How does an office fit out affect workplace performance?

What is the secret to good office design? What are the benefits of a commercial office fit out and how does it affect workplace performance?

Fitting out a new office might be the biggest, most expensive project your company will take on so it is important to be prepared and know your strategy and end goal. From function to aesthetics, your new office should reflect your values and take the business forward, focusing on your future needs without neglecting the current ones.

 

Ansarada Sydney offices by Those Architects and End Of Work. Photography: Brett Boardman 

Office fit outs are no easy task, that is why we have created a detailed overview to help you plan and prepare for the big change.

Start with the 'why' behind your office fit out

Do your research early on; what works in your space and what doesn't? What are the biggest obstacles and why are they hindering your growth? How will your business profit from a complete refurbishment?

The more questions you can answer, the more effective your fit out will be. Here are some to get you started:

  • Why the need for refurbishment? Are you looking to expand or are you making concessions?
  • What kind of fit out do you need? Are you refurbishing a new space or your existing office? Are you carrying out a CAT B fit out or going back to basics with a CAT A and CAT B installation?
  • How is your business going to change in the next few years?
  • Are you looking to boost morale and office performance?
  • Is your office outdated and no longer reflects your business?
  • Do you want to boost your environmental rating and promote sustainability to employees, clients and prospects?

 Key benefits of a good office fit out

Design must reflect the practical and aesthetic in business but above all... good design must primarily serve people

Thomas J. Watson
Health sciences company DSM offices by  Studio Niels and BroekBakema architects.

IBM founder Thomas J. Watson knew what he was talking about and Gensler proved it by surveying a panel-based sample of 1,200 UK office workers at all job levels across 11 industries.

Their UK workplace Survey 2016 results reported that over 8 million UK employees are negatively affected by poorly designed open-plan spaces. The key reason behind this dissatisfaction appeared to be the lack of alternative settings and more enclosed spaces for both individual and group work.

Another factor worth noting is that, despite being in a period of economic recovery, the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show that UK GDP per worker is lower than all other G7 nations barring Japan, thus making it critical for offices to perform at maximum effectiveness.

How can an office fit out help you perform best? What are some benefits you can expect?

Keynsham Civic Centre, by AHR

1. Morale and productivity

Good design affects mood, productivity and wellbeing. A well-thought-out office, complete with a diverse range of working spaces and break-out areas, is bound to increase performance. Simply put, good design makes people happier, thus more productive.

2. Business performance and growth

Design and emotions go hand in hand. A poorly designed office space will likely speak to a poorly-run business, while an office fit out will help retain top employees and attract new prospects.

3. Brand identity and culture

Your office should reflect your motto, values, culture and convey the personality of the brand. It should also be an advertising tool, an extension of your marketing strategy – in other words, a clever physical representation of your website.

Google offices in Milan, by AMA - Albera Monti & Associati

4. Space optimisation

Recent mergers or acquisitions, just like downsizing, often require space reorganisation. An office refurbishment will allow you to upgrade or introduce new facilities and create a balanced working environment.

Your office layout should take into consideration the different departments and their respective needs. The sales department needs privacy (and soundproofed walls for those phone calls) while the creative department may require more collaborative spaces to brainstorm ideas.

5. New or upgraded facilities

Are your conference rooms looking dated? Is your office lacking a breakout space where your workers can relax and exchange ideas in a more informal environment? What about your IT? And how would you rate the quality of your office lighting? Are you getting enough natural light?

We're counting at least five ways you can profit from an office refurbishment and of course, with great benefits comes great responsibility. So how do you tackle a big office fit out?

Photo by Crew on Unsplash

Your office fit out checklist: things to consider

 1. First impressions are key

First impressions are the most lasting, especially if you are a client-facing business. A good office fit out can ensure that your office sells your business as much as your staff do. Common areas are particularly influential and a great way to make a statement while also providing comfort. Some ideas:

  • An engaging reception with striking reception desk and comfortable waiting areas.
  • Architectural and design features like multipurpose staircases, living walls, design lighting, etc.
  • Coffee shop and/or communal spaces open to the public.
  • Atriums, public thoroughfares and amenities that encourage people to walk through your workplace (and notice it).
  • Artwork, commissioned office murals by local artists, sculptural lighting, etc
Trelleborg office reception, Bangalore, by Zyeta Studios

2. Budget counts

Knowing how much you can spend will save you many a headache and hunting for quotes is that much easier when you are in control of your finances. Here are a few factors to consider when calculating your budget:

  • Costs associated with a potential relocation.
  • Duration and costs of equipment and furnishings storage.
  • The fit out itself (including a brief, technical plans, delivery of materials, building assessment and project management)
  • New furniture and equipment.
  • IT and telecommunications infrastructure.

3. Design should be in sync with your brand identity

Everything in your office, from inviting common areas to pristine washrooms, should reflect your company's values. Consider glass manifestation, colour schemes, etc. to highlight brand identity.

Decca Records Project offices by Kim Walter

4. Office trends trend for a reason

What are the latest offices trends? Don't follow the masses blindly but, by all means, draw inspiration from what works and what doesn't, what your target audience is looking for and how you can best provide for it.

