Make: What is the future of workplace design

by Lars Brown

Great venue, great panel, great wine. Thank you, Make!

The conversation at Make's debut Exchange event was probably the most insightful and interesting we've seen from a panel in 2018. Made up of developers, architects and strategic consultants, there was a breadth of knowledge in the room which was expertly curated by the chair, Jack Sallabank of Future Places Studio. There was a lot of discussion and a lot of value given to the audience, but there were a few key themes that really stood out to us on the night.

"The humanisation of the workplace still has a long way to go"

This is an interesting topic for a number of reasons. Surely with the rise of serviced office spaces and the near industry-wide introductions of flexible working cultures, we are better placed than ever for people to feel at home in their workplace? Well, yes, but there are still things that are being overlooked. Nick Searl of Argent gave us some great anecdotes of his time working in Asia, where taking naps in the office during the working day is the norm and has been shown to boast productivity and improve the wellbeing of staff. He also spoke very eloquently about how, although we may perceive the workplace in 2018 to more like home, there are cultural and social attitudes that we overlook on a daily basis, that is preventing the progression of true humanisation. A great example is the way we dress. Sure, there is the need to be professional at work, but still for the most part we dress very differently in the office to the way we do at home (probably a good thing for many people!). There is still plenty of work to be done to blur the lines between a working space and a living space, if that is indeed the direction we want the workplace to go.

"We must design more experiential areas to make people look up from their phone"

For some time I have been of the opinion that the modern workplace is becoming an enabler for people's over-use of technology and this is a view that Jacob Loftus of General Projects seems to share. There is much good that comes from technological advancement that is incorporated in the workplace, but Jacob sees the need for more encouragement of social, face to face interaction. He feels that this can be achieved through design, by incorporating surprising, exciting features into the built environment that make you want to look at something other than your screen.

In a recent project he incorporated a bright yellow bike ramp to the entrance to bring a smile to those that cycle to work every day, as well as neon lights in the toilets to add an element of surprise to the design. Similar thinking went into MAKE's design for Hiscox in York - founder Ken Shuttleworth described the impressive 12ft decommissioned soviet rocket in the atrium, which acts as the perfect reason to take some time to look up (shown left). "The open layouts [which surrounds this piece] were designed to create a strong sense of community and collaboration".

"What is the impact of WeWork on the built environment?"

We were naive to think that we could attend a talk this year without WeWork being brought up and it was actually the one subject that prompted some light-hearted disagreement in the panel. Nick presented an extremely interesting concept of utilising the growth of serviced offices to help the dying high streets in the UK. Perhaps bank, coffee shops and retailers could incorporate shared working space into their design, to "give people a reason to return to the high street", he said. This caught our imagination and it is this kind of visionary thinking that gets us to these events in the first place - you'll hear some of us talking about this at the Slaughtered Lamb tonight, I'm sure.

Jacob on the other hand, who was accepting of the fact that WeWork had caused the biggest disruption to the built environment in the quickest time we've seen, was of the opinion that at some point the expansion of WeWork owned buildings in cities must eventually reach critical mass. This doesn't mean, though, that the growth of the concept would stop. Quite the opposite, however it may provoke a switch in the way in which they are managed. Jacob referenced the hotel and hospitality sector, whereby franchises and management agents are used to continue growth without the need for the 'brand' to continue to purchase and develop their own space. We can see both of these ideas coming to fruition in the future.

A really great evening and some really interesting thoughts shared. We're looking forward to returning soon (mostly because Make's office is a great place to be!).

Full panel: Ken Shuttleworth (founder of Make), Nick Searl (partner of Argent and Argent Related. Chairman of the BCO London Awards panel), Jacob Loftus (founder of General Projects) and Julia Jones (CEO of Found in Music). Thanks to all for their time.