Recently, we commandeered a large corner of Turner & Townsend’s fantastic space at One New Change, St. Paul’s, for our 13th MixInspired event – and our fifth in London.
We would of course like to say a huge thank you to our MixInspired sponsors – Colebrook Bosson Saunders, Interface and Specialist Joinery Group – and to Turner & Townsend for allowing us to host the event in such a fantastic space, with views overlooking the great cathedral.
We were delighted to have another packed house for the session, with Suzanne Archer from our hosts, Turner & Townsend, kicking things off for us by giving us an insight into the history of the workplace and Turner & Townsend’s own impressive capabilities.
Our expert panel comprised Investec Asset Management’s Global Head of Workplace, Tahera Hammond, Nikki Kirbell, Health and Wellbeing Lead at Unilever, Sarah Lodge, Director EMEA Facilities at Turner and Karen Rogers, Project Design Executive at Canary Wharf Group.
For this fascinating session, we asked our panel to consider the people and culture shaping tomorrow’s workplace, to debate the future of our workplaces and to discuss who is going to deliver them.
We began by asking our panel what they would change about the way they work with interior designers. ‘For me, in the role I’m in now, it’s just a timing thing,’ Tahera considered. ‘If I could get the PM team and the architects to come up and work with us for a year before they were appointed, the project would go amazingly well – because they’d really get a good grasp of who we are, how complex we are, who the stakeholders are and what works for them and what doesn’t work for them. I know this isn’t realistic, but really understanding the DNA of who we are would be a fantastic thing. You expect them to do everything and to do everything really quickly – which is unfair on architects.’
‘Before I was at Turner I was at Yahoo – and coming from quite an old tech company that was very well established in its design and its look and feel was actually quite easy for me because everyone did know one another, they were extremely well embedded and everybody knew what they were doing for every office,’ Sarah told the audience. ‘Turner is the opposite end of the spectrum and we have demanded a lot from our PM and our design team – and actually it has worked really well. They have embedded themselves. It’s taken 18 months – and they weren’t part of our organisation previously – but it has worked well.’
‘I think we’ve learned some lessons at Wood Wharf,’ Karen said. ‘It is a different type of product – it is a mixed-use masterplan – but we did spend an awful lot more time upfront briefing the designers and taking them through the whole masterplan concept and on the whole journey of placemaking – which hasn’t happened with individual office briefs before.
‘We’ve worked on the Wood Wharf masterplan for 15 years, we’ve been at Canary Wharf for 30 years – we know where it is, we know what it looks like and yet I’ve lost count of the number of presentations where we lose 15-20 minutes when the architects play back to us what we already know!’
With this in mind, we ask whether our end users are becoming more demanding of their project teams. Are they more demanding then they were five years ago? ‘Oh yeah – much more,’ admitted Sarah, ‘but I think that probably happens to everybody with experience – because you then know what you need from your professional team, you have more confidence and stronger guidance of your team on the client side. Every industry thinks it is a bit different – the creative industry really is. There are a lot of people who are massively involved emotionally in what they do – and they often think that they can tell you how to do your job. So I’m much more demanding in trying to control that than I would have been five years ago. It’s about trying to keep all the success points on line.’
‘I think this comes with confidence and experience,’ Tahera continued. ‘When it comes to appointing my professional team, it’s all about relationships. I would almost compromise – almost – technical ability to make sure I’ve got that relationship – I really would. The reason they’ve got through the door is because they’ve got some pedigree anyway. Then it’s about relationships, can I get on with them? No bullshit – I want straight talking, warm and engaging people. A big part of the process when I was appointing my professional team was will they get on with my project director, will I be comfortable putting them in front my senior stakeholders and will they get on with the rest of the professional team?’
‘The other part of that is to have the depth within the team, so that the people who are sent and are representing the company actually have authority in the meeting because otherwise, if you send the wrong person to the meeting, you end up having to repeat the meeting two weeks later!’ Karen added.
‘I definitely look at people’s pedigree – the governance – although I am slightly different to everybody else on the panel in that I actually deal with the people in the buildings and not the buildings themselves,’ Nikki explained. ‘If we’re looking at bringing in clients, it’s definitely their pedigree, their training, their background – are they qualified to do what they’re brought in to do? We have a responsibility to look after our employees. I definitely think there is a lot to do with the relationship as well – you’ve got to get on with these people if you’re going to work with them for a period of time. You’ve got to gel with them.’
We moved on to ask the panel what they felt the biggest challenge in creating a different workplace was today. ‘Creating a different workplace? Well, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do – but what’s different today from what was around 15 years ago?’ Sarah asked. ‘I don’t know if there is an existing current ‘transformation’ in the workplace. I don’t see anything much different going on in the workplace now. If you want to be different, what do you do?’
‘I guess we are changing the actual workplace at Wood Wharf – we’ve got a much smaller footprint on the new masterplan, compared to the other buildings,’ Karen countered. ‘What we’re really trying to sell is the different public realm and how the offices haven’t got huge, empty voids, how it is really animated at the ground floor – we’ve got cafés and restaurants, and you can see the street frontage, unlike the existing masterplan, which was very sterile. That’s what we’re trying to sell, we’re trying to get the fintech companies down there and show them that this is a different place, that this isn’t the ‘old’ Canary Wharf, that this is a vibrant, trendy place to be – even at night.
‘The existing Canary Wharf masterplan can appear very sterile – it could be anywhere in North America. That’s what we’re trying to address with this new plan. We want to do something very different here.’
Having recently returned from a business trip to South East Asia, we took the opportunity to ask Tahera whether the workplace culture differs in that part of the world today – and, if so, how does it differ? ‘They still have executive washrooms and they do still want to have offices with great views for their managers – the hierarchy is still very much still there. Our standards here in the UK are not to have offices and not to differentiate based on status. It’s very, very obvious out there though – I was quite shocked. I was given the key to the executive washroom and I thought, ‘No thank you. I don’t need that – I’m from Bolton!’ It’s very different from country to country of course – and you just have to be extremely respectful and strike a balance. I guess that’s one of the hardest parts of my job – striking that balance and convincing colleagues elsewhere that what we’re doing here in the UK really works.’
‘One of the hardest parts of my job is to actually try to find and implement a one-size-fits-all philosophy – which can fail miserably,’ Nikki conceded. ‘This is because our workforce is so diverse – from the Pot Noodle factory in South Wales and the Marmite factory in Burton, through to beautiful offices in the south. The demographic is very, very different – take that globally and it becomes even more diverse. In the UK, the difference between the north and the south can be extreme. We’ve had guys say to us, ‘This is so London – it’s not us’. It’s a constant struggle to get the tone right from area to area – but also a great challenge.’