One of the intriguing things about living and working in large towns and cities is how you’re constantly learning about how places and spaces connect. How often have you walked down a street for the first time only to realise you’re somewhere you already know but didn’t expect to find?
Above: 6th Floor Kitchen Diner
When we recently visited the new working home of CarFinance 247, we were grateful that our taxi driver knew exactly where we meant when we asked for Universal Square.
On reaching our destination, on the outskirts of central Manchester, we had a strange feeling that we’d seen the impressively remodeled, colourful building in front of us before. It was only two days later, on the train heading down to London, that we realised exactly where we knew it from. We just hadn’t connected the dots!
The new CarFinance 247 space has been designed by Spatial Office Environments – and we’re met by the company’s Workspace & ICT Consultant, Addam Giffard, who can give us the tour and tell us more about this latest chapter in the CarFinance story – one of Manchester’s great success stories of recent times.
Above: Ground Floor Customer Support Suite
In 2006, Reg and Louis Rix started CarFinance 247 whilst running a successful online car classified business, netcars.com (which was later acquired by RAC). They spotted one big gap in the market; that people were finding it hard to get honest advice on car finance.
Using new technology, they came up with a new, efficient way of working; a way to give customers access to a panel of trusted lenders and a huge range of financial products to suit, whatever their situation. As a result, CarFinance 247 is now the number one car finance broker in the UK.
Their move to occupy three floors of Universal Square is, at once, the result of that success and a statement that this is a business still very much on the up after expanding to nearly 500 personnel in a relatively short time.
Addam takes us through the complex, where we pass an impressive ‘universal’ café space (Spatial also provided the furniture here, incidentally) before heading up to the top of the building.
Above: DevOps Collaboration
We’re immediately faced with bold and brilliant large-scale graphics, which signify that we’re now entering the world of CarFinance 247. ‘This is the 6th floor – and this is very much the customer journey,’ Addam tells us. ‘They proudly have Aubee – one of the Manchester bees – displayed here as you arrive. ‘They are Manchester born and bred and they are very proud of that heritage,’ Addam continues, ‘as can be witnessed by how much they give back to the local community. ‘CarFinance are spread over three floors here – ground, 1st and 6th. They are primarily a finance technology (FinTech) company, so the core work is provided by their in-house teams of developers and programmers, who create the infrastructure that gives them the edge over their competitors. They built their own bespoke system many years ago – and constantly develop it. They pretty much own the real estate in software when it comes to car finance – and this is what gives them the advantage and is why they have grown so astronomically over the past few years. This 6th floor is dedicated to that software development.
‘The majority of people here, however, are actually call centre staff who occupy the ground and 1st floors and are instrumental in providing the friction-free customer experience CarFinance are known for. In a typical call centre environment you tend to have high staff churn and burn-out due to the inherent stressful conditions, training issues and major noise pollution, so we’ve spent a lot of time, thought and attention to ensure that the space is as quiet and as comfortable as possible. Louis and Reg were very keen to do what it takes to create a working environment that best supports every team member – be it developers, telesales, admin or cleaning crew. Together with our Head of Design, Christina Belkacem, we devised a multitude of areas and facilities to meet this goal – no expense spared.
Above: 6th floor library and professional development.
‘For the call centre areas, we developed really smart sound-proofing solutions, which absolutely deaden the noise. Just listen – you wouldn’t guess there are hundreds of people here.
‘We developed a series of bespoke storage units so that everyone has their own personal locker. We used long runs of planters to add biophilia and also to help break up what is quite a large, open space. The attention to detail that Christina introduced is quite incredible – and all of this was for the benefit of the 247 people, to make everyone feel as though this is their space. Something they could be proud of. A space where they belonged and felt valued.
‘Christina and Reg went so far as mapping out the kitchens to make things as easy as possible for the 247 people to use – so, as you walk into the kitchen to make a cup of tea, you’ll see that you start at one end and simply move along the counter efficiently with next to zero cognitive load. There’s no searching for things or opening cupboards. They spent hours thinking about this. It’s incredibly intuitive.