Can standing desks or desks on wheels encourage flexibility and productivity? Are natural materials gaining in popularity? Are multipurpose spaces key to efficient offices?

5. Cloud technologies offer flexibility

An increase in cloud-based technologies allows companies to get rid of outdated infrastructure and make room for, say a second conference room. Cloud computing also offers more flexibility as enables some staff to work from home, thus contributing to the overall office performance.

How would cloud-based technologies affect the size or your server or communications room? Could they allow for better document control and contribute to the image of a forward-looking business?

An office fit out should cater to these electronic needs with frequent, well-located powerpoints.

IT consultancy Thoughtworks offices in Soho, London by Morgan Lovell

6. Efficient system designs make life easier

Depending on your future office needs, basic systems like lighting and temperature control can be made smarter and more efficient. To consider:

  • Lighting: From pendant lights to desk lamps and sconces, you're spoilt for choice, but which lighting scheme is best for you? Consider bespoke lighting to set yourself apart.
  • Windows and louvres: Should they be operated manually or remotely?
  • Air conditioners: How will they be controlled and what is the most efficient schedule? Where will they be placed for optimised temperature?
  • Electrical sockets: Are there enough and are they placed according to your staff's needs?
  • Thermostats: Who controls the temperature and from where?

7. Going green saves more than trees

From going paperless to making use of available daylight, adopting a sustainable approach can be very beneficial to your business. Here are some ways you can reduce your carbon footprint while improving your office performance:

  • Investing in solar technology will help slash those electricity bills by powering your lights and heating your water.
  • Taking full advantage of sunlight will improve staff morale and reduce the need for overhead and desk lighting.
  • Going paperless will help you save money on printers and resources and, since less filing cabinets will be required, free up office space. It will help reduce energy usage in the paper industry, reduce fuel consumption and of course, save trees.
Cuningham Group offices in California, United States, by Cuningham Group

 A commercial office fit out should promote a cultured image and a flexible, well thought-out working environment.  It is an excellent opportunity for businesses to rearrange and update certain aspects of the company in an organised, cohesive way.

The result should make for an attractive, efficient workplace that is in tune with the company's needs and plans for the future, not only the present.

Opening photo by Diego Aguilar on Unsplash

Green leases: the benefits of going green

Rising in popularity among corporate tenants, green leases are a true real-estate opportunity for landlords, and a promise to the environment.

You might have heard of green leases and wondered if you should consider signing one. The answer is yes and the reasons why might surprise you.

What is a green lease? First introduced in the UK and Australia in 2006, green leases are an opportunity to fight climate change while also making profit. It is an energy and cost saving approach that aims to improve the environmental performance of your leased office space, thus increasing its appeal to corporate tenants.

Brent Civic Centre in London - 'outstanding' BREEAM rating. Architect: Hopkins Architects. Main contractor: Skanska.

At the start of this year, the UK commercial property market saw a record activity in the London real estate market with a total of £4.9bn worth of transactions between January and March 2017. By retrofitting your commercial property, you will not only distinguish yourself from the competition, you will also show commitment to the future and set yourself apart as a forward-thinking commercial real-estate leader.

UBM’s 240 Blackfriars office in London - ‘excellent’ BREEAM rating. Architect: Allford Hall Monaghan Morris. Developer: Great Portland Estates

Having environmentally sustainable features is seen as a competitive advantage.

Michael De Jong-Douglas

So how can a green lease benefit you and your tenants? What are the incentives of designing, constructing and managing sustainable commercial buildings?

  • Your core asset is maintained in compliance with its sustainable design
  • As a result, the building achieves maximum rental returns and occupancy rates
  • Maintenance and operating costs are minimized and utility consumption is reduced
  • Your public image is enhanced and your asset scores better on green rankings
  • Waste stream diversions lead to extra savings
  • Landlord-tenant relationship is strengthened: green leases help provide financially beneficial incentives for both parties. 
  • Show leadership in energy and environmental design by getting BREEAM certified: in accordance with the European Union’s Energy Efficiency Directive, the UK has a national energy efficiency target to reduce energy consumption by 18% in 2020. Contributing to the national target shows ambition and civic leadership.
PWC's office fitted-out by Overbury and Morgan Lovell - 'outstanding' BREEAM rating.  

Looking at the commercial real estate market last year, it's becoming clear that tenants value sustainability when looking to lease new office spaces. For tenants, green buildings are synonymous with efficient buildings – smart, forward-looking landlords can reap the benefits of this energy efficiency.

Opening photo: Sea Containers, BDG

Should more offices swap stairs for slides?

Playground equipment isn't just for kids.

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.

 

Box.net's office reception slide. Architect: Fennie+Mehl

More and more concerned with wellbeing in the workplace, companies are incorporating 'fun' in the office. Game rooms, ping pong tables and football nets are no strangers to the workplace as forward-looking offices are slowly turning into carefully balanced playgrounds. So why should the staircase not get a fun makeover too?

You might've taken notice of Google and its obsession with slides, but more and more companies around the world are now jumping on the bandwagon and installing slides in their offices. Some are sleek and minimal, others remind us of wild attraction parks but whatever the design, one ride is enough to bring back playful childhood memories – all from the comfort of the office.

