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Businesses are paying more attention to their workplaces as the demand to attract and retain skilled staffbecomes more pressing. Players in the market are noticing a greater interest and sense of engagement in the work environment.

Kirsty Laing, head of workplace for office design group Space Solutions, says that one of the trends she is noticing is greater engagement from clients in the design process. "Clients are becoming more and more engaged and enthused about their workplaces. It is no longer 'it does the job and keeps the rain offpeople'."

She adds: "There are a lot of our clients that are going for cutting edge designs in their buildings and others are going for a more traditional approach but the consistent thread is the comfort factor for their people."

Sam James, director of sales and marketing at interior design business Amos Beech, agrees that a lot of businesses are more and more thinking of workplace design as key in staffattraction and retention. "Employers who want to retain their staffgive a lot of thought to making the environment an attractive one for people to work in and want to stay in as well."

He points to the example of Cirrus Logic, the semiconductor company that took four floors in the Quartermile building in Edinburgh. Cirrus Logic, which like all Edinburgh-based technology companies is in a real battle to attract and retain software engineers, has one floor kitted out with a canteen and one with a gym.

James says: "Food is free there and the drinks they provide includes wine and beer and there is also a music room for jamming in."

Attempts to boost the attractiveness of workplaces in the battle for tech talent is only one of a number of trends that are changing the way that offices and other workplaces are designed.

The days of rows and rows of desks where individuals are assigned to their own particular place to sit are a thing of the past in many workplaces as the pattern of work in many businesses and other organisations changes.

James says: "Employees are not expecting to be sat at an office all day." He says that in more workplaces employees do not have a specific desk but have their belongings in a locker in one of the breakout areas and they can choose where to sit on any given day.

Changes in the business interiors market are driven by the wider changes within the world of business. Derek Binnie, a director with SpaceSolutions says: "There are a lot of challenges in the current market. There is massive uncertainty for any business leader or any organisation, so fundamentally they're looking for flexibility.

"When any organisation is looking at change it is typically driven by an event; so it's either a lease end or a break in lease or they have run out of space - which is a nice problem to have - or they're sitting swanning about in acres of space knowing that they need to work smarter.

"Bluntly at the bottom of all that, is a term you are going to hear often in the property sector: productivity. Whenever I go to the IoD or any other business event, everyone is talking about productivity in the workplace.

"In simple terms for me it's about businesses working smarter and businesses working more successfully, managing costs, attracting the right people, people being able to do more with their time and be far more productive."

He stresses that good design is not about gimmicks but about what works and what is comfortable for people to be and work in. "Everyone sees the Google workplace and the drama of the ping pong table sat in the corner of a business, but the reality is that when you get into what makes great space, many of the staffwill talk about the environment they're working in and it being the right environment -whether it's too hot, too cold, too bright, too much noise. You tend to find that different parts of an organisation have different needs as well and so space has to be designed in a way as to suit those needs.

"What does it mean for a lawyer who is sitting in a business of 230 staffto walk into the office every day and feel good about the experience and not to dread it because the environment isn't right, the lighting isn't great."

And he says: "There are a number of different mechanisms that an organisation can use to track the success of their workplace. That can be staffretention, staffrecruitment, absenteeism; it can be simple and basic productivity - is there an improvement in performance from the business division as well."

One of the changes that Binnie says he is noticing particularly in the technology sector is a push away from out-of-town locations towards city centre locations. "Twenty years ago we thought that Edinburgh Park was where we'll be, we'll be mobile, we'll be out and about, we'll have plenty of car parking space. But that's changing, the younger generation like the idea of the town centre.

"So when people are thinking about property they're thinking about travel arrangements and town centre has become more important for the technology sector as that talent battle has become more aggressive than ever before."

However this is not just happening in the technology sector, Binnie says. "In fact two of the big legal practices in Edinburgh recently had an opportunity to move just slightly outside the central business district and absolutely decide not to because they felt it would have an impact on their ability to retain and attract staff."

He sums it up: "We're creating communities within offices but the offices are sitting within communities in the town centre as well."

Alec MacDonald, who is operational head of Atlas Business Interiors, which has office in Glasgow, Dumfries and Carlisle, says: "A lot of companies are going for social space in their working areas now. It is not just more open areas but a design that is bit funkier as well."

One of the trends is towards height adjustable furniture that is multifunctional and that has a place for a laptop and very accessible power points. "There is no more scrabbling under the desk for a plug in those kinds of work environments," he says.

More open plan work areas often have acoustic tiles to deaden the sound not only in the walls but sometimes in the ceiling as well.

He says: "One of the changes is that young designers are coming into the industry and they're not burdened by 20 years of doing the same thing. They're making things a bit funkier and using different colour palettes. It's not a boring office now - it's got be funkier to attract people."

MacDonald says that one of the sectors in the marketplace is in universities and colleges, which are spending more money on design and fit out. "They are looking for reception areas and atriums that give you the wow factor that is going to attract students."

Andrew Rae, construction director with HCS Contracts, is also seeing greater spend in the further and higher education market. Rae says: "We're seeing a bit of growth in the education market. There is a bit more money being spent, although there are seeking a lot for the budget they have. They are willing to specify first class furniture. There is a lot of work being done on making more attractive places for students to study in."

HCS Contracts has been doing work for Napier University in Edinburgh and for the Edinburgh College of Art. Rae says: "There is a real move to more open plan design with bespoke furniture specifications." | in focus: Co-working spaces One of the factors that is changing the way that workplaces are designed is the rise across the UK of co-working office spaces. The fact that the offices are intended for the growing number of freelancers, the self-employed and entrepreneurs has changed the way they are designed.

Research by AXA PPP Healthcare showed that this type of space where diverse groups of remote workers and other independent professionals working together in a communal setting are opening up all over the country is transforming the dynamics of the small business office.

As well as trendy, open plan environments, with hot desks and access to meeting spaces, many feature free extras like endless tea and coffee, superfast Wi-Fi and a range of ways intended to help people cooperate.

This type of set up means that as well as planned community events, unlike traditional office spaces there is an atmosphere that's relaxed yet professional, collaborative and creative, with community at its core.

Mike Davis, head of SME at AXA PPP Healthcare, says: "A flexible modern working environment where employees can flourish is key to building and maintaining a high-performing workforce and, at the same time, it safeguards your business from the costly risk of losing valuable people."

The AXA PPP Healthcare research highlights what it describes as the "coolest" co-working spaces in the UK with Collabor8te in Glasgow's Merchant City and CoWorkSchop on Saint Mary's Street in Edinburgh making the list.

Thea Newcomb, a social media trainer, sums up the appeal of the Glasgow co-working space developed by Teresa Jackson: "Teresa has created an amazing place with Collabor8te. It is more than just a co-working space with hot desks. There are meeting rooms, training rooms, breakout spaces, a kitchen, and big screen viewing area, and more. The venue itself fosters creativity and collaboration among its members."

Employers who want to retain their staff give a lot of thought to making the environment an attractive one for people to work in and want to stay in Sam James, Amos Beech (below)


Above: An office space designed by Amos Beech

Space Solutions' self-designed boardroom on West George
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Insider Monthly
Date:Aug 1, 2017
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