The pursuit of happiness
20 February 2019
Serviced office provider Office Space in Town is preparing to open what it claims will be "the happiest place to work in London". Catherine Hackett spoke to the company's CEO and development director to find out if it can live up to such high expectations
Not many people can say they've brainstormed inside a hot air balloon or hosted a board meeting onboard an international space station. Soon, though, more than 475 people will be able to do just that when a new serviced office space opens in London.
The creative design behind 22 Tudor Street in Blackfriars has been inspired by the theme of “happiness”, and is intended to help boost productivity and wellness at work.
The hot air balloon and space station aren't real by the way. These are two of nine individually designed meeting rooms based on the theme of ‘what makes you happy’. These rooms will be one of the key highlights at the 37,500 sq ft. serviced office space, which will also be the first in the UK to use smart windows that tint automatically.
The building is currently undergoing an extensive £8.5 million refurbishment and will be open to tenants from June 2019.
Creativity meets flexibility
The Blackfriars project is the latest offering from serviced office provider Office Space in Town (OSiT), perhaps best known for its 'Alice in Wonderland'-inspired office in Waterloo, which opened in 2014 and has been 95% occupied ever since.
"I think we proved that people wanted something different, and we've made a concerted effort to make sure that every one of our buildings is now an individual building," Simon Eastlake, developments director at OSiT, says.
OSiT's other locations include a board game theme at Liverpool Street, a nautical theme at Monument, and an Art Deco style in Mayfair.
The company takes care of utilities, bills and the day-to-day running of the building through a dedicated onsite management and operational team, so businesses are free to hit the ground running.
With all-inclusive rents, instant occupancy and flexible contracts as short as three months, serviced offices have become a popular option for thousands of London businesses.
"Businesses can scale up or scale down, which you can't do if you take a fixed lease space," Eastlake says.
This, he adds, suits today's fast-paced business environment.
"I don't think business as a whole now has the ability to be able to commit to a fixed lease for 10 or 15 years. Technology moves so quickly that you may have had a hundred staff 10 years ago and now you only need five."
Add to that the ability to network.
"You're in a community of other businesses so you get to pitch your businesses to clients in the next office or at community events," OSiT CEO Giles Fuchs says. "And we do find our clients are doing a lot of business with other clients."
Wellness at work
OSiT offers serviced office suites to substantial businesses that may have their HQ elsewhere but wish to replicate the quality of their image in London with a handful of employees.
Providing a nice work environment can also help employers show their staff that they value them. This can not only improve employee motivation and engagement but also attract and retain new talent.
Fuchs adds: "The businesses occupying our offices tell us that they wouldn't have been able to attract the calibre of candidate to work for them if the space wasn't so beautifully designed. The other thing they tell us in terms of their staff is that they stay longer because of the space they're working in."
One often overlooked catalyst for productivity is employee happiness. A recent survey by recruitment firm Robert Half suggests a happy worker is 12 per cent more productive than a miserable one.
While creating an environment where people want to work has been key to all of OSiT's serviced offices, the focus on wellness will be ramped up at 22 Tudor Street as the main theme is inspired by happiness.
"If businesses take an office here, their staff are happier, they're more productive, the client is more successful, and they stay longer with us," Eastlake says.
From space station to sea haven
To achieve this, OSiT worked with designer Sam Kopsch Studio, with the fit-out managed by commercial office design specialists Area.
To create a feeling of calm when you enter, the reception area has been designed in the style of a five-star hotel and spa. The design is based on the biophilia hypothesis, which suggests humans seek connections with nature. That means neutral colours, natural materials and plants hanging like a canopy from the ceiling, along with soft seating.
The rest of the ground floor houses eight of the themed meeting rooms, which vary in size from four- to 30-person suites.
To determine the theme of each meeting room, Sam Kopsch Studio sent out a survey to the entire build team and asked: What makes you happy?
Many of the responses evoked the wonder and delight of childhood, with nostalgia for seaside holidays and the joy of play and make-believe.
Besides the hot air balloon and space station themes mentioned earlier, you can choose to take your meeting in an aquatic haven under the sea, complete with mermaid, or in a train-themed room where an electric train set runs along the meeting room table.