Integrating playground apparatus into the workplace is rarely governed by whim. More than fun smooth chutes, slides mean business - they can give an edge to the workplace and increase job satisfaction.

To inspire you, let's look at some companies with slides in their offices. 

Google Zurich
theCHIVE Austin Texas
theCHIVE Austin Texas
Lego Denmark
Google Detroit
Ogilvy & Mather Jakarta
Opening photo: Ticketmaster London

Multi-sensory design – building for all senses

Architecture is all visual, but there is more to it than meets the eye.

Imagine you have just entered the lobby of a luxurious hotel. You gasp, in awe of its striking, eight-story high lobby, with a water feature cascading down at its centre and a soft pile carpet beneath your feet. Before you check in, you pay a visit to the washrooms and are welcomed with a clean, earthy waft of cedar wood - or is it cypress? You inhale deeply; it is comforting. Your eyes then turn to the white Corian vanity units. They look so inviting you can't resist running your fingers along the surface; it feels as smooth as silk, polished to perfection.

What you have just experienced is multi-sensory design, the kind you could never truly savour with your eyes only. The kind that engages all five of your senses. You saw the wonderful height of the lobby, you heard the waterfall, you perceived the scent of cedar wood in the washroom and you felt the polished stone caress your skin.

What about taste, you may ask? It seems implausible for architecture to stimulate our taste buds, but wasn’t it Dali who wrote of the "edible beauty" of Art Nouveau architecture after all? You might be surprised at how powerful a space can be and even more surprised at the emotions it may trigger.

Architecture can elicit a wide array of emotions

Joolz Headquarters in Amsterdam

It is true that architecture can move us. It can bring back memories and elicit strong emotions. It can be intimidating just like it can be comforting. We might feel safe amidst the books of an airy, public library just like we might feel oppressed in the fusty, sombre atmosphere of an office reception area.

Whatever the emotion conveyed, this interaction between architecture and people is never the same. So, what is it that sparks all of these emotions and why do we react differently to a space? What can architects and landlords learn from multi-sensory design and how can they use it to create commercial spaces that would be leased in a heartbeat?

Let's go back to our luxurious hotel lobby and imagine a slightly altered scenario. The eight-story high lobby is still there, in fact, the reception area is now strewn with beautiful, modern art paintings. The water feature has been replaced by an abstract anodised aluminium sculpture, reflected in the marble floor. As for the washrooms, they are still elegant but the scent is gone and the Corian has been replaced with laminate.

Architecture is the art of reconciliation between ourselves and the world, and this mediation takes place through the senses

Juhani Pallasmaa

This is retinal-experienced architecture and, at first glance, it appears to be enough. The space is well-designed, but it lacks character and more importantly, it lacks depth. It is one-dimensional.

What can we change? How can we design multi-dimensional spaces? How can landlords improve their commercial space to appeal to more tenants and enhance their revenues?

Designing for the senses

“Architects who understand their users’ needs and feelings design successful buildings” illustrator and architectural designer Justine Bourland told Republic. “I have always been curious to know how the environment we live in has an impact on our perception of space” she continues to say, “we started brainstorming on a system using a polygraph to measure people’s heartbeat and moisture. This is an efficient way to read people’s reaction to their environment.” A few months later, the device in question, created by Bourland and three of her colleagues, existed in real form and experiments were conducted on over one hundred people. 

The outcome was fascinating. The polygraph showed more activity in an urban setting – which meant more stress – and less activity by the sea. “The results have only confirmed that our urban environment is not adapted to our needs anymore” Bourland points out, raising an important question: how can we design better spaces?

Landlords and developers can learn a lot from this experiment. A commercial property designed for the senses could easily command higher rent as the tenant will be engaged in more ways than one. Bourland is well aware of the magnitude of workplace design: “People living or commuting to a city spend most of their time at work. Workplace design should be just as important as that of people’s home” she says, urging landlords to invest more time and money in the workplace design strategy.

Architecture cannot exist without human habitation. The interaction between environment and body is constant and according to Bourland, it “should be the architect’s priority”. When we experience a space, we experience it through our senses and as we all know, we have five of those. That is five different resources for designers to explore and tap into, five different resources often forgotten by landlords attempting to lease a space that only stimulates one, maybe two senses.

So how exactly do we design for the senses and why will your business profit from it? Let’s take it one sense at a time.

1.   Sight –  the primary sense

Torres de Satelite by Luis Barragan
Torres de Satélite, 1958, Barragan and sculptor Mathias Goeritz.

Architects use vision like spiders spin a web – instinctively. Le Corbusier, the icon of modern architecture reinforced the idea that vision is at the heart of everything when he wrote "I exist in life only on the condition that I see" and, as such, it comes as no surprise that architects, furniture designers, landlords, developers, tenants even, all rely on the power of sight.

Sight is what allows us to perceive light, form and colour. Take the work of Mexican architect Luis Barragan, otherwise known as the architect of colour. Barragan’s style can be recognised not only from the distinctive colour palettes he uses but also the serenity permeating his architecture.

