When we put this date in the diary we had (foolishly) expected a sunny August day out on the coast. The weather, however, has let us down. We arrive at Brighton railway station to find dark skies and drizzle. Not that our spirits are dampened – after all, we’re not here for the candy floss and amusements.
Instead, we’re here to take a look at the new UK home of Avalara. Located just a couple of minutes from the railway station, this new facility sits within the impressive Trafalgar Place, where we are met by a couple of familiar faces – Aedas’ Simon Jackson and Technique Resolutions’ Roger Croft – who are happy to give us the guided tour.
Avalara helps businesses of all sizes achieve compliance with VAT, sales tax, excise tax, and other transactional tax requirements by delivering comprehensive, automated, cloud-based solutions that are fast, accurate and easy to use.
Since 2004, Avalara has continually blazed new roads in what is an extremely old industry, working to help businesses of all sizes achieve tax compliance. The company’s end-to-end suite of solutions are designed to effectively manage complicated and burdensome tax compliance obligations imposed by state, local, and other taxing authorities in the United States and internationally.
Furthermore, Avalara boasts a forward-thinking, fresh working culture and approach to business – and this, we are assured, is carried through to its space.
We head up to the third floor of Lanchester House and immediately walk out to a cool, open breakout space, with no reception in sight. Simon explains that there was little need for a reception desk as all visitors (as we have already discovered) are asked to sign in with Lanchester House’s own reception back on ground level. This has also helped Simon and the Aedas team with one of the greatest challenges here – space, or lack of it. We’ll let Simon tell us more.
‘These guys are based in Seattle and they hit upon cloud software that is really revolutionary. They are continuously growing and expanding – and this is the second major office outside of the States.
‘They chose Brighton because they already had people here in a serviced office environment, testing the water as it were. Brighton has a great catchment – lots of creative, tech people are down here – and of course also benefits from cheaper rates than London!
‘So they started in the UK with a fairly small concern but quite quickly became successful. We were brought on board through our office in Seattle – the client contacted them and then they came to me – so this is the first time we have worked together.
‘They were originally supposed to have moved into this space in November last year. They are very strong on their brand – as you can see they wanted to implement what is a very vivid corporate brand here. The colours throughout the finishes and fabrics was emphatically stipulated. This is a special orange, for example (Pantone 138-C), which we had real trouble trying to source. In the end we had to go back to the States to specify it!
‘We were gearing up for a move towards the end of last year and then I got a phone call from the client saying that they had just won a large contract with a customer and were going to need space for a further 40 people. We had just signed off with the contractor and originally it was thought that we’d have to find a new, bigger space. We stopped everything and then looked at the original plans for this space.
‘One of the big parts of the scheme was a reception area / breakout space / Tiki bar – a large front-of-house space. It was quite a cool area. We realised that needs must and set about adapting this area to get a higher density throughout.
‘With all these adaptations, a new completion date of August was set.’
And here we are, in August, with Avalara’s first UK office now up and running. The colours and the large-scale graphics immediately catch the eye. While bright orange and blue and whole feature walls can be overpowering, they really work here, with the rest of the scheme remaining monotone. The Tiki bar area is still cool, despite it having to be reduced in size. We ask Simon to tell us more about the global specifications he and the team were asked to implement here. ‘We didn’t really have guidelines in place because they are still a relatively new company,’ he explains. ‘They did have a particular look and feel and had architects in Seattle helping them out.
‘The furniture became quite a challenge because they really wanted to use the same products that they use in the States but we couldn’t source a lot of them so we had to come up with products that looked and felt very similar. We looked to take those ‘global standards’ and make them a bit more international.’
Aedas turned to Technique to help with the challenges of the furniture package. Whilst US products had been specified throughout previous Avalara offices, it is our own UK products that take pride of place here: sit stand desking from Staverton, with storage from Bisley, and task seating from Orangebox– but more about that a little later.
Simon reveals that, earlier in the process, there was plenty more work to be done. ‘When we first looked at the space they had split the floor, and when we got it, it was still their Cat A, which was basically mineral fibre ceiling, not great quality raised floors, the air con systems were not really at standards – this is quite an old building now, probably late 1970’s, so a lot of it wasn’t really up to scratch. We’ve put in a new plant room on the roof to get that extra fresh air. Essentially, we had to update a lot of the base build.’
With the new systems in place, the team set about working on the look and feel of the space. ‘They wanted to come across as cool and fresh,’ Simon smiles. ‘In their US office in Durham, North Carolina they also have a cool Tiki bar with bleachers, but that’s on a much bigger scale than this, of course. One of the really nice things they do is they have a ‘Kegorator’ – a barrel of beer, essentially. They even have a Beer Keg Policy! I think this says a lot about their culture – they come together after work, chill out and enjoy a beer or two. They’re a pretty cool company.’
We move back to the subject of the workspace itself. ‘We felt that they really should be looking at benching systems,’ Simon continues, ‘which would massively help with the density issue and finding space for those 40 extra people.
‘We then suggested they consider looking at sit/stand systems – they looked into it and quickly decided that they should have sit/stand for everybody. There’s no desk sharing here – everyone has a fixed desk – although I guess that might change as they continue to grow. We do have some touchdown desks for visitors and staff from other offices – these are the only non-sit/stand systems in here.’
Roger picks up the story, ‘We’d been researching the Sit/Stand market in the fall of 2015 as our A&D contacts were telling us that their clients were being extremely proactive in requesting a sit stand solution, at least in part, for their offices. There are a myriad of products out there, some that work really well and some, quite frankly, that don’t. When Aedas approached us we immediately suggested the ‘Sit Or Stand’ (SOS) desk, from Staverton. SOS is not only very good in terms of build quality but it is also extremely flexible, allowing for fixed, crank and electrical adjustable options all within the exact same frame and footprint. Fortunately, we won the day with SOS and then worked with Aedas and Avalara to complete the product mix.
‘We supplied a number of tasks chairs for Avalara to test and Orangebox’s Do was chosen. We also had a lot of fun with the Tiki area, together deciding on Emeco’s Navy 1006 chair to complement Tolix tables, and also on the balcony, which needed a product to not only withstand the elements but also look great; for this we chose Vondon’s Delta chairs and tables.’
At the front of the space there is a series of smart bookable meeting rooms, including a larger room that doubles as a boardroom. There is also a fantastic outdoor terrace, which overlooks the town, the Pavilion and the sea.
Without being forewarned, we’d never had known that the plans here were so radically altered. The team has managed to pack an awful lot in, and yet it still manages to feel spacious and generous. As we stand on the terrace and look out to the sea, we suddenly realise the rain has finally stopped. There might be time for candy floss yet.