‘The meeting rooms have flip-top tables for flexibility and have integrated display screens and state-of-the-art video conferencing facilities. They also have a lot of writable surfaces because they are big believers in people having no holds barred thinking, so you’ll see writable surfaces everywhere. They’re really keen that staff are free to express their ideas.
‘People here work in neighbourhoods, so we have developed a variety of settings to encourage collaboration, scrum sessions and brainstorming. They also have individual workstations for their focused programming work. Depending on what they are working on, they can choose how and where they work in their neighbourhood.
‘In saying that, people can pretty much work wherever they want to – the only thing people need to do is ensure that the desks are clear at the end of the day.’
Above: 6th Floor Breakout and Kitchen
Looking around the Dev Space, we find a dramatic central video wall, which shows a whole load of data we can’t make head nor tail of, which also doubles as a presentation and training facility. Seriously impressive stuff.
‘If a group of people get a spark of inspiration, they can also gather together in the ‘Ideas Sanctuary’ – which is visually separated from the rest of the floor and provides a relaxing space where they can really start to develop those ideas, freely’ Addam reveals.’
The smart, glazed, kitchens provide an escape when people need a break, while a bespoke pool table (which can also double as an impromptu meeting table) offers further downtime opportunity.
‘The manifestations throughout are a subtle nod to the CarFinance logo,’ Addam points out. ‘We introduced some brand colours, while the yellow – which isn’t a brand colour – signifies breakout space. Christina has done a lot of subtle cues to the colours and logo, but they didn’t want a lot of CarFinance branding. In fact, the only place you’re likely to see the brand up here is on the water bottles – which every member of staff is presented with.’
Above: 6th floor brainstorming area.
Not only do we admire the variety of work settings and environments provided here, we also like the selection of furniture and products, from high-back seating through to pods, which has clearly been carefully curated to fit the different tasks undertaken by the CarFinance teams. Addam tells us that, in total, products from well over 50 manufacturers have been brought together for this project.
Moving down to the 1st floor, we’re greeted by an audible buzz – as you’d expect with a call centre environment. As Addam alluded to earlier, the acoustic solutions used here are clearly doing their job – there’s a buzz, but no more than that. ‘This floor is split into two halves,’ Addam points out. ‘We have touchdown meeting facilities for visitors and external sales with these soundproof pods at the front centre of the floor, a large multifunctional training and video presentation room with moveable walls, and long runs of locker storage with top planters to break up the space and noise reverberations – along with the spring-loaded sound bafflers above. The colours are subtle and calm, designed to help reduce stress. There are tea points and breakout spaces throughout and along the central core is a series of double-space divisional meeting rooms with integrated booking systems.’
Towards the far end of the space, which is a naturally quieter part of the floor, there is a smart training and teaching zone, where there are facilities that simulate the real call centre environment for new members of staff. The kitchen/tea point/breakout facilities mirror those we saw upstairs, while we also can’t help noticing that there are a lot of smiles on faces as we wander through the floor – something that, in our experience, isn’t always the case when it come to call centre environments.
Above: One of many meeting and collaboration booths.
‘Christina did a fantastic job here. I’m amazed by how she was able to put these three floors together. CarFinance were an amazing client to work with – they went full-throttle and really believed in the design and what we were trying to achieve on their behalf. They came in with an open mind – and I think that’s really paid off here.
‘They really want to provide the best they could for the 247 people. They take wellbeing and the wellfare of their staff really seriously and so a lot of thought and effort has been put into those small details, such as the healthy snack machines, free hot drinks, fresh fruit and fresh bread, which are all provided daily.’
Those small touches go a long way – as does an incredibly well-considered workplace that puts people first. CarFinance 247 clearly have both here.
Above: Collaboration and customer timeline development
Christina Belkacem (Spatial Office Environments)
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