Granted, we could not fully comprehend Barragan’s work without our sense of sight, but what makes the urban sculpture above particularly successful is not only the colour palette but also the choice of material. Notice every concrete prism features horizontal shutter marks that add character to the entrance of Satélite, one of Mexico City’s satellite towns. Yes, colour is at the crux of Barragan’s work, but what about materiality?

2.   Touch – the smooth and the rough

castelvecchio step detail

Materials come in all forms – some are polished, others are raw, some are warm, others are cold, some are even made to interact with their surroundings. Juhani Pallasmaa believes tactility leaves less room for mistakes than sight, no illusions, no trickery.  

Let’s consider all the factors: texture, weight, density, heat, are all related to the sense of touch. That leaves a lot of room for architects to experiment with materials and stimulate our senses.

One architect in particular is known for his instinctive approach to materials and attention to detail: if you haven’t already, meet one of the most enigmatic architects of the 20th century, Carlo Scarpa.

The work of Scarpa is a prime example of multi-sensory design. Bringing together time-honoured crafts and modern manufacturing processes, the Italian architect has embraced contrasts and made them his trademark. His renovation of the Castelvecchio museum in Verona, completed in 1964, is an ode to materials and tactility.

Everything, from the walls adorned with various shades of Prun stone, to the sophisticated combination of steel and concrete throughout the space, reflects the architect’s love for materials.

castelvecchio by Carlo Scarpa

Justine Bourland reminds us of the influence materials have over our perception of space: “The design process should follow questions such as what the user will touch, and so what kind of material will be used?” Such design process does not stop at the sense of sight and in the case of the Castelvecchio Museum, pictures struggle to do it justice because our eyes are not enough to comprehend the space.

3.   Smell –  the untapped design resource

Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center
Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center, by Perkins + Will

Scents trigger memories, we associate spatial qualities to them: "it smells like home", "it smells like a hospital". If cleverly used, these associations could be utilised in architecture to increase certain emotions, to create a complete brand experience or even, like the Chinese used to with beautifully engineered incense clocks, to tell the time.

Using our olfactory sense in architecture goes beyond plugging in an air freshener. It means tapping into fragrant construction materials to create a naturally scented environment: some trees emanate a resinous perfume and much of the wood used in construction or furniture, like juniper wood, cedar of Lebanon, Atlas cedar, cypress, Thuja or Laurel emanates a particular scent.

So ask yourself – what would a modern office reception smell like? Or a luxurious washroom? Now push the boundaries of this default smell. What materials could you use to create an entirely uplifted olfactory experience for your clients or tenants?

4.   Sound - the invisible that can change a space

Low ceilings can be heard. Open doors, nearby walls, tall columns all have their own reverberation time, their own resonance, and their own low or high-frequency energy.

A change in acoustics can have an impact on the entire space. Deep pile carpets create an aural sense of warmth while marble floors and glass walls convey an aural sense of coldness. It is all about reverberation time. 

I remember the sound of the gravel under my feet, the soft gleam of the waxed oak staircase

Peter Zumthor, Thinking Architecture

So how can our hearing be stimulated in architecture? Ambient music is an obvious example. Water is an underrated one. Acoustics is key. In the words of acoustic consultant Julian Treasure, “It's time to start designing for our ears”. In a 2012 TED talk,  Treasure talked about "invisible architecture", stating that poor sound affects our health, our education and our productivity in the workplace. And it doesn’t cost a leg and an arm to fix this – acoustic treatments, sound absorbing materials, clever space planning, are all viable solutions to minimise noise levels and improve our behaviour.  

5.   Taste - the bitter and the sweet

Meeting room inside Cision's Chicago office
Cision's Chicago office, by Eastlake Studio

"There is a subtle transference between tactile and taste experiences. Vision becomes transferred to taste as well; certain colours and delicate details evoke oral sensations. A delicately coloured polished stone surface is subliminally sensed by the tongue" says Pallasmaa.

Yes, the sense of taste is strongly related to spaces such as grocery stores, restaurants or bakeries but can’t we use those associations we make in other environments? What do bitterness, sweetness or saltiness look like? Using colours to recall tastes can add depth and character to a space. Paint the wall a bitter chocolate brown, punctuate the space with zesty orange accents… It's all about associations.

Five senses or more?

Rebecca Maxwell is a writer who lost her sight at age three. In a radio broadcast called “Beyond Appearances – Architecture and the Senses”, Maxwell invites those of us who see and design only with our eyes to experience our surroundings in a different way by considering a series of additional senses.

“I believe that there are a lot more senses. We haven't identified them and we don't use them. I think by identifying them we would begin to turn them on, as it were. You see, I think there is a sense of pressure, a sense of balance, a sense of rhythm, a sense of movement, a sense of life, a sense of warmth, even a sense of self, which psychology is beginning to recognise.” That is a lot of senses and a lot of factors for landlords to consider when renting a space. Is it oppressing or is it comforting? Is it inviting?

Human experience is multi-sensory

Maxwell highlights what most of us forget: architecture can impart feelings that will vary from one person to the next. Why? Because we perceive certain architectural atmospheres differently and that is an important aspect to keep in mind when leasing a commercial space.

