Aesthetics, community & collaboration: the trends impacting London’s workspaces

Headspace Group MD Jonathan Rosenblatt on changing attitudes towards work space

There’s a lot of buzz in the London property market around the raft of developments being fueled by global tech giants. Recently, Amazon became the latest to announce a major property development in the capital, whilst Google’s new Kings Cross headquarters continues to generate interest. The sheer size and cost of both projects – Amazon’s boasting space for 5,000 employees over 15 storeys; Google’s reportedly costing £1bn – is no doubt the main reason for interest, but for me what’s most significant about these new developments is what they say about attitudes towards work space in the capital and how these are changing. 

The headline stats are impressive - Amazon’s 15-story office in Shoreditch is expected to have space for a swimming pool, tennis court and basketball court, as well as roof terrace; Google’s, a climbing wall, indoor football pitch and a rooftop swimming pool – but dig beneath the surface and it’s clear that these designs are not just about imitating the local leisure centre, rather creating an environment in which employees can feel relaxed, creative and, crucially, productive.

One key message for me is of the increasing emphasis being placed on encouraging collaboration in the workplace. Indeed, when interviewed by the Guardian newspaper Simon Allford of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, the architects behind Google’s development, was quoted as saying that Google’s tenants “need to like the community of the building”, emphasising that the space will be designed to ‘encourage casual collisions of the workforce’.  This is quite a ‘tech’ approach to office space - Steve Jobs famously designed the offices of Pixar with this very concept in mind - but one which is arguably creeping into wider consciousness. Incubation, cross-pollination and co-working are all buzz words that are doing the rounds at the moment and they are not without scientific support. A 2012 study by MIT researchers, since written about in the Harvard Business Review, suggested that “the best predictors of productivity were a team’s energy and engagement outside formal meetings”.

Of course, opportunities for collaboration should not be created at the expense of privacy. A 2013 survey of US workers by Gensler, a global architectural planning and consulting firm, found that 77% of those surveyed prefer quiet when they need to focus, with 69% saying that they were disturbed by noise in the primary workspace. Many of our tenants at Headspace Group – typically SMEs in the tech and creative sectors – started life in co-working spaces only to find the noise and lack of privacy off-putting.

Community is also important in this respect; the idea that working alongside like minded businesses and individuals fosters opportunities and collaboration. One of the benefits oft cited about London’s Silicon Roundabout is the proximity to other people doing the same thing and this notion has fed directly into the boom in co-working and incubator spaces that have popped up across the city.

What’s also clear from new workspaces across the capital is that businesses are placing increasing emphasis on aesthetic and being in an environment that their employees want to spend time in and be proud of. We spend more waking hours in the office than we do at home, so why shouldn’t we care about how our office looks and feels? Commercial property trade magazine Estates Gazette recently coined to phrase “blingteria” to talk about this very trend i.e. the increasing demand from tenants to work in a space which on one hand is aesthetically pleasing, but also one which is consistent with their own brand and visual identity. This was something we thought about very carefully about when designing Headspace’s first site in Farringdon. We work only with designers who are more akin to working with bars and hotels, rather than office space, the objective being to create an environment which was more in line with a social space than traditional work space. Our new space, due to be open late October will feature a state-of-the-art event space which will act as a hub to encourage collaboration within our community.

Google announced in May that it would be carrying out review of its development pipeline, delaying a number of its major developments, including Kings Cross. It will be interesting to note how design plans differ from those that have previously been revealed but one thing I’m fairly certain of is that aesthetic, environment, collaboration and community will be at the heart of what is proposed.

Jonathan Rosenblatt is Managing Director of the Headspace Group, a flexible working space in Farringdon, London, catering for tech and creative businesses www.headspacegroup.co.uk

Jonathan Rosenblatt is Managing Director of the Headspace Group, a flexible working space in Farringdon, London, catering for tech and creative businesses

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