Neil had been given a challenge. We’d seen a lot of organisations that had been through so called modern or new ways of working or had moved to fancy new accommodation. Some has been successful whilst others hadn’t or rather some bits had worked while others were clearly work in progress. What we had seen though was more of the same. We’d focussed on organisations like ourselves, other local authorities or public bodies that had made the jump.
What we needed was something different. What about organisations that had pushed back the boundaries of what is possible through an innovative approach to their physical build and the work that goes on inside?
That was his challenge. To find some places to visit that had done this well, which had thought outside the envelope (is that right?) and that had created a new environment which challenged and enhanced their culture. I asked him to come up with some whacky places to visit. I did not mean this derogatorily.
So that’s how we came to be in London, to visit two firms. Both are innovative and work in different parts of the ICT sector. SAS develops software analytical tools and are in the top twenty UK most innovative building solutions while Rackspace is a managed cloud computing company and voted as one of the hundred best places to work in the country. Both are global companies and the offices we visited were one of several they have around the globe.
In many ways they were different yet in many ways their approach was the same. The buildings were set up to work for them as an organisation. They were designed to encourage greater collaboration and flow of ideas. SAS seemed more formal, more prestigious perhaps while Rackspace was more anarchic and more youthful.
What did we learn? Well, there were certainly some things that we are simply not going to see when it comes round to our turn, such as the slide to get from one floor to another or a mock-up of Ten Downing Street as a meeting room that were in Rackspace. I’m not sure we will see the superb use of mood lighting that they had in SAS either.
What was useful though was to see how they created space within space by the clever use of meeting pods, telephone booths, curtains, repositionable furniture, moveable walls and soft furnishings. I also liked how you were nudged into certain behaviours using colour, displays and icons.
Everything was flexible and multi-purpose. If things needed to change then they could. Walls were writeable, there were screens everywhere and teams were encouraged to do their thing to get the work done. Both firms used technology to achieve what they wanted yet it was nothing much more then what we have already. The difference between them and the way we are now was the way that their building worked and how the people enjoyed the space they occupied.
I think Neil has a couple more visits lined up.