Oxygen rooms, Zoom booths and innovation hubs: welcome to the new office HQ
A redefined relationship with the office calls for a rethink of traditional workspaces. The Office Group’s chief people officer Sarah Gillett and head of design Nasim Koerting discuss how companies embracing a hybrid work model are enhancing culture, wellbeing and inclusivity in their HQs through an innovative use of space
How is The Office Group approaching its ‘return to work’?
SG We are seeing a shift in the relationship between the employer and the employee. Offering people flexibility may well be critical to getting and keeping the best people going forward. In the traditional office sense, the employer would decide when you come in and how long you’re in for, but the pandemic has changed this. We believe it’s about giving the employee choice. Our people and our members have the benefit of being able to work from any Work Space in our platform and all offer 24/7 access - effectively giving them the freedom to work how, when and where they work best.
At The Office Group (TOG), after an extended period of remote working, we’re asking our people to come together in our central head office at least three days a week to collaborate and maintain our culture, which is so important. During those days we promote zoom-free time to ensure they make the most of the face-to-face opportunities with the rest of the team.
We’re very passionate about our product and so we’ve always encouraged our teams to use our Work Spaces and work from whichever space suits them best (TOG has more than 50 flexible Work Spaces across London, Bristol, Leeds, Berlin and Frankfurt). We’re constantly talking to our people about how they work best and our flexible working policy is a result of these conversations as well as being informed by multiple staff surveys conducted since remote working began.
You’ve created a new head office for TOG at your Work Space in London’s Fitzrovia. How have you shaped this with hybrid and flexible working in mind - and the changing relationship employees may now have with the office?
SG We believe that the office has a new purpose. It’s now more of a collaborative, social and creative environment, not just rows of desks where you plug in from nine to five, or longer. It’s got to be a space where you can come in and do your best work, that offers a variety of spaces to do that depending on the task and the role you do.
NK The HQ concept is still really important. That’s why we’ve built our own from scratch, because we realise there’s a need for it. We know that certain parts of the business, like sales teams, don’t need to be at their desks all day, every day, so they don’t need fixed desks. Hence we’ve created an HQ that feels more dynamic and flexible, where people can come together from different departments through hot desking.
We’ve actually ended up with slightly more space to accommodate everyone when we are all together so people can choose from different purpose-designed spaces such as a quiet place for focused work, a collaboration zone for creative project work and break-out space to catch up with colleagues over coffee.
Can you elaborate more on the role design and technology have to play in the post-pandemic HQ?
NK We’ve always had an interior design team that works specifically on client alterations to our Work Spaces, but now our clients are requesting a more bespoke service. There’s more demand for acoustic finishes to be able to have video calls within the office and ‘Zoom booths’ are a big thing now, as well as breakout meeting zones within an open plan area.
In terms of a wider trend, we previously had a lot of small businesses attracted to our spaces, because of the flexibility. An exciting trend that had started well before the pandemic, but now does really seem to be accelerating, is that we see a lot of larger corporations moving towards flex space.
Recently, BP partnered with TOG to design and develop a new Work Space for its innovation team moving into Douglas House in central London. That was a huge step for a corporation of that size to embrace flex space so passionately.
We have a lot of amenities in the building, such as a café, state-of-the-art gym, terrace, meditation room, parents room and even an ‘oxygen room’ - a room with lots of plants, large windows that open and natural light. It’s not something we have in every Work Space, as we like to design different, unique spaces in each of our buildings.
We’re also introducing air quality sensors and adjustable air temperature, because not everyone likes to work at the same temperature. There is a huge emphasis on enhancing the wellness and inclusivity of workspaces.
The wellbeing agenda means that we’re increasingly in touch with HR and people teams, which are becoming decision-makers for their office space. Combined with the expertise of their heads of real estate, this brings a more human approach to property strategies.
We’re looking at ways to integrate technology and sensors so that clients can see which spaces their employees use the most, giving people more choice over where they work. A great example of tech and design working hand in hand.
What role do you feel the office HQ plays in creating and building company culture?
SG It’s a social thing, where relationships and friendships are made with people across different areas. It’s harder to achieve that with a video call or when you’re just working on task-based activities all the time. If you don’t have everyone together, or the ability for everyone to come together, I’m not sure how you can protect your culture in the long-term or grow together as a business.
We’ve seen examples of people joining during the pandemic and you can’t get your company culture across on a screen - it’s almost impossible. You can’t really make people feel part of something, and fall in love with where they work, just in that way.
At TOG, we want to offer the best work environment we possibly can to our own team and to help our clients to achieve the same, especially as ways of working continue to evolve. We believe we must give people more choice over how, where and when they work, to ensure we have a happy, engaged and productive workforce.
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