plants in various areas in a room. His conclusions amount to a certain number of guidelines covered above.

If you accidentally skipped to this last paragraph, here's a summary:

  • Plants need to be large and healthy
  • Plants should preferably be leafy
  • Arrangements with a minimum of three plants seem more efficient than single plants
  • Spread out arrangements are better than a concentrated few plants.
  • Placing plants alongside walls has a greater impact on acoustics than if they're placed in the middle of a room
Opening image: Slack office, Melbourne. Breathe Architecture

Can hotel lobbies inspire better office receptions?

Office reception desk by Ron Arad

What happens when you walk into a hotel lobby, an office reception, or any space for the first time?

We’ve all been taught never to judge a book by its cover. But let’s face it, we can’t help but jump to conclusions. Try as we may to rationalise and give someone the benefit of the doubt, if our first impression has been tainted, it is often hard to shake that feeling off.

Thankfully for us (and for them), fine hotels have come to understand the amplitude of this arrival experience. Gone are the days when hotel lobbies were nothing but a dull, uninspiring space for customers to dash through on their way to their room.

Today, hotel lobbies are designed to set the bar high. They are designed to welcome, make a striking first impression, and let us not forget, make profit. So what can commercial real estate landlords learn from the hospitality industry? How can hotel lobbies inspire better office receptions?

Let’s go around the world to find out.

1. Make a statement, show your personality

Green wall inside Icon hotel in Hong Kong
Hotel Icon in Hong Kong houses Asia’s largest indoor vertical garden in its lobby. Credit: Patrick Blanc.

The rule is simple. If you want to stand out, you have to be different. And hospitality developers often bank on this element of surprise to attract more guests and consequently, more profit. Inspiring hotel lobbies often boast a particular style, they set the scene, they feature thought-provoking art, high-end lighting fixtures and an inviting space to unwind or hold informal meetings.

2. Integrate revenue streams

CitizenM hotel canteen
A canteen lies at the heart of CitizenM Hotel's lobby in London. The bar is surrounded by various relaxing eating, and working spaces.

A coffee and a croissant can go a long way. Integrating amenities and services such as coffee shops, bars, restaurants and even retail is a sure fire way to enhance your revenues. When guests are short on time, there is nothing more convenient than in-house offerings and exciting retail experiences at your doorstep. Mixed-use office receptions can hope for the same results: it’s all about drawing more traffic.

3. If you want to be the best, hire the best

Office reception desk by Ron Arad
Ron Arad designed Milan's DuoMo Hotel striking reception desk, a stainless steel loop, reminiscent of a futuristic flying saucer. Photo by Simon Tegala

World renowned, French botanist Patrick Blanc designed the living wall in Hong Kong’s Hotel Icon. Similarly, the DuoMo hotel in Milan hired Ron Arad, one of the most influential designers of our time to design a slick reception desk for their striking hotel lobby. If you want that unique first impression, you have to be ready to invest in the best. Ceilings, walls, floors, lighting, furniture can all compete to become the feature of the space.  

Yes, we do tend to judge a book by its cover but in the hospitality industry, as much as in commercial real estate, prejudgements are are the good kind of bad. They inspire landlords to realise the potential of those key public spaces and put an emphasis on them.

Republic interviews Anna Rewinska from A:R

Anna Rewinska is a London based creative whose work is an interpretation of the energy and texture enclosed in music.

Since a very young age, Anna Rewinska has been interested in painting and drawing. She pursued this passion independently and through artistic education in both Poland and the UK at the London College of Communication. She also earned a BA (Hons) in Interior Architecture from the University of Brighton. 

The main focus of Anna’s artistic practice is visualizing music frequencies and the energy enclosed in the sound. She creates visual narratives that correspond to the atmosphere of electronic music vibrations. The mesmerizing impressions of music are the foundation for the development of quirky concepts which are transformed into large-scale murals.

Anna Rewinska currently lives and works in London as a Creative Director at Blue Drop Studio, a digital creative agency that she co-founded in 2015, and also continues her independent artistic ventures internationally.

R(love)ution limited edition giclee print by Anna Rewinska
R(love)ution, Limited edition of 30, giclee print, 41cm x 34cm.

Republic: Tell us a little bit about what inspires your work as an illustrator & street artist?

A:R: My biggest inspiration is music - the stories encapsulated in the sets. Music carries energy. It is a language understood by the soul, it creates a bond between people where no words are needed. Music also stimulates the brain more than any other form of art. It simply whispers to me countless ideas which then emerge as visual concepts.Aside from music, I draw inspiration from the world around me. Everything I see can trigger the creative process: colours, patterns, people, other amazing artists…

soundT/Wrap spray paint and acrylic on canvas
SoundT/Wrap, 2015, spray paint & acrylic on canvas, 90cm x 90cm. 

 Republic: Does your background in interior architecture influence your work as an illustrator & street artist and vice versa, has your passion for street art influenced your architectural designs?

A:R: My passion for art has definitely affected my architectural designs to some extent - in fact, my final project at university was about a perfect space for drawing & painting! Later on, my interest in spatial design definitely brought out the desire to use space as a canvas. Apart from street art, I would love to work on a vast branding project where digital illustration would be an important element to the brand and space would be considered as a canvas to bring fun and excitement!

handpainted mural at Shoreditch bar Apples and Pears
Bespoke murals executed within the space of a Shoreditch-based bar Apples & Pears, 2015. 

