23 February 2012
The task was this: to find a new, inspiring building ?for a growing company, ?while managing the fit out and relocation - all within ?six months. Back in December 2010, the facilities team at ?hosting and cloud computing company Rackspace rose to this daunting challenge.
Rackspace Hosting, founder of open-source cloud platform OpenStack, has its main headquarters in San Antonio, Texas. Placing great emphasis on a high level of customer service, employees work around the clock, 365 days a year, to get fast solutions to critical issues and offer technical phone support.
In the UK, Rackspace employs 750 staff. They were originally based in two offices in Stockley Park, Middlesex, with a data centre in Slough, still in place and housing 70 members of staff.
The company had witnessed fast growth over the preceding years, seeing more than 100 new staff members joining each month. To support the UK team in providing the best service possible, a grand design project was undertaken, with the brief to house sales, support, finance, HR and administrative staff under one roof and reflect the existing vibrant company culture. Creating a harmonious, inspirational, themed and homely environment was top priority - and with new staff arriving all the time, speed was of the essence.
The facilities team found the building they considered a natural fit - a 9,290 square metre (100,000 square feet) office space, spread over four floors, in Hayes, Middlesex, situated to the west of London. It wasn't far from the Stockley Park offices and had the added bonus of being nearer to a train station.
"The fit-out was very much a design-led piece of work," explains director of real estate Jamie Kinch, who has been with Rackspace for seven years.
After tendering for three design companies, Morgan Lovell was chosen as the fit-out firm to transform the space - in just ?13 weeks. Rising to the challenge, the space opened up on week 11, with staff tours taking place on the premises during week nine.
"We gave the designers a very loose brief," says Kinch. "We didn't want to stipulate exactly what we wanted as we felt it was important to let their imagination run wild and then we could rein them in where we felt necessary. We certainly wanted to avoid a conservative look and feel."
Kinch was also keen to invest in staff happiness and so, along with the rest of the FM team - FM manager, office manager and two receptionists - involved the whole company with the move and the look of the office. A consultation took place with all staff members (known colloquially as 'rackers') and in the summer of 2010, Kinch and his team presented the initial concept to every member of staff.
Conscious of fulfilling staff needs and paying attention to feedback, the FM team then met with a final consultation group of 20 employees every week to analyse feedback and commentary.
Home from home
The office needed to be open ?24 hours-a-day, seven days a week, with support teams working on various shift patterns. From this, the idea of creating a 'home' environment naturally evolved, with a range of facilities offered on site.
With the home theme in mind, each of the four floors in the Rackspace building has been designed to mimic a domestic environment. Themes include a garage-style area complete with an old Mini sourced from eBay for £1,300 by Kinch. The first floor is laid out with retro lounge furniture, bright orange carpets and green sofas, while the second floor houses a quiet library area filled with mahogany furniture and Chesterfield sofas. The third floor features a courtyard garden with picnic benches and a glass-roofed atrium.
A state-of-the-art gym is available for staff to use free weights, take classes and relax in the treatment rooms. In addition, there is bike storage available close to the gym.
A staff restaurant on site was a must, offering subsidised meals and space for informal meetings, while a cosy country-style kitchen was created to provide an informal area for shift workers around the clock. Long wooden benches fill the space to allow teams to congregate for informal meetings. Meals can be prepared throughout the day and night. "We're even looking for a catering company that can provide staff with ready-made meals or gourmet packs of ingredients complete with recipe cards," says Kinch.
Up on the downside
When it comes to working, each floor is carefully dotted with ?quiet 'downtime' areas where small, informal meetings can take place or for private working. Large, long tables are also dotted ?around each floor - ideal for ?larger team meetings.
The meeting rooms themselves proved the most emotive subject among staff feedback, says Kinch. Eight meeting rooms are therefore available on each floor. Fitting in with each floor's theme, the ground floor meeting rooms are named after car manufacturers; the first, after 1970s' music groups; the second, after children's authors; and the third, after London parks.
With international business taking place on site, a fun boardroom came into existence - a replica of 10 Downing Street's famous black door, complete with a David Cameron cardboard cut-out outside. It has proved a hit with staff and those over on business from as far away as Hong Kong. "People love having their picture taken outside our 10 Downing Street," says Kinch.
Such lavish designs and the small time window compounded the pressure on the budget. ?Kinch points out it was necessary to be as frugal as possible in the overall spend.
