Tuesday, 20 November 2012

It's a Jungle in There

For some time I have been, on what feels like a lonely crusade, evangelising about the need to design workplaces that focus on recognising psychological [1] factors and enhancing individual performance [2], rather than simply concerned with saving space. I was beginning to think that I would never find an occupier who truly understood how their offices could be used to facilitate and improve their business rather than treat it as a cost burden that should be avoided. However, my recent visit to Lend Lease's Regents Place offices (as part of the Workplace Trends tours) has restored my faith in common (business) sense.

Just entering the shared atrium in their multi-tenanted building gives a tantalising insight into what lies in store in Lend Lease's office. Facing me was a large art installation constructed from red and gold coloured mirrors which subtly reflect the surrounding office spaces. Despite the red mirrors, the greenness (in both colour and planting) of Lend Lease's offices is evident. 

Although, the sceptic may consider the planting (some 3,800 plants) a gimmick, Lend Lease maintain that the plants are there for good reasons - predominantly that of improving productivity. Lend Lease unearthed research showing that plants improve air quality which in turn has been shown, in other studies, to improve performance. But contradictory research has suggested that for plants to have a positive effect on air quality in offices, it would require a rain-forest-load of plants - whilst there is an abundance of plants they are nonetheless not a rain forest. However, it cannot be denied that, despite being an Australian company, Lend Lease have in England created a green and pleasant land, which will appeal to our innate affinity to greenery, termed biophelia, and have a positive effect on occupant satisfaction, motivation, and performance (all bar the odd hay fever sufferer). Furthermore, Lend Lease has found that the healthiness of the plants is an indicator of the air quality– so perhaps plants are the canaries of the office world.

If Lend Lease do clearly demonstrate that their enhanced air quality does increase productivity they will not be able to claim it is due to the planting alone. That is because they have also doubled the fresh air supply rate, compared to British standards. Although this will increase energy (and carbon) costs, as they are not recycling treated air, Lend Lease firmly believe the productivity benefits make it all worthwhile. I actually admire their commitment for investing in their workplace based on productivity research findings and for putting people (and, let’s not forget, business) above cost reduction. Perhaps the combined plants and increased fresh air is a case of "belt and braces" - I will leave the reader to decide if that is wasteful or just a good low risk strategy.
Lend Lease, like everyone else, have opted for a bench desk system but the workplace nevertheless still feels spacious. I think this mainly due to a mixture of generous primary and secondary circulation space (to facilitate mingling). In addition, the adjacent nicely designed, cosy, comfortable and ample quiet and informal meeting spaces all help break up the desking. I found the space simply a delight to walkthrough and can imagine myself comfortable and happy in this place.
Furthermore, there are well provided breakout and coffee areas on each floor. Like Macquarie Bank, these areas are stocked with good quality beverages and free toast and free porridge. Clearly Australians are grazers; but regardless of antipodean eating habits these areas literally cater for evolutionary psychological needs and thus create an attractive reason for meeting and socialising with colleagues - which in turn builds trust and in turn facilitates collaboration. The low-GI porridge is aimed at increasing energy levels.
The meeting rooms all seemed well space planned with good AV to facilitate productive meetings [3] and reduce the need for printing. Special attention has been paid to the daylight and electric lighting throughout the building – again acknowledging evolutionary psychological needs and productivity research findings.
So have I finally found a workplace where the property team understands the primary reason for offices is to facilitate the occupying business and maximise performance? Well possibly, but I have only walked through the space; my preference is to wait for the results of the post occupancy evaluation [4] as it is the occupants who are best placed to say how well the space works for them.
  1. Oseland N A (2009) The impact of psychological needs on office design. Journal of Corporate Real Estate, 11 (4), 244-254.
  2. Oseland N A and Burton A (2012) Quantifying the impact of environmental conditions on worker performance for inputting to a business case. Journal of Building Survey, Appraisal and Valuation, 1 (2).
  3. Oseland N A et al (2011) Environments for successful interaction. Facilities, 29 (1/2), 50-62.
  4. Oseland N A (2006) The BCO Guide to POE. London: British Council for Offices.

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