Republic: Urban graffiti used to have a negative connotation, often associated with vandalism, dark tunnels and subway cars. It is now more and more being recognised as a form of art that exudes personality, even indoors. What do you think changed?

A:R: This is a very good question. In fact, the last decade has brought big changes in many areas of our life - the world became an open place for free exchange of information and thoughts. Probably one of the most influential events that contributed to the transition of urban art was the 2008 Street Art Exhibition at the Tate Modern, where six internationally acclaimed artists from all over the world were invited to transform the river façade by creating breathtaking pieces, intricately linked to the urban environment

Individual_ness for Hackney Wicked
Individual_ness spray painted for Hackney Wicked, London, 2014

Republic: Can you tell us more about this transition and what graffiti and street art was like before?

A:R: Well, the Graffiti movement that flourished in the 70s was based on a territorial concept and only later evolved into a more elaborate form of art but I think it is safe to say it gave a permission to use the city as a canvas – whether it be with or without an actual permission. This concept of urban canvas is now employed in the street art movement. It is important to say that many urban artists now work on legal spots with a permission granted by the property holder.

Anna Rewinska at Emerging Music Frequencies in Mumbai, India
Filming the emerging music frequencies in Mumbai, India 

Republic: What is it, do you think, that drives urban artists to do what they do?

A:R: Urban artists are often also studio painters. They use the architectural fabric to extend their artistic reach and make art available for everyone, for free. Street art is an expression of freedom, an art form that rebels in a peaceful manner and reminds us of what is important in life or simply brings a smile on our faces. Currently, urban art is an extremely dynamic and evolving art discipline that grows within the city environment, an art discipline that consists of many mediums, from traditional freehand spray painting to paste-ups and even photography.

Apart from personal works created by artists or collectives, there is also plenty of socially-oriented projects that help communities and try to invigorate poorer neighbourhoods around the world. Those noble initiatives bring sunshine and hope to the young generation and help them believe, achieve and create.

Street art in Shoreditch, by Anna Rewinska
Street art piece in Shoreditch, Rivington Street, 2015.

Republic: So you are saying that street can have a clear impact on a social and economic level.  What about in the workplace? Do you think art can have an influence indoors?

A:R: Very much so. If the work environment is friendly and inspires everyday life, that will improve efficiency at work. It will also inspire new ideas and not exclusively within a creative environment – corporate businesses can benefit from it too.

Strawberry Mood spray paint and acrylic on canvas
Strawbery Mood, spray paint & acrylics on canvas, 50cm x 50cm, 2016. Also available as limited edition giclee print at Well Hung gallery in Hoxton, London.

Republic: Workplace and graffiti art are slowly starting to coexist. Why do you think that is and how can offices benefit from that?

A:R: That is very true. More and more companies, even industry giants are bringing this form of art indoors. I had the pleasure to work on a huge, site-specific mural for Just Eat (12m long!) in their shared leisure space. I think it definitely injects uniqueness, originality and expression of self that, in turn, might resonate with the workforce and improve not only their efficiency but also their mood.

Catcher in the Rhythm limited edition
Catcher in the Rhythm 2, 2015. Limited edition of 30, giclee print, 44cm x 83cm.

Republic: Do you believe graffiti or street art can help build a company's brand or is it purely an aesthetic feature?

A:R: As every tool, if used wisely, it can have many benefits and help connect with a younger target audience. It would be very effective for companies looking for creative ways to communicate and sometimes even interact with people throughout the city.

Personally, I think it is such a great, versatile medium that comes in so many shapes, forms and styles that it can help spread brand awareness and also bring a lot of interest. Unfortunately, opinions are divided: employing street art in a brand campaign might, in fact, clash with the philosophy behind it because it remains a free form of expression. So instead of using graffiti as a selling point, a company can benefit from associations commonly made to the movement. Not to mention, street artists create a brand of their own.

Anna Rewinska from A:R

Artists like Anna Rewinska are the reason why we love collaborating with artisans and creative minds. If you would like to incorporate one of Anna's paintings in your next Re:public project then get in touch - we'll be glad to meet over coffee.

In the meantime, you can follow Anna on FacebookInstagram and Twitter

Calling all landlords –  6 ways to improve your office reception

The office reception is the first space potential tenants will discover when they visit your space. If you want to make a good first impression (hint: you should), there are several ways to make the reception area as attractive and leasable as possible.

 

Here are six ways you can improve, thus make your office reception more leasable.

1. Know your audience

lead-invest-office-main.jpg

Online lending & investing platform Lendinvest's London office, by Oktra

In order to hold your tenant’s attention, it is always useful to know your audience. To put it differently: what kind of tenant are you building for? Are you looking to attract a big tech company or targeting a creative start-up? Why would a traditional law firm or financial institution like the space you’re offering?

Having your dream end user in mind will help you stay focused: nobody likes undecided landlords and if your office reception seems to be on the fence, chances are your prospective tenant will be too. It might be tempting to appeal to a broader audience but, just like employers like to read a tailored cover letter, tenants like to see build-outs that have been designed with them in mind.

