It’s incredible how we dread the process of going through security at any given airport – and this has nothing to do with fear of flying or missing our flight – and yet we’re almost looking forward to a very similar process upon entering one of Europe’s most iconic buildings.
Maybe it’s the lack of queues – all those impatient holidaymakers and squabbling families – but actually it isn’t. It’s simply that we’re walking into The Shard. Sure, we’ve done this a few times now, but the buzz hasn’t quite disappeared. We hope it never will.
To be completely honest, the security process at The Shard isn’t quite the same as the airport. Here we’re met with smiling, pleasant and talkative guards who wish you a good day. And no queue!
We’re heading up to the 11th floor to see the new working home of Dods Group plc with Woodalls Design Creative Director Kristoff DuBose – whose team were responsible for the interiors here. It might not be the summit, but the views from 11 are still pretty spectacular.
Dods is an unrivalled intelligence, media, training and events company, providing essential information and connections to clients in more than 50 countries across six continents.
Everyday, clients rely on Dods to provide the relevant information, topical knowledge, actionable insights and critical connections vital for informed decision-making in rapidly developing commercial, public policy and political environments across the United Kingdom and European Union.
‘They’re like Bloomberg for Parliament!’ Kristoff tells us. ‘They’ve been around for 200 years now – but they really wanted to move forward. You will relate to this,’ he smiles at us, ‘this is now about online media. It’s about how you tap into that market. You and I might hear ‘rah rah rah from’ parliament – they hear future policy!
‘The way we circulate through the space here is really important to recognise because it represents the breaking down of internal silos and the transformation occurring in the business. In the past, sales and client service teams were very product focused and very little client-centric collaboration was taking place.
‘Their old building in St James’s was very compartmentalised, built around lift cores with staff broken up into non-contiguous sections, which hindered collaboration. The Chairman recognised the fit-out as an opportunity to provide a fresh environment that would get people communicating, collaborating and working in new ways.’
She challenged Woodalls to value engineer a design and space plan to meet those goals. Ultimately, the remit was to break down those silos, create unobstructed visibility, engineer those moments of collision and create an innovative space where people were proud to be part of the business.
We ask Kristoff whether the business always intended to move away from St James’s. ‘No, to be honest. They were trying to find space in that area but you can’t find anything for a reasonable rent there anymore. It’s considerably less here in this part of The Shard – and they’ve still got a view of Parliament here!’
So why Woodalls? ‘One thing that really distinguished us was that we were really keen to foster those moments of collision, where different people would come together,’ Kristoff tells us. ‘Also, because I’ve got both a sales background and a design background, I really spoke their language. I think other firms, for example, were putting the reception space through here at the entrance and through to the beyond – because it’s all about the natural light. We said that it’s not about the natural light – it’s about controlling the light. It’s about having a sense of arrival. All of their brand colours – and even their logo – is completely void in here. It’s all stripped back to shades of white and we’ve used light to create that gradient. So what we’ve created here is something very neutral – something that almost cleanses the palette. This is a space in which people flow through, but at the same time it’s engaging and welcoming.
‘The reception desk itself is also about breaking out of the 19th century and into the 21st century. It’s based on the idea of a ship, where the curves and surfaces graduate into something very ‘future’ – so the Mary Rose transforms into a sleek modern yacht!
‘Moving though reception, one of the biggest concepts was to create connectivity. We wanted to be able to see Parliament from the meeting rooms – but certain amenities are at the other end of the building. So how do we connect the two? How do we get important guests to move through the space without walking through the back of house or walking along a nasty little corridor? At the same time, how do we create those moments of engagement and collision? So we created a concept called the Grand Hall – where are those big deals done in Parliament?’
The Grand Hall is some 30m long and cleverly provides glimpses into the main workspace, while at the same time not interrupting the adjacent working teams. Smart wall panels made of well-lit mesh and colourful lockers provide the ‘walls’ to this space, while high-back soft seating offers quiet breakout opportunities.
Kristoff tells us that the inspiration for the occasional glimpses through the mesh comes from Ancient Arabic architecture. It truly is inspired. Furthermore, it might well be around lunchtime, but there are still people meeting and chatting here – showing us that Kristoff’s concept is clearly working.
As we move beyond the Grand Hall, Kristoff explains that there are two sizes of workstation available to staff here in the bright, contemporary open plan space – a strategy he refers to as ‘give to get’.
‘If someone would rather have a view by the window, they have to forgo some of their desk space,’ he explains. ‘If, on the other hand, they require a larger working surface, they have to move closer to the core of the building and away from the windows. This allows the business a great deal of flexibility and allows for expansion and contraction.
‘The key thing was to not have a sense of rigid desks – if you did, people would simply move to their own real estate and not talk to anyone else. What we have done here is gently curved the desking worktop, which brings a sense of topography, so things are flowing and you have no idea where one department ends and another begins. It constantly leads you to the next space.
‘We’ve also engineered a lot of spaces for people to collaborate – although a lot of the choices are very pragmatically placed.’
Kristoff leads us through to the fully glazed and incredibly buzzy canteen space, which provides a real getaway for staff. ‘They had nothing like this at their old space,’ he reveals. ‘They had a real old D&B teapoint – actually they had two of them because they were across two floors. Again we wanted to move right away from that old idea that people should be fewer than five steps away from a teapoint! People have fitbit numbers to keep up these days! What we’ve done is produce only one space where they can come together and relax – but we’ve quadrupled the white goods. So we haven’t halved the numbers – we’ve doubled them. People come here to work – this is a valid workspace. What we’re finding, as we’re tracking work modes, is that you simply struggle to do focused work at your desk any more, so it’s vital that people are able to come and use spaces like this.’
Before we head out into the dull, real world that isn’t The Shard, Kristoff is really keen to show us the client facing suite, which offers that prestigious view across to Westminster. The prime corner suite is the Winter Garden. ‘What we wanted to create was something that was very un-Dods – and that request came from the Board. The problem was that we weren’t sure what Dods was or wasn’t because all of this was un-Dods! So we were talking about which wall the screen should go on in this room – and I said ‘No screen! There are screens in all the other rooms and people can watch what they need to on their laptops or in meeting rooms. You’re a 21st century media company and you’ve got some great meeting spaces throughout here – but this is going to be your deal space. Clients are going to want to come into this room, but they’re not allowed to until they’re ready to sign the deal! Don’t spill your candy!’’
This amazing, tranquil biophilic space has its ceiling covered in greenery – and indeed is free of any screens. ‘It’s an amazing sight at sunset,’ Kristoff grins. ‘It really is a sight to behold. You can see this space from the far end of the floor and even Borough Market – it has become a real beacon. People love it. When the space first opened, they kept coming in here to take selfies! We’ve used crackle fibre optic lighting throughout the branches to give that twinkling otherworldly feel. We wanted to use real ivy to begin with but were told we couldn’t because of fire regulations. So I went to a supplier of artificial plants and they only had one specification that suited – which incredibly was laurels, which feature on the Dods logo. How perfect is that?’
Looking out towards Parliament on this bright, sunny day, we’d say absolutely perfect.