Explore the latest projects from the UK’s commercial interiors industry, featuring the best of workspace, hospitality, residential and public sectors.

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An agile, ‘home from home’ workplace from Simon Grundy CID

Investing in an agile space and remote working technology meant a seamless transition for the workforce when this year’s lockdown was implemented.

07/10/2020 5 min read

Project Team

  • Client

    Muckle LLP

  • Interior Design

    Simon Grundy Commercial Interior Design

  • Contractor/Joinery

    Graeme Ash

  • Furniture

    Albany Contract Furniture, Orangebox

  • Surfaces

    Camira

  • Flooring

    Tarkett, Desso

Muckle LLP is a leading commercial law firm with a national reputation, based in Newcastle, and as much as we’d loved to have visited the space, we have to settle for a virtual tour of a new scheme that has helped enable the firm, its people and its clients to function, despite the unique circumstances we all find ourselves in. Designers Simon Grundy Commercial Interior Design host our virtual tour.

The firm was previously based in the same building – Time Central, in the city’s Gallowgate – with open plan offices, employees and facilities, split over two floors. As the business had grown, desks had taken over some of the breakout areas.

‘The company decided to stay in the same building – and brought people together on one floor,’ Simon Grundy tells us.

‘Muckle recognises the importance of design in contributing to staff wellbeing and business growth, and we have worked with them over many years to create environments to meet changing business needs.’

The redesign of the office, completed at the end of 2019, was part of a move to advance the flexible working initiative that Muckle began in 2017 with the introduction of their agile working policy, which the firm says has given people more flexibility, more control of their lives and the freedom to be themselves and work as they work best.

‘The policy has had a really positive impact on employee engagement, client service and productivity,’ said Jason Wainwright, Muckle LLP’s Managing Partner.

‘Having found that agile working was visibly helping our people and the business to thrive, last year we decided to update the office to fully support our people’s ability to work flexibly and boost service efficiency, connectivity and growth. We now have a smart, open plan and flexible office for the entire workforce.

‘Of course, as a result of the impact of coronavirus, all our people have been working from home recently – but our agile office, along with the remote working technology we have invested in over the last three years, had significantly enhanced our ability to work flexibly well before the crisis hit.

‘It meant that rapidly transitioning everyone to working from their own homes at the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown (both physically and psychologically) was a relatively straightforward and seamless process, and we have continued to serve our clients without interruption as a result.

‘While eager to get back to normal, we are under no immediate pressure to return people to the office. When the time comes however, our flexible workspace allows us to move people back onsite safely, with space to allow for social distancing and other health and safety measures as required.’

We ask about the timelines for this forward-thinking project. ‘We were brought on board in September 2018, which meant we had a year in dialogue before fit-out began,’ Simon recalls. ‘This length of time is unusual, but valuable for understanding what is going to make a project really successful for the client.

‘In February 2019 we carried out an occupancy analysis, when we spent two weeks in the office monitoring every hour to see how the existing space was being used. The fit-out was scheduled over four months, starting in September, with completion in December 2019.’

‘We have a longstanding relationship with the client and they always bring us in at an early stage to discuss what they have in mind.

‘The brief for the new office was based on feedback from over 150 Muckle employees and the occupancy analysis. The company carried out specially structured workshops and consultations in April 2019 to find out how people wanted to work and what was important to them about their work. 

‘Through the occupancy analysis we had found that the maximum space occupancy was 80%, meeting rooms would be booked and then not used, and the staff kitchen on the floor beneath the main office was also not being well used.’

Simon tells us that Muckle’s people were involved in the design process early on, and the team continued to share the design with them as it developed.

‘As part of the final design presentation we used a virtual reality walkthrough – created by In Architecture – which very effectively communicated our plans, and we had unanimous sign-off from all the partners.

‘Combining the feedback from employees and the monitoring of the spaces, the new office environment takes into account the needs of different generations and different types of work.

‘The concept was based on the idea of a ‘home from home’ – before coronavirus brought homeworking to the fore. The new office is not a typical workspace but an environment that brings together the best elements of office and home working.

‘Originally designed with 180 possible work settings on one floor, including 120 desks arranged in team ‘neighbourhoods’, these can be easily rearranged if needed to support social distancing requirements as people return to the office.

‘There are two large collaboration areas, which can also be used for individual workspace as well as private meeting rooms. Pods, quiet zones, large project and breakout spaces and colourful lounge areas cater for a variety of needs while also creating multiple opportunities for cross-functional collaboration.

‘The café area – a new galley kitchen surrounded by banquettes with power and USBs – is housed in the centre of the office floor, making it much easier for people to access and take time out away from desks.’

A popular and well-used space prior to lockdown, the kitchen has doors so it can be separated from the rest of the office. It has the same facilities as the Muckle client business lounge kitchen, including top of the range coffee and ice and water machines. Breakfast cereals and fruit are also available here every day. 

‘The main challenge was finding the balance between creating a social environment that encourages collaboration and connectivity, and one that allows for quiet reflection, focus and privacy, which are essential for many aspects of legal work,’ Simon reveals.

‘We have achieved a lot within the budget. We did very little structural work, also with sustainability in mind. We have reused the existing document storage, which will gradually be needed less and less as work is now paperless.  

‘We selected coloured fabrics, oak and light coloured laminates to create that all-important softer, less corporate feel.

‘As part of the agile concept, a high proportion – around 70% – of the furniture can be moved. Consideration of the acoustics of the space means that 40% of the floorspace is taken up by furniture with soft fabric surfaces to absorb sound.

The new office also enhances Muckle LLP’s extensive use of technology, with video call enabled meeting rooms and interactive screens throughout, making it easier for its people and clients to stay connected on the go.

‘In the office we’re using cutting edge technology to help us work as it suits us and our clients best, whether that’s at a conventional desk, a quiet isolated pod, a large collaborative table with Skype enabled AV or on a comfy sofa with inspirational views of Newcastle city centre,’ Jason says.

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