So now, you have done your research, you have established what is in high demand and you have settled on your dream tenant. How will you capture their interest and convince them that you care? How will you set the tone?

2. Think neutral colours

Many studies have shown that colour impacts our mood. Although it can be useful to know that reds increase energy levels and yellows encourage productivity, the majority of prospective tenants will prefer a more neutral office reception, one they can personalise themselves. Go for neutral, versatile tones like blues, greys and whites: those will complement just about every company’s brand colours.

3. Don’t forget the flooring

office-reception-trifle-creative-wooden-floors

Award winning global digital agency OMD's reception area, by Trifle Creative. Credit: Rob Wilson

A high-quality, neutral finish is also desired on the floor. Seamless terrazzo, smooth, matt epoxy, luxury vinyl tiles, contemporary stone or long pile carpets for a more luxurious feel. Those are just a handful of high-quality flooring options you can use to create a professional look that will appeal to your prospective tenant. Impress your tenants from the very first step they take into your office.

4. Avoid built-ins

Office design is all about efficiency and the demand for flexible spaces is higher than ever. Built-ins are expensive and will end up costing your tenants even more if and when they decide to remove them. More often than not, a company will prefer to match their built-ins to their own furniture.

5. Think beyond the reception desk

Flexibility is a recurring word in today’s workplace design. Functional, mixed-use reception areas that can double as break-out areas are growing in popularity. And what if you introduced a coffee shop in the reception area? Such an amenity will quickly become a marketing asset and will be a surefire way to enhance your revenue.

Asana-office-reception-area-bar-mixed-use-space

Asana's headquarters in San Francisco, by Geremia Design. The reception area features a bar.  Credit: Cesar Rubio

6. Be open to change

Your office reception should be adaptive and so should you. The more flexible you are, the harder your offer will be to resist. Expect tenants to ask for changes, expect them to dictate their requirements, expect them to be dissatisfied with one aspect or another. This isn’t personal, this is business. Easily satisfied tenants are as scarce as hen’s teeth, unless of course they’re easily satisfied with the very best.

So how can you make it an offer that is hard to turn down?

Don't rush to start refurbishing before you have a set idea of who you are refurbishing for. Opt for neutral tones and finishes, both on the walls and on the floor; bold and vibrant colours are great for office receptions but you would be playing the guessing game so don't yield to temptation! Keep your space flexible and be open to change yourself.

A good teacher, like a good entertainer first must hold his audience's attention, then he can teach his lesson, John Henrik Clarke

 

How can a detail oriented waiting area transform your office reception?

A reception space with a neglected waiting area is as ineffective as it is senseless. 

By definition, a reception area is designed to receive, be it clients, business partners, prospects or visitors, it is the gate to your office and the reflection of your business.

Now, let's imagine you enter a spacious reception area with a sleek reception desk, striking lighting features, maybe even a bit of branding in the shape of a logo carved in the desk. You're a little early for your meeting with the sales director, no problem, you never finished that Business Insider article you were reading on the tube, you'll just take a seat and — oh wait.

Marketing agency Gravitate office, Vancouver, Washington

Uncomfortable seating, worn-out upholstery, or no seating whatsoever, the waiting area in commercial properties is often neglected when the budget is tight. Yet, the reception area is likely to be your client's first interaction with your office space - in other words:  not caring for your waiting area is bound to yield terrible first impressions, which will, in turn, yield terrible business. Not what you want.

So how can you make a great first impression?

The waiting area is part and parcel of every reception space. By providing a quiet, comfortable space, you're giving your clients the opportunity to appreciate your business (don't worry, a bit of judgement is good for business growth,) and your affinity for design, a.k.a., how closely you're paying attention to detail.

Google Amsterdam's office. Architect: DDOCK

Answer the following. Is your business detail-oriented? Do you care for your clients and do you want them to know that you care? Are you looking to set yourself apart from the crowd? Chances are, you answered yes to all above questions, and the good news is: it all starts with a swanky reception area, complete with a functional waiting area.

Ergonomic, durable furniture items that have met BIFMA standards, built-in VS. modular seating, bespoke designer furniture... From modern ottomans and soft seating to lounge chairs and low tables, decisions might prove difficult, so here's an inspiring selection to get you started.

Zimmerman Advertising, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Architects: Gensler 
Adobe London office in The White Collar Factory. 

Low-Teknion-dna-Lounge-Seating.jpg
DNA seating, by Teknion

Opening photo: Headquarters schlaich bergermann und partner, Stuttgart, Germany. Architects: Ippolito Fleitz Group. Photography: Zooey Braun

Tenants want cycle provision at work. Are landlords listening?

When will developers jump on the bandwagon and embrace a cycle-centric approach to office development? 

With its cycle superhighways, Crossrail for Bikes and Cycle to Work schemes, London wants -- and seems to be trying hard -- to become the next Copenhagen. Following a trend that is far from confined to Europe (New York has Bikes in Buildings, while Singapore has been profiting from the Travel Smart Grant since 2014), the successive mayors' wishes for a safe bike-friendly capital have given rise to incentives such as the Cycle to Work scheme. But once commuters have made the journey to the office, the question remains -- what are they supposed to do with their bikes (and sweaty selves)? 

