We are pleased to release our 2019 financial results on the Building Magazine website this month. See below or visit their website to read more: https://ubm.io/2Wey7p4
BW expecting turnover to pass £200m this year
The firm behind the fit-out of the King’s Cross headquarters of the Beatles’ record label said it expects workloads to jump above £200m this year.
BW completed the work at Eric Parry’s Four Pancras Square which Universal Music, whose other acts include Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus, moved its 1,000-strong team into in the middle of last year.
Universal picked up the Beatles’ back catalogue with its purchase of EMI in 2012, which included the Beatles’ record label Parlophone.
In its financial results for the year ending 31 December 2018, BW said revenue rose one fifth to £181m from 2017. Pre-tax profit was up a quarter to £5.2m
Anthony Brown, sales and marketing director of BW, said the firm was expecting to see revenue push beyond the £200m figure in 2019.
Brown said the firm was positioning itself as an alternative to the big two fit-out contractors – Morgan Sindall-owned Overbury which had a turnover of £831m last year and ISG whose fit-out business had income of £609m in 2018.
He added: “There is a real appetite for a credible third player in the space.”
Brown, who is also one of BW’s nine owners, said BW’s margin was sitting at just under 3% and that the firm was hoping to see this increase to 5% over the coming years.
He said 40% of the projects the firm completed in 2018, which also included the Finsbury Circus headquarters in the City of London of asset manager GAM, were defect-free at practical completion. The firm is targeting a 50% figure by this year.
The Big Question – What did you learn from 2018(no mention of Brexit please)?
ANTHONY BROWN, SALES AND MARKETING DIRECTOR OF BW: WORKPLACE EXPERTS
Was almost every day a revelation in 2018? It felt like that. Six weeks of sweltering, record-breaking weather and I learned that this mild, grey country could get too hot. Then came the World Cup madness and I learned that this country’s mild, grey people could lose themselves in a dream of hope over experience. And thanks to my teenage daughter, I finally figured out what Fortnite is!
Naming stuff is a precarious business. And you don’t have to look too hard to find examples of it going horribly wrong. Sometimes it’s personal. David and Angie Bowie’s son, for instance, loathed being dubbed Zowie – preferring to be called Joe, until at the age of 18 he settled on his (actual and quite ordinary) first name Duncan. On other occasions, large swathes of the population can be held responsible. When the British public was given the opportunity to name a new polar research vessel by the Natural Environment Research Council what did they come up with? RRS Boaty McBoatface, naturally enough.
It recently became a hot topic in our office when we decided to hunt for names for our meeting rooms. But, after doing only a moderate amount of research, we quickly discovered you have to be really careful. After all one of the running jokes through the brilliant BBC satire, W1A, is the meeting rooms named after famous comics – ‘I’ll see you inside Frankie Howard’. Subsequently in real life, the Daily Mail had plenty of fun when it discovered that, despite spending millions of pounds of licence fee money creating a new office – complete, it sniggered, with ‘huddle zones’ and a ‘meeting tower’ – the corporation was still spending nearly £50,000 on external meeting spaces, at places like the Langham Hotel and De Vere’s West One.
No doubt when it was a small start-up intent on disruption, it made perfect sense for Uber to describe its meeting space as the ‘War Room’. However, once it became a fixture in the mainstream – and was having to deal with internal complaints about its company culture by commissioning a report from the former US attorney general Eric Holder – changing its moniker to the ‘Peace Room’ seemed, at best, a superficial gesture.
According to an excellent piece on the Quartz website by Leah Fessler, other companies have used the names of their meeting rooms to reinforce their brand values: Airbnb themes rooms around parts of the world to illustrate how far the platform’s tentacles have stretched; meanwhile Elon Musk’s SpaceX has gone for people who have made space exploration possible from scientists to astronauts such as John Glenn, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Both make perfect sense.
However, as with most things in our contemporary culture if you’re stuck for an idea on what to call your rooms (and you think good old-fashioned numbers are tedious) then the internet is here to help. The Kit Out My Office site, for instance, has a Meeting Room Name Generator. Split into two sections, users can either select a theme and punch in the number of names required – on my visit I went for ‘Classic TV’ and it came back with Gotham, Friends and Game of Thrones – or they can simply go for a lucky dip (whereupon I was given a clutch of Madonna songs). Another site, My Tech Decisions, has come up with a slew of handy hints to help creatively challenged companies. Why not, it suggests, transform your training room into a ‘learning loft’ (presumably only if it’s located on the top floor of your building) or turn the collaborative space into an ‘inspiration station’? Perhaps W1A was more realistic than we dared believe.