The hands want to see, the eyes want to caress

Goeth

It is not necessary to design for all senses at once of course but landlords should understand a space can be stimulating in more ways than one. Envision your space like a finely tuned instrument that can interact with its occupants through a wide array of senses. Who is your target and what can you do to find satisfied tenants faster? Design for the senses.

We asked Justine Bourland what building she would like to bring her Time Machine into and she said the Opera House of Sydney. “I can imagine the device would reveal a certain calmness at the start of the visit and excitement at the end, when the user finally walks into the main hall while listening to the musicians play, surrounded by this architectural masterpiece”.

If the Time Machine were yours, would you dare to use it in the commercial property you are renting? What do you think the results would be?

The green wall gains popularity in the workplace

Green wall inside Slack's Vancouver offices

As the green wall becomes more and more present in the workplace, we take a look at some of the most inspiring offices that feature living walls.

Last month, we discussed the benefits of green walls in your workplace. Today, we take a look at 15 offices that have used greenery to their advantage.

Whether it be a creative studio, a co-working space or a law firm, green walls are a surefire way to give your tired office a new lease of life. 

They make for great room dividers in large open plan offices, they can act as a refreshing backdrop in your meeting area or waiting room, and if you lack the space (or budget), you can always replace a poster or two with bright green, wall-mounted planters.

Don't know where to start? Here are four ways to use living walls in the workplace.

1. Uplift the reception area

Office reception area with a living wall
Fuschia pink and natural green blend in inside Microsoft's Building 44 office reception area. By  ZGF Architects
Etsy Brooklin office by Gensler
Etsy's office in Brooklyn, New York features green walls and colourful ceiling decorations. By Gensler
Large green wall in Boston office
The Sonos offices in Boston feature a large green wall in a double-height space. By IA Interior Architects
Waiting area with green wall
Eclectic waiting area with industrial elements and a lush green wall inside Maritime data analytics firm Windward's Tel Aviv office by Roy David Studio

2. Freshen up the office lobby

Large atrium with living wall
Large living wall inside Yoga clothing retailer Lululemon Athletica's office atrium in Vancouver, British Columbia. By Gustavson Wylie Architects
Insurance law firm office with living walls
Sculptural staircase and mini green walls punctuate the waiting area at insurance law firm Wotton + Kearney. By futurespace
Green wall inside Slack's Vancouver offices
Exposed brick walls, contemporary lighting and a bright living wall inside Slack's office Vancouver, British Columbia. By Leckie Studio

3. Infuse character into the breakout area

vistaprint office with a living wall
Contemporary breakout area with a green wall at Cimpress and Vistaprint. By Margulies Perruzzi Architects
Breakout area with green wall inside coworking office Hong Kong
Coworking office The Work Project in Hong Kong boasts an eye-catching green wall. By Bean Buro
Breakout area with green wall
Collaborative space with a green wall divider inside Multinational food and beverage company Mondelez International Madrid office. By Areazero 2.0
Skyscanner Budapest office
Skyscanner's Budapest office is bursting with greenery. By Madilancos Studio

4. Spruce up the common areas

breakout area with a green wall
Colourful furniture and well-lit green walls at Facebook's Tel Aviv headquarters. By Setter Architects
Green walls at BKM headquarters
Green accents add personality inside BKM headquarters by Hollander Design Group
Yandex office replete with living walls
Living walls inside tech company Yandex in Moscow. By Atrium

The history of coworking – how did we get here?

A work trend long on the rise, coworking and the concept of office-sharing isn't as new as you might think.  

'Coworking' is on everyone's lips nowadays, but how did this revolutionary concept come about and what caused the spike of the coworking movement? We went hunting for facts and compiled them into a brief timeline depicting the history of coworking.

1995: Berlin sees the birth of C-base, one of the first hackerspaces in the world

Considered as one of the first pre-models of coworking spaces, C-base is where the history of coworking begins. A little like today's coworking spaces, C-base was a physical, community-oriented space where like-minded people with a shared interest for computers gathered and worked together under the same roof.

Along with Metalab in Vienna, C-base directly influenced the birth of hackerspaces in the United States.

Betahaus Berlin, via Creative Economy

1999: Coworking is coined, but not as we know it today

In 1999, American game designer and fun theorist – one who studies the benefits of games (yes, we are serious) – Bernard DeKoven coins the word 'coworking'. For DeKoven however, coworking is used to describe the concept of "working together as equals", as opposed to "working together, yet separate," the definition of coworking we are more familiar with today.

That same year, 42West24 break into the New York City market. A pleasant work environment with flexible desks and cancellations made possible on short notice, 42West24 is a real breakthrough, despite the lack of emphasis on the community spirit that drives coworking spaces today.

Neuhouse New York, by David Rockwell

2002: Vienna opens community centre for entrepreneurs

Two Austrian entrepreneurs partner with architects, PR consultants, freelancer and startups, and put an end to working from home. Schraubenfabrik is born but is officially defined as a community centre for entrepreneurs instead of a coworking office.