Ambitious as they are, London's cycling growth targets and incentives remain stifled by a surprising lack of insight from office landlords and developers who refuse to include or retrofit offices with cycle provision. 

When thinking about these much-coveted workplace facilities, a famous Fields of Dreams quote-turned-motto comes to mind: "Build it, and he will come." In this case, however, it seems the words need jumbling up a bit, for he the cyclist has come, but it has not yet been built. 

When will developers jump on the bandwagon and embrace a cycle-centric approach to office development? Perhaps some numbers will help put things into perspective.

Cyclists riding on London's superhighway
Bikes account for 24% of rush-hour traffic in London. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images

Research points to missed opportunities

In 2017, British Land found that, among 1,000 workers, 87% want public transport links close to their offices, a figure that rises to 97% in London. An even more pertinent figure shows that 39% of all employees want somewhere to park their bike at work  50% among millennials. 

And because cycling, much like the Central Line at rush hour, but with added health benefits, makes you transpire, it comes as no surprise that 53% of the surveyed employees want showers and lockers in situ.

Perhaps the most crucial find of all, however, echoes our earlier Fields of Dreams reference: 38% of British office workers would consider commuting by bike if their workplace offered better facilities.  

Demand for cycle provision is rising but few modern offices are designed to meet them:

 

  • One in 10 offices offer absolutely no cycle provision, according to research commissioned by the British Council for Offices and carried out by Remit Consulting
  • Although 83% of UK workplaces offer some form of bicycle parking, less than half is actually covered and secure
  • 45% of surveyed offices do not have those basic yet crucial facilities otherwise known as showers. 
in-office bike racks
bike parking inside the office
The Leadenhall Building includes parking spaces for over 400 bikes with 24/7 access

So, why should landlords and developers promote bike-friendly offices?

Wellbeing in the workplace has become a bit of a buzzword in office culture, and with good reason: it is where office design is headed. Sustainable, adaptive, and increasingly hyggelig (thank the Danish for the increasing number of workplaces to feature homely touches), the modern office now has to cater to cyclists, too. Why? 

The following list of perks can be split between three beneficiaries: the employee, the employer, and the person in charge of the building (i.e. you, the office landlord or commercial developer.) Although we could skip to this last category, presenting the full picture is of paramount importance to understanding the need for cycle provision at work. 

1. Perks for employees 

Financially speaking, when an employee gets a bike through a scheme, they don't have to pay VAT, Income Tax or Employees National Insurance on the cost of said bike. 
As for health benefits, there exist countless studies and extensive academic literature on the link between cycling and health. From type-two diabetes, through coronary heart disease, to several forms of cancer, research shows that cycling (and physical activity as a whole) can help cut diseases and reduce cancer risks. 

Cycling has also been proven to reduce stress, alleviate depression, improve sleep patterns. But you probably already knew all that, so let's move onto our second category. 

London office with cycle-in ramp for bike commuters
in-office bike storage facilities
Clockwise from top: London's first cycle-in office at Alphabeta Building, by Studio RHE. 7 Clarges Street, Mayfair, by Squire & Partners
wayfinding inside office for workers who cycle to work

2. Perks for employers 

When employees get a bike through the cycle to work scheme, employers can save on National Insurance contributions. This can incur savings of up to 13.8%. Cycling to work is also associated with lower absenteeism rates, which, naturally, boosts overall productivity. And because a cycle scheme, like other salary sacrifice incentives, yields a non-cash reward, it can help employers attract, as much as retain talent. 

Financial benefits aside, the Cycle To Work scheme is an attractive feature for the sustainability aficionados. The average worker who devolves (or evolves?) from four to two wheels would reduce their carbon footprint by 6% and save 0.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide. 

bike storage at 2 Forbury Place, London
2 Forbury Place in London features bike parking facilities coupled with service station amenities and ample locker space

3. Perks for landlords and developers 

Including cycle provision from Day One is, of course, much easier than retrofitting an existing office building with the likes of bike parking, lockers, showers and so forth.  Such building standards do, however, attract tenants, and perhaps that is the biggest advantage landlords and developers should tap into. 

Just like a product succeeds because its creators have identified a gap in the market, a successful office building has to meet present demands and expectations for the future. This means that a cycle-centric strategy can increase the letting potential of your office space. 

Perhaps prophetically, Workplace Parking Levies have recently been approved in  Cambridge, Nottingham, and possibly Manchester soon. Nottingham City Council is currently leading the way with firms charged over £400 a year in an attempt to tackle air pollution and reduce congestion in big UK cities. 

What may seem like a constraint might in fact be an interesting opportunity for landlords who, by reducing the number of cars in their office buildings, could repurpose the newfound space into, oh I don't know, shower and changing facilities? 

How exactly does one tackle this transformation and what are the factors to consider when developing a bike-friendly office? 

Hygge at work – it starts with the landlord!

coworking space with a hygge vibe

 

Somewhere between cosy and sustainable, hygge at work can be fostered by office landlords as early in the process as a Cat A fit out.

What is hygge?

