I recall the first office building I worked in as a banking assistant in the 80’s without delight – it was drab, depressing and lifeless. Without Art or any flair for design, the building reflected the values of the businesses who dwelled inside – minimise costs, optimise efficiency and functionality.
Nothing about the building, inside or out, could be said to inspire. Nowadays, that philosophy is changing.
For some thought leaders, the philosophy of business and leadership is changing, from ‘Ask not what my employees can do for me, but what I can do for my employees’. Whereas good leadership has previously been about pushing forward from the front, dragging your team along behind you and leading by example, nowadays business leadership is about supporting from the bottom, providing everything your team needs to flourish and lead themselves.
Many Tech startups are at the forefront of this movement in which supporting your employees is paramount – their wellbeing, their health and their happiness. The idea is that happy, healthy, stress-free employees will perform at their best. Many of these tech companies provide excellent food, provide employees travel to and from work, bedrooms at work for napping, and a range of other novel ideas to keep employees healthy and happy at work.
The workspace has been integral to this change in philosophy. For starters, rather than being simply a space to facilitate employees doing their job, it has now become a space to facilitate their relaxation, health and happiness. That means many offices accommodate modern kitchens, social spaces and lose their hard, functional edge. Check out the Facebook HQ, for example (below), which features an 18 hole mini golf course on the rooftop!
As well as the functional aspect of workspaces changes, the aesthetic is also changing. As companies look to support and inspire their workers, the value of architecture to set the mood and emotion of its inhabits is being utilised more and more.
WeWork co-working space in London is a great example – although their spaces couldn’t be said to be financially economical or space efficient, their design is breathtaking modern, inspiring, clever, and reflective of the companies they house (their prices reflect this too – eyewatering!)
But don’t be fooled into thinking it’s only the big tech companies who are leading the charge in the workspace. I recently drove past Corbygate BusinessPark (below), which houses the software company Statement-Matching.com (who provide automated vendor account reconciliations) and just had to stop the car and get out to admire the freestanding all-glass façade of the building.You wouldn’t have seen buildings like this in rural England a few years ago – surely a sign that the design landscape in the workspace is changing up and down the country.
I’m delighted that capitalist businesses see the value in having workspaces that go beyond functionality and efficiency to inspire and support the society in which they’re based. Unlike residential or retail space, office spaces are a fascinating study in collaboration – how people can come together and work to achieve amazing things. Companies by definition generate profit – some of them huge amounts – and seeing how this profit can be reinvested back into workspaces for the benefit of the company by way of their employees as well as society as a whole.