Verizon coworking space in London, via Business Insider

2005: San Francisco inaugurates world's first official coworking space

Programmer Brad Neuberg launches the first official coworking space in San Francisco. The association first offers 5 to 8 desks two days a week, free wifi and shared lunches. A year later, the coworking space closes to make way for the Hat Factory in 2006, now closed.

In 2005, Berlin opens one of the first cafés to offer free WiFi and welcome laptop users as guests, not parasites. In 2007, France follows suit and opens La Boate in Marseilles and in 2008, La Cantine and La Ruche in Paris.

La Ruche, Paris

2007: Coworking trends on Google

Since it was first seen as a trend on Google's database, the search volume for coworking' increased by a factor of 20.

Later this year, 'coworking' gets its own Wikipedia page in English. It must be official!

The Den in London, by The Collective

First impressions are the most lasting, especially in commercial real estate.

You only have seven seconds to make a great first impression –  or so you thought.

In 2014, psychologists from the university of Glasgow, Scotland and Princeton, US, showed that a simple “hello” is enough. In other words, you may only have a tenth of a second to make a strong first impression.

A tenth of a second is barely enough time to crack a smile. So exactly how do we prepare for this crucial moment? How do we introduce ourselves to the world?

We dress appropriately, we smile and we strive to look confident. In the event of a misunderstanding, we sometimes get a second chance and turn to words to make ourselves understood. But what about a building?

.

How does a building make a good first impression?

If entrances, lobbies and washrooms could speak for themselves, what would they say and most importantly, how would they say it? 

I enter a building, see a room and – in the fraction of a second – have this feeling about it, Peter Zumthor.

Thinking about first impressions is particularly beneficial in commercial real estate where business is key, investments are not light and the word ‘profit’ is on everyone’s lips.  

An entrance becomes the mirror of a company, a chance to convey your brand, convince of your abilities and show that you care. Just like you want to impress your future employer in an interview, you want your office reception to impress your future client, tenant, or prospect. 

So what do you have to do to impress?

Good design and emotions go hand in hand

In his book titled Atmospheres, architect Peter Zumthor, known for his sensuous architecture and attention to materiality, says that architectural quality correlates highly with emotions.

"What do we mean when we speak of architectural quality? It is a question that I have little difficulty in answering. Quality in architecture … is to me when a building manages to move me. What on earth is it that moves me? ... One word for it is Atmosphere."

We often talk about atmosphere and quality of space in the workplace but what about those public spaces – defining spaces – we all experience on a daily basis? How and, just as importantly, why should you strive to create this atmosphere in your office reception?

Design is a powerful tool

A successful office reception should set the tone and create a positive experience for your staff but also any potential prospect: clients, suppliers, business partners should all be engaged as soon as they cross the threshold.

In order to achieve this, you can choose to make a bold statement, like Gensler did for Olswang, an international law firm with over 500 employees.

DSC05210.jpg

Olswang's headquarters in London. 

Olswang’s headquarters, located on 90 High Holborn, in London, stands out with its 6m high, backlit onyx feature wall, visible from the street. The warm, amber glow of the onyx and its expressive, organic patterns, make it a focal point of the lobby, thus an inviting entry to a firm that describes itself as pioneering, with a distinctive approach to business law and an immersive culture.

A feature wall is a great way to engage visitors but there is a lot more to consider when designing an office reception. According to a 2014 Forbes magazine article, colour psychology can have a great impact on human behaviour and emotions. Choose your colour palette right and you could change the way visitors perceive the temperature of your reception area.

“Business owners can use this to their advantage by saving on heating and cooling costs. For example, if you live in a cold environment, painting an entryway a warm color may cause people to think your establishment is a few degrees warmer than actually is. This may allow you to keep the temperature at a slightly lower setting” says psychotherapist, speaker and college psychology instructor Amy Morin.

While different colours can give the illusion of a warmer or cooler entrance, they can also be used to convey a certain emotion. “Painting a common area of an office building blue is likely to satisfy the majority of people” Morin continues to say, so be sure to choose wisely if you want to maximise the potential of your reception area.

Broadgate tower's main lobby with colourful escalators

London's Broadgate Tower, main lobby. 

So colour schemes can alter your perception of the space. What about patterns? And have you thought about flooring, chosen your furniture, agreed on the lighting and decided on the temperature? Is your reception area accessible? Is it sustainable?

Although they may seem like a series of unnecessary expenses, thinking about and focusing on such elements can turn a public space into a sales point for your office building.

What if high-quality design could lead to higher returns on investment?

Good design adds value

This is not news to anyone: London is expensive. In 2014, The Economist published an article entitled ‘Bodies, bombs and bureaucracy’ and even though it may well inspire the title of a horror movie trilogy, it actually reflects on the capital’s costly construction.

Narrow, medieval streets, conservation areas, protected vistas and to top it all, unexploded bombs from WWII found on construction sites… “All this raises costs, which are passed on to business tenants.” According to The Economist, the rent of an office space in the West End was “twice as expensive as in Madison Avenue in New York" in 2014.