For all we know, you may have lived in a cave for the past year and missed out on the ‘hygge’ craze. That’s okay, welcome to 2019. Let’s fill you in real quick.  First introduced by the Danes, hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) can be translated as a blend of “cosiness”, “comfort” and “contentment” all at once. Mindfulness meets carpe diem – hygge is gentle a reminder to slow down and savour the little things, but also a quest for health and wellbeing. It is about a sustainable way of being. And with over 2.5m #hygge Instagram posts shared this year, the popularity of hygge in the U.K. is everything but a coincidence.

Open-plan office with subtle hints of hygge at work
With its muted lighting, acoustic walls and lowered ceilings, the Zendesk San Francisco office was inspired by the Danish concept of “hygge”

Hygge at work  

Initially, the hygge concept belonged to the home. Think crackling fire, woollen throws, a steaming cup of tea, sitting in harmony amidst a rustic Scandinavian interior. Although it may have started as a response to the long and cold Danish winters, hygge doesn’t need cold weather to thrive, though. Nor does it require warm blankets, for it is not material. It is a state of mind.

Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things


The Little Book of Hygge, Meik Wiking

In late 2016, “hygge” was shortlisted as the Oxford word of the year — proof that the Danish definition of happiness has well percolated Western culture, and, incidentally, transcended the home to cosy up with the workplace.

It may seem contradictory at first — how can an office be cosy and relaxing if employees are to remain productive and efficient? It is doubtful that health and safety regulations will ever include a clause for aromatherapy candles and fireplaces at the office. There is, however, a place for hygge at work, and the journey to wellbeing in the workplace starts earlier in the process than you might think.

A resource for employers and landlords alike

The hygge craze may have already entered the workplace scene, but its full potential remains an untapped resource for landlords and property developers who like to think outside the box while staying on trend. While several how-to resources exist to encourage employers and employees to embrace hygge in the workplace, very little has been said to foster hygge from the very beginning of the office design cycle.

Indeed, the comforting health-imbued influence of hygge can be brought into the office well before the hunt for tenants begins. It may even help. So how can landlords and property agents make the workplace hygge-ready at the stage of a Cat A office fit out, while still offering a flexible environment ready for personnalisation?

How can the Danish state of mind be fostered in a Cat A fit out?

Think light and warmth

Cat A fit out with warm timber flooring
Cat A office fit out with an industrial yet warm feel

While flexibility and a “blank canvas” look are key in  Cat A fit outs, knowing your audience can often help you stand out. And with wellbeing in the workplace being in the forefront of office trends, you might want to take a stand and position yourself as an advocate of wellbeing, or hygge at work, from the get-go.

Needless to say, this should be done in subtle ways. Think warm textures, wooden flooring. energy-saving lighting, sustainably sourced materials that will appeal to the green customer. Location and natural lighting are also worth taking into consideration.

Tap into the cycle-to-work scheme

The Alphabeta cycle-in office in London has a ramp for bike commuters
Bike commuters can cycle into the Alphabeta office and ride to basement and bike storage via a ramp

End-of-trip facilities are becoming more and more important to the modern-day tenant. Very much in line with the Danish reminder to live healthily, cycling is a crucial part of the London commute. And although the numbers remain static, reports show that more commuters would cycle to work if they were provided with adequate end-of-trip facilities.

Incorporating bike storage, locker rooms and shower facilities in the common area of the office building will not only hygge-up the workplace, it will also attract tenants willing to pay higher rent for a more sustainable lifestyle.

Pave the way for hyggelig common areas

momondo office inner courtyard for socialising

Work-life balance is key to Danish culture and an essential element to hygge. While employers can promote a more relaxed company culture by offering wellness incentives and creating socialising spaces, landlords can pave the way for a hyggelig office by focusing on the common areas of said workplace.

Anyone who has ever worked in an office will know – most interactions happen in shared spaces. In other words, landlords who go above and beyond to cater to those shared spaces show a clear understanding of the Millennials’ need for interaction and collaboration. If office reception areas, lift lobbies and washrooms all reflect this understanding at the early stage of a Cat A fit out, offices may well command higher rent and landlords will find it easier to attract (and retain) tenants.

‘Workplace Wellbeing Special’ – 10 steps for a happy office in 2019

 

Wellbeing is becoming a buzzword in the workplace industry, and with reason – it is an essential component of the modern office and a real focus point for most businesses in 2019!

The workplace is not always a well-oiled machine, but studies have shown a clear correlation between wellbeing in the workplace and increased productivity. In other words, the way to a company’s success is a happy office.

Now, this is all well and good for business owners looking to boost profits, but what about landlords and property managers? Do the cogs start turning even before the lease is signed?

The answer is yes. And wellbeing in the workplace is no accident. Just a carefully constructed puzzle where everyone in the industry – from the designer, through the landlord, to the end-user – plays a role.

All it takes a pinch of modern thinking, a great deal of commitment, and about 10 elements to get right.

1. Naturally lit

You can’t always break a hole through the wall to let the sunshine in, but think about ways you can optimise your office layout so as to take maximum advantage of natural light.

A 2014 study from the Northwestern University of Chicago (one of many,) shows that daylight in the office boosts health and morale. As a result, employees with windows in the workplace report higher wellbeing.

Where possible, workstations should be located within 20 to 25 feet of side windows. Any further than that and daylight almost vanishes. And if your office space, or parts of it, is lacking windows, you can always opt for integrated lighting systems like Ketra to mimic natural light. 

