There’s often a moment, when we arrive at project meetings, when everyone – from receptionists through to security guards – look at us with nonplussed, confusion expressions.
You work for a magazine? You’re here to meet which design firm? We can’t find their names on our list!
Well there’s none of that this morning. Not only are we expected, we’re also very much ‘in the system’ – and all we have to do is place our visitor card on a scanner and the building guides us the rest of the way. Our elevator is waiting and fully aware of which floor we require – and before we know it we’re some 18 floors above street level and being greeted by our hosts.
Gensler has recently completed the design of UBM’s global headquarters on London’s South Bank, creating a flexible work environment that fosters innovation, enabling the multinational media brand to continue to compete in the digital age.
A 170-year old UK based business, UBM made the shift from print to online early on in the digital explosion, embracing technology and the web ahead of many of its competitors.
Today UBM is a global events-led marketing and communications services company operating in more than 20 countries and boasting some 5,000 expert staff.
We are met (seamlessly, of course) by UBM’s Denise Dunne and Gensler’s Enrico Caruso, who begin by telling us more about the intuitive nature of this amazing LEED Platinum space. One of only three projects in the London and five in the UK to achieve a LEED Platinum Commercial Interiors rating, the space is designed with energy efficiency, employee wellbeing and future flexibility in mind.
Following the success of Gensler’s previous office design projects for the forward-thinking global media company (including San Francisco, New Jersey, Los Angeles and Shanghai) spanning a five year relationship, UBM approached Gensler to create a London space that reflects the innovative media company it has become, whilst incorporating the next generation of workplace thinking. ‘It doesn’t often happen where the client is willing to take a few risks, shake up their organization for the better – and in all aspects, not just the bottom line,’ Enrico tells us. ‘UBM had done a lot of work throughout the world that informed some of the practices that were put in place here. This certainly takes things further, but like I said, the client was incredibly open to pushing things forward.’
‘Our staff come onto their floor, go to the monitor at the front of that floor and book a seat within their ‘neighbourhood’. We did look at several options and we chose to go with a system whereby people do sit amongst the people they need to be working with.’
We’ve already enjoyed the impressive visitor experience here at 240 Blackfriars Road, but Denise is also happy to take us k vthrough the new staff experience. ‘Staff have their own card and basically it allows them to enter the building and access all of its services. This is about making the building as sustainable and efficient as possible – it’s about getting people through and around the building as easily as possible. If we head up to the 18th floor you’ll see that our floor is slightly different to the other floors, because this is where our Head Office is based, so we don’t have quite as many agile spaces and instead have some offices. When an occupant is out however, the offices are open to all of us to use for ourselves or for meetings. On the other floors the teams work very collaboratively and with maybe slightly less sensitive material and so we have lots of different spaces to allow different types of working.
‘Our staff come onto their floor, go to the monitor at the front of that floor and book a seat within their ‘neighbourhood’. We did look at several options and we chose to go with a system whereby people do sit amongst the people they need to be working with.
‘We were aiming for (and achieved) a LEED Platinum rating for our interiors and a key component of this was ensuring that the environment is optimally comfortable for our employees. We didn’t want people who are noisy – like me – sitting beside people who are trying to concentrate. Therefore, we did have to make sure that the right teams are next to one another. This is 1.4:1 people to desk ratio – so there isn’t a desk for everyone. Gensler did all the metrics for this, and have ensured that the more mobile teams sit alongside the less mobile teams – so if there is a spillover, there will be somewhere for them to sit. In fact, if everyone were to come in, there are enough work settings on each floor to accommodate them all.
‘Until someone books a desk, no power goes to that desk. Once booked, power is sent to that desk, you go to a locker, pick up your stuff, plug your laptop in and you are immediately on the system. We have already saved an awful lot in electricity costs by working this way.’
Gensler has helped transform UBM’s occupied 65,000 sq ft new space into a creative office, which affords high brand visibility and generous floorplates. The scheme consists of a variety of work settings spread over six floors, with a multi-purpose communal and public events area above offering exquisite views overlooking the river and the City.
By opting for a free-address open plan format, UBM has adopted new ways of working that optimise business performance, encouraging autonomy while simultaneously fostering an environment where people collaborate based on their job role rather than hierarchy. The workplace strategy is informed by Gensler’s extensive analysis of UBM’s office utilisation; although the previous space was k vfrequently used for collaboration (50% of use concentrated in meeting rooms), on an average day 71.7% of its 700 strong workforce required a dedicated area for focus.
This need to support collaborative innovation and different working styles has produced numerous open, fluid and flexible work settings. Working anytime and anywhere is now very much the norm. We find various open and discreet informal meeting and working spaces strategically positioned through the floorplates.
Workstations are positioned along the west facing elevation to benefit from external views, and an interspersed series of shared informal spaces and meeting rooms provide diverse zones for collaboration, focus work, learning and socialisation. The floorplan is designed for future adaptability, incorporating movable walls and free standing furniture solutions that will enable the workplace to comfortably accommodate UBM’s continued growth.
The integration of modern technology was critical to the success of the workspace – as we have already seen from the way staff use desk space here. Digital archiving enables UBM’s new ‘paperlite’ scheme and desk booking, while mobile equipment and smart lockers activated with those entry cards help staff move effectively throughout the new office.
A multi-purpose dining and conference space sits above the office floors, enabling UBM to now host a variety of in-house public and private events, from round tables to evening functions. The Servery kitchen acts as a staff canteen by day and can be transformed into an 86-seat bar and dining venue with a stage for reception events.
‘We now have the ability to track the exact usage of every desk and meeting space through the booking system. We know which floors and which departments are using space more intensively.’
‘Our old space – just across the road – didn’t reflect our brand at all,’ Denise admits. ‘We are such a young, dynamic company and the environment we had and the technology simply didn’t support the brand or the way we wanted to work. Our meeting rooms, for example, were tired and the technology unreliable, and because there weren’t enough, people often booked them in case they might need them. It wasn’t a good use of space.
Here we utilize that space in a far more efficient way.
We head back up to the 19th floor where we are joined by Richard Bowers, UBM’s Head of Estate Management, who tells us this is a real statement of intent for the business. ‘We realised that this was an amazing opportunity for us. The analysis process with Gensler showed us that we could make this space incredibly efficient, and with an agile design, a far more pleasant, intuitive space for our people – the multifunctional design of the space. I really think it works. It provides a collaborative, diverse environment – and the feedback we’ve had has been phenomenal.
‘We now have the ability to track the exact usage of every desk and meeting space through the booking system. We know which floors and which departments are using space more intensively.
‘We also know that we’ve got another 15-20% capacity in this building. That’s another 60-70 heads – and we can slot them into our agile way of working. So far we have observed that people are making really good use of the space’s agility and flexibility, moving about throughout the day, to suit their work style. We’re really happy that people are using the space as we intended.
‘We wanted an environment that provided the right space for individuals to perform the task at hand that suited their own style of working. I believe we’ve achieved that.’
‘At the end of the day we even get our own Waterloo sunset!’ Denise grins whilst pointing out to the famous station below us. Nice pun – and great space.