Knight Frank's newly released Skyscrapers Index, part of the Global Cities 2016 report, puts a number on this, with a London office rental price averaging £79 per sq. ft. per year, not including taxes or service charges – enough to make our heads spin.

At this rate, landlords and developers can’t waste an opportunity to optimise every space and make it cost-effective, even those forgotten spaces we often neglect: washrooms.

Good architecture has its price. But bad architecture – or no architecture at all – will cost you more, Ruth Reed

Let’s think about it for a second. Washrooms are the first place a client might visit when they come to your business. Along with the reception area and the lift lobby, your washroom should convey a positive image. Clean lines, durable materials, high-quality design that shows clients and staff that you care.

As expectations rise, landlords should see commercial washrooms as valuable marketing assets  in other words, an opportunity to help attract prospective tenants or buyers.

High-quality washrooms reflect you and your business

There are countless factors to take into consideration: hygiene, cleanliness, privacy, suitable lighting and ventilation are only a few of them. Details are of the utmost importance: smooth-locking mechanisms, sensor-activated taps, high-performance materials such as Corian or laminated glass, solid vanity units for a seamless, contemporary look (less joins also means less dirt-infested gaps where overtime, germs can accumulate).

Durability is key, particularly in high-traffic spaces. Designing commercial washrooms with that in mind will help reduce further costs related to maintenance. Non-corrosive metal fittings, resilient laminate panels are hygienic but also cost-effective options.

Modular, integrated-service vanity units are becoming increasingly popular too, pre-plumbed systems can help save time and money when it comes to specification and installation.

Commercial washroom in Broadgate Quarter, by Maxwood

Maxwood's washroom for Broadgate Quarter, London. Photo source

The new tenants of Broadgate Quarter in the heart of the City of London benefit from luxurious washrooms featuring innovative materials such as Swisslamex glass. Designed by Maxwood, in collaboration with fit-out specialists ISG, the washrooms also include lockers and benches for the rising number of London commuters who cycle to work; according to The Evening Standard, an average of 155,000 a day cycled to work in 2015.

In a report titled “Good design – it all adds up", Ruth Reed, British architect and former president of the RIBA, states there is a "danger that in the rush to cut costs we lose more than money from our building projects. To avoid diminishing the quality of life that good design brings, it is necessary to identify the value created by thoughtful and responsive architecture.”

What is good design and how to use it in commercial real estate?

There are countless trends for commercial interiors, from large-scale geometric patterns to collaborative, break-out spaces, but what about the bigger picture? How can we use design to optimise a reception area all the while turning it into an asset?

The recently unveiled Hiscox office in York could teach us a lesson or two about optimising while generating more revenue for the owner. Designed by MAKE, the office boasts a spacious atrium, featuring a 12-metre-long, decommissioned Soviet missile as a centrepiece and a grand staircase with balconies designed to encourage interaction.

Hiscox office building by Make architects

The Hiscox building boasts an airy, mixed-use atrium. Photo source: supplied. 

Aside from the bold statement the atrium makes, the latter also serves multiples functions, gathering a reception, a café, an informal meeting area and a break-out space for staff all in the same area.

Flexible spaces help landlords enhance their revenue

The 2016 Gensler Design Forecast report states the importance of mixed-use commercial office buildings. “As workers gravitate toward social settings, apart from home and work, new and repositioned “office buildings” will make room for them. Openness and connection to adjoining buildings and districts will gain importance. As mobile workers switch between office space and “third place” alternatives, owners and developers that focus on transit-served, mixed-use districts may have an edge in attracting them.”

Taking cue from residential properties and hospitality, office buildings with mixed-use lobbies could generate more revenue for owners by integrating settings that will draw traffic, even outside of work hours. Coffee shops, restaurants, conference halls, retail and even concierge services will raise the destination value.

Sustainability is a front-and-centre issue

For tenants looking for a new office space, sustainability is also a much sought-after factor and developers should see this as another resource to further drive innovation and efficiency.

A ‘green’ office reception can convey the right image and set the tone. Where possible, entrances should be bathed in natural light. Not only does this reduce the need for artificial lighting, it also creates an inviting entrance and positive atmosphere.

“Going green is good business” says Johan Karlström, president and CEO of world-leading development and construction company Skanska in the 2013 Business Case For Green Building report. The latter also states that “as investors and occupants become more knowledgeable about and concerned with the environmental and social impacts of the built environment, buildings with better sustainability credentials enjoy increased marketability.”

Green office buildings attract tenants easier and this philosophy needs to be clear from the onset. Not only will this command higher rent, it will also increase marketability.

Reception desk in the Ampersand Building by Darling Associates

The timber reception desk and wall graphics create a striking first impression. Photo source

The Ampersand building, completed in 2015, boasts a sustainable, light-filled reception intended to draw passers-by into the reception area, made accessible to the public. Designed by Darling Associates for developer Resolution, the office and residential building embraces sustainability through the use of passive design and energy efficient materials. As for the reception area, it doubles as an art installation – proof that furniture can make or break a space.

So how important are first impressions in commercial real estate?

Landlords who understand that good design adds value, also understand the importance of high-quality reception areas and washrooms. If an office reception imparts a positive feeling, if a washroom tells a story of quality, then the rest of the space is bound to follow the same principles.  