RTKL London office. © Photobanks Ltd. / Jonathan Banks

2. Adaptive

Gone are the days of the sedentary office. Flexibility is key in today’s work environment. Employees like standing desks. They like having control over the layout of their workstations.

So how can the workplace adapt to its users’ needs? Modular furniture is a place to start: breakout furniture that doubles up as an informal meeting space, portable furniture and reconfigurable systems to facilitate the process if a company changes location.

The office layout can be adaptive as well. Big hangar-like offices, for example, can benefit from mobile partition screens to be used according to the users’ needs. Demountable partitions or folding walls are the perfect way to temporarily break up the space, or open it up for a large conference.

The more flexible the office is, the easier to implement changes it is. Anticipation is the watchword of the modern office.

Tree House modular furniture. Designer: Dymitr Malcew

3. Finely tuned

Bad acoustics are a by-product of busy open-plan offices. Unsurprisingly, noise is distracting and harmful to productivity.

What can you do?

Using sound absorbing materials in the workplace can provide significant acoustic relief; solutions vary from partitions and acoustic baffles to absorbent furniture and flooring. You can also go for decorative wall-mounted acoustic panels that come in every shape or form imaginable.

Beyond functionality, many decorative acoustic panels are designed with flexibility in mind: modular units, wall tiles in varying colours, shapes and sizes, and if the walls in your office are too busy, you can always opt for ceiling-mounted baffles a freestanding unit to double up as a divider.

Gaia acoustic panels. Designed by Stone Designs for Blå Station

4. Branded

Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of a good office branding is the opportunity to tell your story.

But strong branding can also make a real difference to a company’s image. It is the face of a business. It makes it recognisable to clients and employees. And it boosts wellbeing in the workplace by making for an inspiring work environment where employees feel an emotional connection with their surroundings.

Glass manifestation inside Tuango’s Montreal office. Designer: Anna Sophie Goneau

So much more than slapping a logo on a wall, strong office branding should reflect the corporate culture of the company and portray its values and identity.

A well-thought-out branding strategy also helps organisations stand out from the crowd and, if used in key spaces like the reception area, it can help make a great first impression upon clients and prospects.

5. Close to nature

Wellbeing in the workplace would hardly exist without the fresh use of greenery. Being close to nature has proven to have a positive impact on our mood, and with 35% of our total waking hours spent at work, a positive mindset sure is important.

So, what can you do to add greenery to your office? A simple living wall in the workplace can improve air quality and acoustic levels as well as promote a sustainable image that will speak to your green customer. If a living wall sounds too big an investment, evenly spread-out planters will help too.

Another way to bring the office closer to nature is by growing vegetables in the breakout area. Outlandish as it may seem, innovative products like Herbert make this very possible and effective.

Skyscanner’s office in Budapest. Architect: Madilancos Studio

6. Sustainable

From wind turbines and CO2 monitors to foam flushing toilets and treadmill desks, office buildings around the world are raising the bar for sustainability and innovation.

Billed as the most sustainable office building in the world  – a good standard to match, we thought – The Edge (pictured below) boasts a sophisticated design which, coupled with the use of innovative technologies, resulted in an astonishing 98.36% BREEAM score.

Home to Deloitte’s headquarters, the office building harvests rainwater to flush toilets and water its gardens. It also gives staff full control over temperature and light, both regulable via a smartphone app.

What’s more, The Edge also produces its own energy through the use of 800 solar panels and its roof boasts a floor-to-floor scanner that detects when rooms are not being used, thus helping reduce electricity consumption.

If you hadn’t guessed it, sustainably viable offices are not only good for morale, they’re also good for business. Oh, and the environment, too.

The Edge, Amsterdam. Photograph: Ronald Tilleman/PLP architecture

7. Healthy

We’ve talked about the importance of bringing the outside in. We’ve also seen how sustainable office design contributes to the general wellbeing of employees. But a happy office goes beyond green and eco-friendly – it must also promote a healthy way of working.

Developers can make a big impact here; it all starts with the relevant facilities. How about a gym at the office? If you include a gym, you will have to include showers. And locker rooms. And what about the increasing number of workers who cycle to work every day? They might need bike storage facilities indoors.

Smaller offices could negotiate memberships with local gyms or personal trainers. They can also join forces with other companies to chase a better deal with a larger fitness supplier.

Thumbtack San Francisco HQ. Boor Bridges Architecture

8. Wired

The modern office needs technology to thrive. This can translate in the use of automation systems that allow users to control lighting, HVAC and even outdoor shutters for optimum lighting conditions.

High technology also shines through the integration of personalised lighting systems that challenge the one-light-for-all principle. In this instance, employees can control the overhead lighting in their immediate environment. All they would need for this is, you guessed it, a smartphone.

In large offices, gathering location data of all employees can help you determine which areas are more used than others. This information can be gathered through the use of tiny devices called beacons, and shared with the lighting department to help you run a ‘greener’ office.

For everyone’s comfort, office furniture must be wired too. Plug-and-play workstations are trending in offices with limited space. Meeting rooms are equipped with built-in outlets. You get the gist.

After all, millenials don’t have time to run out of power!

Estimote beacons

9. Filled with art

Art is a conversation starter. Made to engage with those who notice it, it is an intellectual asset that fosters interaction and critical thinking.

