Gas Station

When putting together one of our regional focuses a couple of months back, we were presented with one project that really stood out. We decided that 100 or so words and a small photo would be doing it a disservice. So, as the tenacious, roving reporters that we aspire to be, we jumped at the chance to learn more.

The project in question was sent through to us by Sheffield’s Ovo Spaces, who had recently completed the impressive new scheme for BOC on the outskirts of Chesterfield.

BOC is the largest provider of industrial, medical and special gases in the UK and Ireland, and has been producing atmospheric gases, including oxygen, nitrogen and argon for over 120 years. Its portfolio today includes thousands of different gases and mixtures, as well as related equipment and services.

Internationally, BOC is a member of The Linde Group, a world leading gases and engineering company with almost 50,000 employees working in around 100 countries.

Kieron Heffernan, Design Manager at Ovo Spaces, is happy to tell us more about the project, starting with a little background information. ‘We have been working with BOC for a couple of years now, after rescuing a project that was left incomplete by a contractor who went into administration,’ Kieron reveals. ‘This site is one of BOC’s main accounts departments and following substantial business growth, they were looking to expand into another part of the building. They were keen to move away from individual working, with people sat in their own departments not interacting. They wanted an ideas area, somewhere much more comfortable and inspiring, that would attract people and get them away from their desks.

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Kieron tells us that the site is ideally placed in terms of transport links, being just off the motorway, and therefore had become a central meeting hub for BOC. ‘It’s an L-shaped building and BOC had previously occupied one half of it, with the central core area being used for meeting space,’ Kieron explains. ‘They wanted to develop these meeting areas – to move away from traditional office design k and go for more of an ad-hoc approach. They wanted a 21st century approach and because they were expanding into the other half of the building, this was seen as the ideal opportunity to introduce new ad-hoc meeting areas and hot desking for employees coming into the building for short periods of time. It was important that we got the balance of desking and meeting space just right.

‘Ovo Spaces began with a comprehensive consultancy process, which included workplace analysis and regular steering group meetings to establish the right balance of workstations/space and collaboration areas’.

‘The first thing the client said to us was ‘We’re looking for creative inspiration k because we are accountants! They didn’t want the call centre feel of desk after desk and thousands of metres of storage. Instead they wanted something that would tick all their boxes when it came to the quantities of desks and meeting rooms they needed, but also something colourful and different. They wanted an environment where the staff could enjoy work – somewhere bright, modern and flexible, but also designed for durability.

‘They are a major company in their market, keen to look after their people and also encourage communication and interaction between departments.’

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Kieron tells us that the former meeting spaces in particular were quite dark, dated and fairly unwelcoming – not ideal for a facility that was looking to attract employees from other BOC facilities. ‘The desking environment was also starting to date,’ he admits, ‘and there was very little movement between departments, which was one of the chief reasons for adding a breakout here – somewhere which would encourage further interaction between departments. Similarly, we added a number of flexible alternative work areas to encourage people to get away from their desks and to communicate and collaborate. So they now have breakout spaces and areas for impromptu meetings. Flexibility was extremely important here.

‘I think people have a stereotypical view of an accounts department, but BOC was really keen to embrace new technology and office design.’

Lunchtime has certainly changed here in Chesterfield. Rather than munching on a sandwich at their desks, staff are now encouraged to head upstairs to the bright and brilliant restaurant, which comes complete with lovely views out across the countryside and the neighbouring golf course.

There is, as Kieron pointed out, a traditional, stereotypical view of accountants departments – but one that is fast being left behind by forward-thinking organisations. We ask if BOC had looked at the innovative approach of some of the leading accountancy firms. ‘Our client – Sally Williams – had gone to visit PricewaterhouseCoopers for inspiration,’ Kieron tells us. ‘She looked at a few of the elements they had introduced – especially some of the soft seating and private booths – and also looked at what BOC had done in Guildford. The main office there had recently had a facelift of its own and so she looked at that and at PwC’s scheme and took a couple of elements from both of those.

‘We of course had lots of ideas of our own, and what was great for us was that BOC were looking to move towards cloud storage and a paperless office, so that meant fewer requirements for traditional storage and more space for elements such as feature walls – and it also allowed us to create a more  welcoming and open environment.

‘One of our key objectives was to break down traditional boundaries that are often designed into an accountants’ office space’‘

The floor had previously been open plan in nature, but quite generic in that they had banks of six desks with storage at the end of each bank and a central walkway. What we have now created is a real flow through the floor and a far more inspiring, welcoming space for the staff.’

Although Kieron and the team at Ovo Spaces were required to follow certain corporate guidelines when it came to the use of colours, they certainly didn’t feel bound or restricted, instead embracing them and subtly adding injections of bright colours and finishes throughout the scheme. Kieron has even taken the palette of colours used throughout BOC’s gases table and applied that to the digital feature wall.

Elsewhere, darker timbers add a domestic feel as well as a real sense of continuity throughout the scheme. Kieron is also keen to point out the elegant recycled timber flooring, the use of environmental finishes wherever possible and the implementation of LED lighting technology. Smart in every sense of the word.

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‘Throughout the process the client has completely trusted our judgement,’ Kieron proudly says. ‘They embraced our recommendations and wanted us to use our expertise. They listened to us all the way though and Sally has been a fantastic client to work with. It’s been great to hear really positive feedback from the staff. There’s a real buzz to the space and they’re excited by the new layout and are already using the new collaborative and multifunctional workspace and I’m certain it will not only improve communication between departments, it will also encourage more external staff and visitors to use the facilities.’