"There was a fine balance - we didn't want flash over substance," he says. "We were very aware of creating a fun and usable space within budget. We didn't need expensive finishes.
"This meant reusing a lot of ?old furniture where we could - ?in particular in the café/canteen area, where we brought in the ?old tables and chairs, which worked well."
According to Morgan Lovell's project designer Stuart Jefferson, rugs were also a relatively inexpensive way to create a homely feel and setting.
Savings were also made in other areas. Previously, travelling to the Stockley Park site involved a shuttle bus service from the train station to the work site. Moving to the new site reduced bus usage by 30 per cent and C02 emissions by 10 per cent, according to Kinch.
The decision to consult with staff seems to have paid off; 'Rackers' perform well and respond to their environment with enthusiasm. ?One, Kinch tells me, brought his parents into the office during their visit to London. He was so proud ?of where he worked, he just ?wanted to show it off.
But it wasn't just the staff workspaces that needed attention - Rackspace puts customer service at the top of the agenda and with a brand motto of 'fanatical support', it was necessary to design spaces reflecting corporate priority aims.
Therefore, a shiny, sleek reception area greets visitors to the Rackspace building, all glistening red glass and white floors, complete with a kitchen area, large TV and seating areas. These are mainly used for customer and partner day events, with a partition sliding across to cut out noise from reception. A number of meeting rooms are also available for interviews and formal meetings. Cleverly placed glass panels offer a glimpse into other areas of the office and beyond.
The outdoor space also experienced a transformation during the fit-out. The surrounding area now offers ?1,858 square metres (20,000 square feet) of green space for summer barbeques and parties.
It's not just staff members and visitors who are impressed by this innovative space. In 2011, Rackspace was recognised by the Sunday Times Best Places to Work and Financial Times Top 50 Great Places to Work in the UK for the sixth year in a row.
But with rapid growth increasing the density of the office, the challenges naturally grow too. The building has desks for 750 staff, but numbers will increase to 1,000 by the end of March 2012. Just how does the FM team of seven cope with this kind of demand?
"Staff were very tolerant of the work we've had to put in and understand the growth of company," reveals Kinch.
"We've had to accommodate for extra Rackers and are sometimes only given a few days of warning. This can mean moving half an office floor, but we're so impressed at how responsive staff are.
"We are regularly tasked with undertaking internal moves involving 20 to over 200 people, right up to relocations involving the entire office. Each move must have minimal impact on the business, particularly on the sales and support teams. Moving offices tends to take place out of hours and shift workers are kept on the same floor to save on energy.
"But with the site being operated 24/7, department reorganisations can certainly present some challenges," he adds.
Agile working allows staff to ?be more mobile, but Kinch believes loose hot-desking could be the answer.
"Technology moves on and it would be a good thing to have performed more testing on possible hot-desking options. As the company continues to expand, people won't need to be rooted to the conventional desk space."
Kinch adds that the company is looking to trial a video-conferencing photo booth, which can be used to free up meeting room space.
"The issue we have is that we are a global company and rely on video conferencing (VC) technology on a daily basis," he says. "Often, though, we have one member of staff using a large meeting room for the sole purpose of video conferencing technology. The photo booth trial is to create areas where one staff member can attend a VC meeting in private without using ?up our meeting rooms, which are ?a valuable resource."
And if he could change anything? "If we did the project again, we would think a little bit more about improving collaborative and quiet spaces," says Kinch.
But with any design-led project rolled out in such a small amount of time, tweaks and changes are part of the process.
All the contracts in the building are completely new - a big challenge for the FM team, which had shared facilities with the tenants in the previous building at Stockley Park. The contracts are expected to last for a year.
While the UK operation has settled nicely into its new home, Kinch is gearing up for a permanent move to San Antonio to lead up the strategy globally. He will lead a project to convert a disused shopping centre into a new head office for Rackspace in the US with the ability to accommodate more than 6,000 people.
"It's a continual process," concludes Kinch. "We intend to roll out further projects across the globe - each office designed with its own identity."
Size of site: 9,290 square metres (100,000 square feet)
Number of staff: 4,000 global, 750 in the UK
Catering: Thomas Franks
Cleaning: Pear Tree Cleaning
Security: Shield Guarding
Health & Safety Advisors: Workplace Law