According to a 2013 research by the British Council for Offices, 61% of workers agree that artwork inspires them to think and work more creatively.

Corporate art is more than a socialising tool, however. It is also a strategic device that offers businesses financial benefits and marketing opportunities.

12 Harmonics by Keith Tyson in Deutsche Bank London. Photograph: Deutsche Bank

10. Fun!

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. In recent years, this old proverb has weaved its way into the work culture where the importance of downtime has not only been recognised but also promoted.

More and more concerned with wellbeing in the workplace, companies are incorporating ‘fun’ in the office. Game rooms, ping pong tables and slides in lieu of stairs are no strangers to the work environment as forward-looking offices are slowly turning into carefully balanced playgrounds.

Unsurprisingly, breakout areas are also a key part of the fun. More than a simple room where staff can take five, breakout spaces are becoming fully integrated little hubs designed to foster creativity and collaboration while offering a space away from the screen. From relaxed, shared workspaces to impromptu meeting points, dedicated breakout spaces can also double as scenes for catered lunches, thus allowing companies to save on venue hire. Quite a few perks for one space!

Ticketmaster’s London office. TSK Group

Bonus: Future-proof

A ‘Workplace Wellbeing Special’ would be incomplete without the mention or two about the future. While catering to the employees’ present needs, a successful office space must also be able to anticipate their future needs. This means dynamic space planning, leaving room to grow and embrace change.

Embedding flexibility in the workspace is key. As previously mentioned, this can refer to adaptive furniture but it is also a reminder that people move too. And they should be encouraged to work in different settings.

Cycling facilities at work: 5 factors to consider

in-office bike storage facilities

Cycling facilities at work are becoming increasingly necessary. Here are 5 factors to help landlords and developers cater for a sustainable, profitable future.

Together with company culture, office standards are changing, and with incentives like the Cycle To Work Scheme in place, tenants are now turning to office landlords and developers for cycle provision in the workplace

So, what are the factors to consider when developing a bike-friendly office? 

1. Indoor cycling facilities

in-office bike storage facilities

According to the  BREEAM UK New Construction 2018 manual, "cycling facilities may be located anywhere on site. However, the total route that cyclists must take to access the nearest cycle storage, cyclists' facilities and building entrances must be no greater than 500m via a safe and convenient route." 

Including cycle provision at the shell and core stages of office development, of course, much easier than retrofitting an existing office building. If, however, you fall into the second category and find yourself with restricted space for indoor cycling facilities, think about moving internal refuse stores outside the office building. This will free up some space for your much-wanted in-office bike storage. 

2. Number of cycle spaces

London areas where higher cycle parking standards apply. Source: Transport for London (TFL) 2017

The New London Plan plans aims to increase the minimum standards for cycle parking in B1 offices developments from 1 space per 90 sqm to 1 space per 75 sqm. This applies to areas with higher cycle parking standards (highlighted in red in the map above).

It goes without saying that these figures are only a minimum requirement, but let's put this into context. An office building like The Leandenhall Building, aka. The Cheesegrater, totals 56.671 m2 of office space and includes parking spaces for 400 bicycles and 129 motorcycles.  

Now, The Leadenhall Building is home to 24 companies, one of which is AON with its 500+ employees spread over 10 floors. Following the 1 space per 90 sqm. rule, it should offer 630 parking spaces; but still, compared to its City neighbours, The Cheesgrater scores considerably above average. 

“compared to five years ago, cycling provision is increasingly becoming accepted as an integral component of Grade A office specification”,

Richard Kauntze, Chief Executive of the British Council for Offices

Of course, not every single occupant is a cyclist, but let's turn to leading sustainability assessment method BREEAM and make predictions a little more realistic. BREEAM ‘Tra 03 Cyclist facilities’ states that landlords and developers should provide 1 bicycle parking space for every 10 occupants. 

Forward-looking companies may also want to think about opportunities for expansion, should more employees opt for a two-wheel commute in the future.

3. Lockers & storage units

office washrooms fitted with ample locker space

Providing bicycle parking is only half the battle of developing a bike-friendly office. Cycle provision also includes convenient storage units and lockers designed to help create a better working environment. 

Anyone who has ever ridden a bike through peak-time London can imagine the challenges of storing wet clothes in an office that does not have appropriate storage facilities. Together with bike parking, lockers are an advantage for tenants and can, therefore, raise the leasing potential of your office development. 

4. Showers

Taking a line from our much-loved BREEAM UK New Construction 2018 manual: 

Compliant cyclist facilities (showers, changing areas etc.) can be provided in shell and core areas of the building as part of the base build. Alternatively, compliance can be demonstrated where the shell and core building is designed to facilitate future installation of the compliant number and type of cyclist facilities by the tenant/owner-occupier through the provision of an appropriately sized and dedicated space in the base building, including either the installation of the appropriate services (for showers) or infrastructure to allow the future installation of the relevant services e.g. capped water supply, service or ventilation ducts, drainage etc.

Shower facilities should be located near the bike parking and ideally, profit from naturally ventilation. Direct access to the core lobby should also be provided. In order for your office development to be BREEAM-compliant, it should include one shower for every 10 cycle storage spaces. Also worth noting that any building comprising eight showers or more is considered compliant, regardless of the number of parking spaces provided.