If those don't have you skipping to your meeting, you can opt for rooms inspired by Lego, filled with model cars or covered in 'infinity' mirrors – reminiscent of house of mirrors attractions at funfairs. There is also an auditorium filled with balloons.
Eastlake adds: "It's all about bringing a smile to your face. You may not like all of the designs but you'll certainly want to show them off – we have this in other buildings where our tenants are really proud of where they work and they want to show their clients the meeting rooms."
Giant bugs in the basement
The basement houses a safari-themed boardroom for 20 people with giraffes coming out of the walls as well as a meeting room, which isn't themed but has a large interactive screen for people to get collaborative over presentations.
This floor also features a large business lounge, which is a different take on the trend for biophilia.
"It's more based around the 'Honey I Shrunk The Kids' film and collecting bugs when you were a kid," Eastlake says. "There are some beautiful plants and natural design on the carpets, and then you have a 7ft butterfly in a box along with a ladybird and a stag beetle, so real talking points."
As a healthy body can also help to bring a healthy mind, the environment will look to encourage tenants to exercise by providing cycle storage and shower and changing facilities, as well as a gym studio.
There are also plans to "gamify the stairs" to encourage people to take the stairs and not the lift by running competitions such as 'the first company to climb Everest by using the stairs wins a prize'.
The basement will also house a 1980s-themed games arcade, which is aimed at creating a community feel, and there will be monthly competitions on the various games to facilitate this.
Take a break
The high design is confined to the reception, common areas and meeting rooms, "so if you really don't like them you don't have to use those spaces," Giles says. "The offices where you actually work are fairly vanilla so companies can brand their own space."
Over 475 workstations will be split between five office floors, with suites available to rent for between two and 40 people.
Each floor has its own individual colour treatment. Inspirational quotes displayed on the walls to encourage wellbeing and mindfulness are the only obvious signs of the happiness theme, but more subtle elements have been designed in to motivate and encourage a healthy mindset. One of these is giving tenants more space, with an average of 48 sq ft of office space per person.
There are lots of other seating where you can get away from your office too: people can have informal meetings or eat their lunch in large breakout areas, and phone booths mean private phone calls no longer have to be taken in the corridor. Each office floor also contains a large kitchen complete with microwaves, dishwashers and fridges.
For the first time in its offices, OSiT will be bringing in sit-stand desks as standard.
Sit-stand desks are already popular in Scandinavia, with over 90% of office workers having a sit-stand desk in Denmark, and they're starting to become more commonplace in the UK.
While research into the benefits of sit-stand desks is ongoing, a greater level of movement – even between the two postures if you are unable to take regular breaks – is important as it encourages good blood flow that, in turn, maintains alertness and reduces muscular fatigue.
Smooth building operation is just as important as the design of serviced offices when it comes to providing a comfortable environment. Over the years, OSiT has learnt that there are four factors in particular that are most important to tenants.
"We can put all the fluffy bits around the edge but great IT with consistent, quality broadband, high standard soundproofing, individually controlled air conditioning, and remarkably clean buildings – that's really what is most important when you're sat at your desk everyday," Fuchs says.
To achieve the latter, OSiT set up its own cleaning company after spending many years trying to find quality cleaners, and it now provides a housekeeper for each building.
Natural light and a pleasant view can also enhance wellbeing at work. In consideration of this, 22 Tudor Street will be the first building in the UK to feature Clear View Dynamic Glass – intelligent, electrochromic windows that automatically tint to maximise natural light and reduce heat and glare.
Eastlake says: "Unfortunately in the UK when the sun comes out, you pull the blinds down, and you lose all your natural light and all your view.
"The windows that we're putting into Tudor Street are connected to a weather station on the roof which tracks the weather live. The windows change from clear to 90% dark, depending on cloud cover and where the sun is in the sky, so they're in constant flux. It means we've done away with blinds completely and so you as an employee will never lose your view."
Service, of course, is key to keeping tenants happy, and while Eastlake believes it's the quirky designs that attract clients to its buildings in the first place, it's "the social events we put on, the community feel, and the quality of our staff that keeps our clients in the building".
At a target monthly desk rate of £750, happiness doesn't come cheap but, according to the latest studies, it can certainly pay.