When design software developer Autodesk needed to move its UK headquarters, an opportunity to review the type of workplace its employees needed presented itself. Martin Read reports on One Discovery Place - the result of an extensive fit-out project.
5 July 2012
Last year, the internationally based software design business took advantage of a lease break to relocate its Farnborough office from one part of the Surrey town to another. The move saw the company relocate from Meadowhall Avenue, a building right next to Farnborough's famous air strip, over to One Discovery Place, Columbus Drive - just 1.5km down the road.
Pete Baxter, Autodesk's vice president of sales, EMEA, explains the reasoning: "We had a lease break, and good economic reasons to consider a change, taking a 'bottom-up' look at the workplace we provided. We wanted to create an environment in which workers would work and intersect with people not in the same physical space, recognising the changing workplace requirements of our designers.
The starting point for us was in creating the right environment for them and one that would help us hire and retain the best and brightest talent."
The key was in catering for the various different occupant types, of which five - 'residents', 'collaborators', 'concentrators' and 'mobile' - were identified in the surveying and staff engagement process that followed the appointment of Morgan Lovell as workplace consultants.
Activity was then conducted to engage all staff in what they wanted from their office, through a combination of workplace performance surveys, focus groups, leader interviews and visioning workshops. With the results back, workplace consultancy Morgan Lovell was brought in to plan the new space.
Key to understanding each worker type was to consider their characteristics, ensuring that the requirements of each user type were incorporated in the design. 'Residents', for example, were identified as people who work both in and out of the building, spending an increasing amount of time away from their desk and using shared work settings when in the building. 'Residents' would also undertake a variety of quiet/noisy individual tasks.
By contrast, so-called 'collaborators' had a strong requirement for access to team tables and open teaming spaces near desks. Collaborators also required 'quiet rooms' for concentration and the quiet time needed for reading paperwork.
The results at One Discovery Place echo a lot of contemporary workplace thinking: the general open plan feel is augmented by a variety of meeting room types, break-out areas and a large seminar area.
The bespoke telepresence room has led to an increase in the use of video conferencing amongst employees, while innovation specific to the requirements of Autodesk engineers has included 'double-screen' rooms with two large plasma screens, into which up to six laptops can be plugged - information that would otherwise have been cumbersome to share has become much more accessible. Aimed at designers, this particular room has also proved popular with workers who simply want to co-ordinate spreadsheets - a feature used regularly by the on-site facilities team themselves.
The result of the fit-out is, according to Peter Dury, greater office occupancy and an improvement in both social activity and collaboration.
Donna Bourne, Autodesk's regional facilities manager, responsible for five offices in the UK (as well as offices in Sweden, the Netherlands, Barcelona, Madrid, Portugal and the emerging markets of Dubai, Tel Aviv, Riyadh and South Africa), is based at One Discovery Place.
With the Farnborough office being so high profile, it was Bourne who handled the move process. "We selected the site back in March 2011", she recalls. "The lease was dated for the end of September, so we had just eight to 10 weeks to get on site; a tight but achievable deadline."
Despite the modern facilities, Bourne concedes that initially it was a bit of a wrench to relocate.
"We loved it by the airfield ," she says. "It's the one thing we miss. But the building there was simply too big. We were working over three separate floors and we wanted to be in one space."
The transparent nature of One Discovery Place's open plan floor has led to significant changes in behaviour. "The seminar area is fantastic," says Bourne. "Already it's meant that we're now bringing more people in for meetings and product launches as well as customer meetings."
"And you can certainly see a lot of behaviours changing. We're getting to know colleagues from other departments who we may never have met before; we'll end up having a conversation in the seminar area and then someone else will join in who you subsequently realise is that someone from consulting you've never met before."
Overall, the head count at Farnborough has remained the same, but the introduction of hot-desking and phone booths for private conversations (Discovery Place has 18 such booths) has created a level of flexibility to which Meadowgate Avenue could never have aspired.
The trend to make walls 'writeable' by users is very much in evidence. Donna Bourne had to commission graphics to inform occupants that they could indeed write on the walls, her only annoyance being that the writeable wall-covering was installed in horizontal and not vertical strips. (In some cases the ink has seeped through the small gap in the strips, a small problem that will be rectified at a later date.)
One requirement Autodesk was keen to ensure was its own reception desk. At Meadowgate Avenue, the company held the head lease and controlled everything; One Discovery Place is shared with building consulting engineers Hilson Moran.
"We negotiated with the landlord so that we could run our own reception desk," says Bourne. "It was a bit of a challenge to design it in, but we have lots of customers coming on site. We didn't want just a security guard at the desk, we wanted our own receptionist. So now we basically run the whole reception for the building and guide any Hilson Moran visitors to their own reception, which is in their own space."
On a day-to-day basis, One Discovery Place is managed by one facilities co-ordinator and two part-time receptionists.
Will the lessons learned in the Farnborough move be mirrored in other Autodesk offices? Possibly, says Bourne. Although not directly transferable to other fit-out projects currently happening across the Autodesk estate (Bourne was about to jet off to Barcelona to oversee a move at the time of interview), the open-plan nature of the Farnborough project is something that could be replicated in the company's Munich office.