5. Specifications

Your office can be fit for cyclists as early as the shell & core stage. There is, therefore, no requirement for office cycling facilities to be finished to a high standard. However, here are a few tips to take away with you. 

  • Keep it well-lit.
  • Use slip-resistant flooring.
  • Keep room heights equal or higher than 2.2m. 

What will the office of the future look like?

Ljubljana chamber of commerce boasts biophilic design

From energy-saving to family-conscious, the office of the future will be greener, smarter, and undoubtedly more high-tech.

Office design is changing fast. Designed to adapt to the workers' needs, the office today wants to be open yet flexible. But what about tomorrow? What trends are bound to shape the office of the future? 

Hot-desking

Hot desking inside Air bnb's Tokyo office
Hot-desking area inside Airbnb's Tokyo Office. Suppose Design Office

A recent CBRE report has found that, of the 400 multinationals surveyed, two-thirds plan on embracing the shared-desk concept by 2020.  As versatility becomes the new status quo in the workplace, traditional open-plan offices are already giving way to activity-based working solutions where flexibility is key and the price of a desk has to be justified. 

Energy-saving buildings

bloomberg hq in London is billed the most sustainable office in the world
European Headquarters for Bloomberg, London. Foster + Partners'

With concerns over climate change growing stronger every day, sustainable design is becoming a key practice for developers, architects and engineers alike. 

Anecdotally, Foster + Partners' recently completed European Headquarters for Bloomberg in London was recently voted as the most sustainable building in the world, and it serves as a great example for the future of commercial properties and green building. 

With a BREEAM score of 98.5, the office building features bronze louvres that adapt to changing weather conditions, sensors that adjust airflow according to occupancy, rainwater and water from basins and showers harvesting technologies, and of course, an indoor green wall. Combined with that, Bloomberg's employees will profit from sit-stand workstations, two on-site cycle centres as well as a wellness centre, accentuating the importance of wellbeing in the workplace

Wearables for office workers

don't slouch wearable for work
Anti-slouch wearable by Upright

From activity-trackers, through real-time translation devices, to posture-correcting wearables, high technology is creeping up in the workplace, whether you like it or not. As staff wellbeing becomes increasingly important for productivity and business, will the employer be responsible for providing health-tracking wearables at the office? 

Some American companies like IBM, Time Warner and Target have already partnered with activity-trackers like Fitbit and implemented their own corporate wellness initiatives.

Health insurance giant Vitality has set in place incentives for their employees: hit your step goal and get a discounted Apple Watch!

On-site nurseries

Office nursery visualisation for Second Home in London
On-site nursery proposal, inside London's Second Home Spitalfields. José Selgas and Lucía Cano

In 2003, Goldman Sachs London office opened the first (and to this date only) on-site nursery in the Square Mile.

According to the latest figures from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, Goldman Sachs is one of only 5% of businesses in the UK to offer childcare in the workplace.

Unsurprisingly, that 5 % is exclusively made up of large organisations with funds that match the financial requirements for an on-site creche in the workplace, but the benefits for companies are not insignificant. 

For starters, companies get tax breaks and relief for the day-to-day running and capital costs such as lighting, heating and the premise. On-site nurseries also have an impact on staff retention, making for an easier transition from maternity leave to work.

on-site nursery inside Goldman Sachs London
On-site nursery inside Goldman Sachs London office on Fleet Street

Despite their evident appeal, on-site nurseries at the office still pose significant challenges, as pointed out by Rohan Silva, former government adviser who now runs creative workspace Second Home in East London. These include a costly Ofsted accreditation process and frequent inspections, a chronic shortage of trained staff, strict regulations around designing and building childcare facilities and the need to shift the property developer's mindset. 

All things considered, on-site nurseries in the workplace are a profitable market for landlords and property agents to tap into. 

Biophilic design

Ljubljana chamber of commerce boasts biophilic design
The Ljubljana Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Slovenia. Sadar+Vuga Architects

In line with a more sustainable environment, the office of the future is set to embrace biophilic design. From planting living walls to maximising natural light and improving air quality, offices will pay more importance to staff wellbeing, health and productivity. 

3D printing

3D-printed office in Dubai
The world's first 3D-printed office in Dubai

The use of 3D printing in architecture has yet to reach its full potential and yet, Dubai has already unveiled a proof of concept set to redefine our expectations. 

The world's first 3D-printed office was built in 17 days and cost £110,000. It took a team effort of eighteen people only to oversee the process from start to finish. 

Technology research company Gartner expects 75% of companies to use 3D printing to increase manufacturing by 2020

Remote working

husk coffee and creative space in East London
Husk Coffee And Creative Space, East London

Having said all that, the office of the future might not be an office after all. Ever since the internet infiltrated the workplace in the late 1990s, remote working has been gaining momentum. Industry experts have even started to question the need for an office space

Coffee shops and hotel lobbies already double as informal office spaces, highlighting the possibility of an altogether barrier-free office.

So, how important is the need for an office space? Have we missed a crucial trend? Tweet us your thoughts - we love to be challenged. 

Opening image: Ljubljana Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Slovenia. Sadar+Vuga Architects