Ergonomic furniture, exquisite materials, eye-catching details, all join forces to ensure those public spaces make a good first impression. Such functional, optimised areas will increase the office marketability, particularly if sustainability is taken into consideration.

Reception areas that integrate amenities such as coffee shops and retail will also generate more revenue for owners, thus making mixed-use spaces particularly profitable.  

In the words of Oscar Wilde, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression”, especially in commercial real estate, where valuable customers like being identified as such. So if your business relies on a fraction of a second, how will you make it count?

A roundup of London’s best coworking spaces

Premium location, designer furniture, hip eateries... London's coworking scene has set the bar high.

Makerversityat Somerset House London - coworking spaces for professional makers

As the concept of office-sharing continues to thrive, coworking spaces in London are becoming ubiquitous. Stiff competition often leads to innovation with offices striving to stand out from a busy crowd by offering a panoply of facilities and cool features.

Open memberships, members-only clubs, hot desking for freelancers, you name it, there will most likely be a coworking space to provide for it. With facilities ranging from cleaning services, through printing to infinite streams of roasted coffee and hip eateries, London's coworking spaces have set the bar high and they must keep it high if they want to succeed.

Here is a roundup of those spaces to quench your curiosity, spark your imagination and inspire you to make your coworking space more profitable.

Central Working Farringdon

Central Working Farringdon

Bathed in natural light, beautifully furnished and conveniently located, Central Working Farringdon offers stylish coworking spaces as well as a luxurious private office for up to 18 people. A membership-based club for start-ups, Central Working offers five locations across London.

Walthamstow Central Parade

Coworking space and bakery cafe by Gort Scott, London. Photography is by Dirk Lindner.

What used to be a rundown office block has become a hub for local creatives in London's Walthamstow. Renovated by London studio Gort Scott, the mixed-use building now features stylish coworking spaces with varied facilities, maker studios and a bakery cafe.

Google Campus

Campus London

The Google Campus might not have a slide like many Google offices do, but it offers coworking spaces particularly well-suited to tech startups. Designed by Jump Studios, the Google Campus boasts a Lego-clad reception desk, an ‘inspiration wall’, and is the perfect coworking space for those looking to network and meet like-minded people.

Ace Hotel Shoreditch

Ace Hotel London Shoreditch, by Universal Design Studio

More of a communal space than a coworking space per se, the Ace Hotel deserves a spot on this list nonetheless. Comfy sofas, a large communal table, cool furniture designed by local artists, a British eatery and, of course, great coffee, all conspire to make it a worthy contender.

The Office Group at The Shard

The Office Group at the Shard, by Archer Humphreys Architects

Considered to be the pioneer of shared workspaces in the UK, The Office Group prides itself on 27 locations in London alone. Although members can use any site, the coworking spaces on the 24th and 25th floor of The Shard and the panoramic views they offer might be hard to resist. The 33,600 sq ft space offers a mix of private offices, drop-in working areas, lounges and conference rooms available to any business.

WeWork Southbank

WeWork South Bank

Complete with a terrace, bike storage, a game lounge, showers and a communal penthouse space overlooking the Thames, WeWork South Bank is spread over five floors within the iconic Sea Containers House complex. A pet-friendly policy and praised location (WeWork South Bank sits among some of the city’s finest bars and eateries) contribute to a hip, design-led environment open to a vibrant, eclectic community.

Acoustic panels for the office – a selection to inspire

How can you soundproof your office in style? 

With the proliferation of open plan offices, acoustic management is quickly becoming an absolute necessity for offices, and a sweet opportunity to shine for the acoustics market. In the field of sound absorption, the workplace industry is spoilt for choice with acoustic solutions, be it panels, tiles, baffles or dual-purpose acoustic dividers.

As for materials, acoustic specialists keep outperforming one another, revolutionising the business with eco-friendly options that include wool, natural wood fibres, cement and recyclable felt made from upholstery waste, all the while without impeding on aesthetics.

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 a freestanding unit or ceiling-mounted baffles.

Don't know where to start? Here's a selection of decorative acoustic panels to give you an idea of what's out there.

BAUX acoustic plank for UK law firm

Architect: Keppie Design. Architect/Designer: Gordon Yeaman

BAUX hexagon acoustic panels

Combining functionality with aesthetics has never been easier with the diverse range of BAUX acoustic panels. Vibrant colours and warm materials can transform virtually any wall into a functional work of art that also happens to reduce unwanted sound. Neat. 

BAUX wool wood acoustic panels

Architect Jerilyn Wright & Associates. Architect designer: Caleb Solomons. Calgary, Canada
Designer: Tatjana Fairhurst at design agency I-AM

If your office walls are too busy, you can opt for acoustic panels disguised as clever dividers. Whether it be standalone, hanging from the ceiling, this solution is perfect for open plan offices in need of both acoustic insulation and increased privacy.

Notes sound panel by Luca Nichetto for Offecct

Scale: super-modular standalone acoustic panel by Layer

Opening image: meeting room featuring BAUX acoustic wood wool panels

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