Who are the trailblazers of the revolution in workspace design?

Google’s zany office interiors have long been a source of workplace envy. Development of the next addition to the portfolio – and new neighbour for London King’s Cross station – is, appropriately enough, delayed. Initial plans, which included an indoor football pitch, climbing wall and rooftop pool, were considered ‘boring’. Clearly, Google’s quest for the holy grail of office design is still very much on track, but which other companies are also looking for the ideal workspace?

All work and no play…

Over at ‘Fruit Towers’, the west London headquarters of Innocent Drinks, there are picnic benches, table-tennis and an imitation lawn. Innocent’s website proudly refers to its ranking in a The Sunday Times list of best companies to work for. This much-imitated brand must be doing something pretty unique to make 380 staff feel happy and motivated. (And surely it’s something more than free smoothies and picnic lunches on fake grass?)

Google, of course, is at the other end of the scale, with around 60,000 employees. But it is recognised for a similar quirkiness and attention to staff wellbeing (and even fun), having already enjoyed six years in the top spot of Fortune’s list of superlative employers. Perhaps even the heavyweights can benefit from mixing business with pleasure.

Step away from the desk!

That’s not to say these approaches to office design are only about fun. Whether it’s table-tennis, climbing or a stroll to find a picnic table at lunchtime, physical activity is a healthy addition to anyone’s workday. The On Your Feet Britain campaign warns that sitting for long periods at work is unhealthy, even if you’re active outside of working hours.

Strengthening the idea that workplace wellbeing thrives on activity-based spaces is the new office of Australian health insurer Medibank. Designed to put its values into practice by boosting the health of members, employees and the wider community alike, it has been heralded as one of the healthiest workplaces in the world. The 22-storey building boasts 26 different types of work setting, an indoor sports court, edible garden and demonstration kitchen used to promote healthy eating.

Getting staff talking

Prising staff from their desks also gets them interacting, even if purely by accident. Samsung’s new office in Silicon Valley achieves its aim of increased collaboration with striking simplicity. Described as a giant glass doughnut, its curved design means workers can see their colleagues on the floors above and below them. It also encourages chance encounters as they move around the space.

Also hoping to foster creativity and teamwork by ‘designing in’ collaboration and transparency, Microsoft’s headquarters in Denmark took its design inspiration from a paper written by Bill Gates about cooperation and knowledge-sharing. The office, which brings together two previously separate Microsoft units, consists of two blocks joined by an atrium. It’s the perfect physical representation of linking, sharing and collaborating.

When is a tower not a tower?

Linked buildings were also the solution for Tencent’s new headquarters in Shenzhen. China’s most powerful internet company is said to have favoured a trendy campus design, Silicon Valley-style. But built-up Shenzhen demanded a space-efficient tower format. Nevertheless, clever design still achieves a feeling of openness and movement. Two towers are joined with a series of bridges. These are useable spaces in their own right, housing everything from museums and cafeterias to gyms and juice bars. It’s definitely not your average towerblock.

Creating togetherness

The relative space and flexibility afforded by sprawling campus-style arrangements are beloved by media and tech companies the world over. But you don’t have to work for Apple or Amazon to enjoy this level of creativity and collaboration. In fact, you don’t even need to work in a corporate office: research shows that the latest co-working spaces achieve these same ideals.

Second Home is a high-end co-working space off London’s Brick Lane. Designed by renowned Spanish architects SelgasCano, it’s an eclectic showcase of flexibility, innovation and integration. Sound-proofed enclosures, semi-public and private workspaces, a ‘resting room’ and a café that’s open to the public offer spaces for pretty much everything. Many are multipurpose, like the shared work-zone with a central table that can be hoisted to the ceiling to create an open area for lectures, classes and other events. It’s a truly human-centred environment.

Perfection through technology

Technology is perhaps the ultimate enabler of the perfect – and therefore human-centred – workspace. Cisco’s new innovation centre in Berlin, for example, has more than 10,000 sensors that collect and analyse data including room temperature, lighting, power consumption, and even how much employees are sweating, to fine-tune the surroundings. It has been described as Berlin’s smartest building.

Is ideal even possible?

But even with technology’s ingenuity, the pursuit of the ideal workspace is certainly not a straightforward quest. At first glance, there may appear to be some gimmicks along the way – but any office that acknowledges employees as living, breathing (potentially even happy) individuals is probably worth a second look. It may not be perfect, but it could well be part of the best possible solution.


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