Counting Stars

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While navigating the throng of tourists at London Bridge, on our way to see Fourfront Group’s new home in the Counting House, we did a little bit of counting of our own. We’re pretty certain that this will be the fifth Fourfront/Area Sq office we’ve visited (including both Surrey and London).

We can’t recall visiting more offices of any other firm. That means two things – firstly, we’ve known one another a long time now, and secondly, this is still a firm very much on the up. Literally up in the case of the new Counting House space!

Indeed, the leading UK commercial interior specialist has recently relocated to a new state-of-the-art open-plan office on the 10,500 sq ft fifth floor of the Counting House – situated within the Hays Galleria – to accommodate substantial business expansion.

The Group’s Area Sq worked closely with its sister companies (furniture experts) Sketch and (workplace consultancy) 360 to design what it describes as ‘the ultimate workplace experience’.

To help inform the design brief, 360’s Head of Workplace Consultancy, Leeson Medhurst, first investigated how Fourfront operates as a business. ‘Workplace design has a huge impact on the way people work,’ Leeson tells us. ‘When we worked from Newman Street we wanted to introduce all those things that we talk about with our clients. We didn’t do this at Newman Street, but we really wanted to go on that journey ourselves.

‘It’s never a one-size-fits-all workplace solution; we firstly need to understand the culture, the business and its objectives before designing a suitable environment. Following a comprehensive consultancy process, which included workplace analysis and regular steering group meetings, we concluded that we are a highly fluid organisation, needing only a nominal amount of anchored desk positions, but requiring a high number of flexible working and meeting opportunities, which encourage a transient style of working that embraces employee empowerment, collaboration and freedom of movement.

‘We always talk about a four-stage process – the art of the possible, the discovery stage, co-creation and implementation. So we started by looking at what is possible here. We wanted to create an environment that would act a as showcase – a showroom – for everything that we do. In term of discovery, we wanted to try to find out how much space we could truly use or we could optimize to get the maximum use out of it – so we had to take an inward look at ourselves.

The space reflects the four brands working within it as well as ‘The Fourfront Way’ – the set of values that Fourfront Group upholds. The central avenue running through the core of the space includes branded podiums, which represent the four companies, while wall graphics display Fourfront’s values, encapsulating the Group’s ‘Stronger Together’ message.

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Harnessing the Group’s unique culture and family feel, the space encourages people to interact, work together and to have fun. Now we’ve seen many a workspace where ‘fun’ and ‘interaction’ are promoted, but here we can clearly see that the Group is genuinely putting its money where its mouth is, with a third of the entire floorplate being given for the dining and socialising area – The Larder.

Fourfronters are banned from eating ‘al-desco’ to encourage this social interaction. Not that you’d want to be eating at your desk once you’ve seen The Larder. With what looks like a full-scale Table Tennis tournament in full swing (the table can also be transformed into a pool table), we’re presented with coffee out of tap, via an iPad and take a seat in a cool booth to enjoy said coffee. We could definitely get used to this.

‘Our model is built on good relationships, and our people are at the heart of this,’ Dan Callegari, Area Sq’s Design Director, comments. ‘It was therefore imperative that we provided an inspiring environment, which not only supports staff wellbeing, but also epitomises the very latest in workplace design.’

From what we’ve already seen, you can tick both those boxes.

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The dynamic environment provides staff and clients alike with a range of agile working environments. Counting House can host 160 people at any one time and consists of collaborative, concentrative and communicative zones.

‘When we did the analysis we discovered that we were actually far more agile than we thought,’ Leeson reveals. ‘Facilitating this, the environment is 95% agile, so the space offers a diverse range of working platforms. If we really want to maximize the space we actually have 210 places that people can work at – so we’ve really maximized the space.’

These work setting include 82 desks, 92% of which are agile; a 6-8 person open meeting hub in the main lobby; a 10-12 person boardroom; a client experience suite; several breakout areas; sit/stand podiums and desks; private booths; project space; and individual and communal work areas.

‘We have desk anchors – these are our designers – so we had to create static positions for this but everything else is agile,’ Leeson explains.

Since serendipitous moments can spark creativity, the space also encourages impromptu meetings. The furniture is provided by Sketch, of course, and complements the need for unplanned conversations – cushions line the perimeter of the space, for example, to encourage those key impromptu conversations.

A key objective here was to break down traditional boundaries that are often designed into a space and only in fact serve to block communication. To overcome this, there are intentionally only four doors across the entire floorplate – one of which is into a comms room! ‘Anything and everything else,
be it a sliding panel or applied geometry, is therefore affectionately referred to as an opportunity or a moment – taking only a moment to open and remaining that way for the rest of the day,’ Leeson reveals. ‘Each opportunity becomes an aperture to allow freedom of movement around the space. As such, these merely suggest the activity beyond has a unique quality and set of needs but not restricted to or defined by the closing of a door.

‘As a visitor, we also wanted you to be able to exit the elevators and immediately be immersed into the space.’

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Furthermore, the space challenges the status quo of privacy. ‘As a business, we believe that people work better together,’ Leeson continues, ‘throughout the design process we debated how many conversations are so private that they need to take place behind closed doors; our answer is, not many. We value open communication, and the space caters for semi-private conversations with the addition of acoustically-sound pods, but if a conversation is deemed ‘confidential’, it can take place in the boardroom or offsite.’

Situated throughout the space, the pods not only provide informal meeting space, they also explore the relationship between people and nature. Incorporating organic, biophilic and biomimetic design concepts, they almost float throughout the space. ‘We call this ‘disruptive innovation’ because these work zones intentionally break up the staticity of the open space,’ describes Dan. ‘By its very essence, biophilic design is organic and fluid in nature – our new office embraces this concept, as does our work model.’

Dan, who we know through his invaluable contributions to our Round Table debates, was clearly delighted to work on the project. ‘This has been a fantastic opportunity to push what I believe is the future of office space,’ he enthuses. ‘There’s an element of apprehension when your colleagues are your clients but it’s been an exciting and enjoyable journey nonetheless; one which has allowed my design team to drive a work community in line with our values, culture and brand identities. Thanks to a fantastic team effort between the Fourfront companies, our new Group office reflects the fact that we really are experts at what we do.’_H4A3934