So, I hear you ask, what have we decided to call our meeting rooms at BW? Well the truth of the matter is that right now, we haven’t. Rather than do anything rash – or take the Zowie Bowie option as it’s otherwise known – we’re biding our time. The idea is that as the rooms are used their rightful names will emerge organically. And if they don’t then I guess we can always go for those Madonna song titles idea…
Fit-out specialist dismisses Brexit slowdown as turnover jumps 50%
London-based fit-out firm BW has said Brexit is having no impact on its business at all, as it reported annual turnover has hit £150.9m, a hike of 50%.
BW: Workplace Experts, based in the City of London, has said it is on track to hit its target of £250m turnover by 2020. Its operating profit leaped 110% to £4.1m for the year ending 31 December 2017.
Anthony Brown, the firm’s sales and marketing director, said BW’s growth is due to tech companies wanting top end offices as a recruiting sergeant for skilled workers, as well as a recent uptick in work outside London, in particular in the Cambridge to Oxford corridor and in Southampton.
He said: “The main driver for growth in fit-out is recruitment – we’ve seen huge growth in London from tech companies over the last few years.
“Everyone is fighting hard for a small pool of talent, and a lack of grade A office space – vacancy rates are the lowest they’ve been – means that firms have to invest to make their workplace a differentiator.
“The growth outside London is expected as London expands and commuting is cumbersome – we might see a position where 30-40% of our work is in the Home Counties.”
Brown said he has been surprised that Brexit was having no impact on business.
He said: “If you’d asked me a year ago, I thought we would see things tailing off – this has been a phenomenal year. We’re even seeing growth in the banking sector.
“Brexit is so undetermined at the moment that people are carrying on with their plans.”
He added: “We only need about £3m this year to hit the £200m mark. We’ve grown our workforce by over 100 in the year [to just over 250].”
On future plans, Brown said there is an “appetite for a third firm in the London fit-out market” behind the two big players in the sector, Morgan Sindall-owned Overbury and ISG.
The Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust has launched a co-working space for start-ups and small businesses working within the built environment in London. Designed by Gensler, the open-plan space is a mindful spot filled with colour and green plants that will inspire and empower its users.
Designated for networking, development and collaboration among emerging architects, designers and creatives, ‘Your Space’ will bring desk and event spaces to members who can choose between flexible or long-term memberships. Users can work across a variety of areas including the members’ studio, the residence space, meeting rooms and an event facility with a roof terrace.
The motivational setting, filled with natural daylight and colour, is designed to fuel collaboration and connectivity. This positive atmosphere manifests the emotional and physical healing process that the Trust has promoted since it was founded 20 years ago after the tragic death of Stephen Lawrence in London in 1993.
The centre focuses on the Trust’s work supporting young people from disadvantaged backgrounds aged 13-30. In 2017 alone, the SLCT supported over 2,000 young people through training, mentoring, bursaries and other activities.
The global architecture, design and planning firm, Gensler, donated time and expertise alongside fit-out contractor BW Workplace Experts and branding agency LBA to reimagine space within the existing centre that opened its doors in 2007.
The team reconfigured three floors of the centre, opening space up and evolving its purpose while maintaining the spirit of its aims. Solid walls were replaced with glazed partitions and an upbeat glowing orange colour was painted across the floors, walls and ceilings of the centre, which connects the different spaces together.
BW sizing up bigger jobs and overseas alliances as it aims to push income to a ‘comfortable’ £250m
London fit-out and refurbishment specialist BW: Workplace Experts says it is hoping to hit the £250m turnover mark in a couple of years’ time as the firm looks to cash in on the capital’s booming interiors market.
Based at Old Bailey, close to the criminal court of the same name and next door to Paternoster Square in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral, around half of the firm’s business is for projects which are below £3m.
But BW says it is increasingly being asked to compete against larger rivals such as ISG and Morgan Sindall-owned Overbury for bigger jobs.
Its sales and marketing director Anthony Brown said: “On the very large projects, above £10m or so, consultants in the industry perceive that they would like more choice and so they’re pushing us very enthusiastically to be that choice.”
Its roll call of larger schemes is growing, with the firm currently working on four jobs worth above £20m – two of which are for occupiers at developer Argent’s King’s Cross scheme – and it is expecting to start on site fitting out the English National Ballet’s new home at Ballymore’s City Island scheme in Canning Town, east London, by the summer.
It has also landed a spot on HM Revenue & Customs’ fit-out framework, as the taxman consolidates its estate into 13 regional centres including two in London and the South-east at Stratford and Croydon – with the office in the south London borough at One Ruskin Square, built by Lendlease, the first to open last September under its new strategy.
Founded by former Royal Marine Mark Richards and Craig Foster, who started out as a QS back in the early 1980s, BW emerged in 2000 after the pair left fit-out firm Bellwater. In summer 2017 Richards and Foster sold the business to its management, stepping down as directors – although they retain a minority 40% stake.
The deal gives the firm’s chief executive Steve Elliott and four directors – finance director Andrew Bradley, customer experience director Rob Frank, pre-construction director Colin Ogden and sales and marketing director Anthony Brown – a majority shareholding of 60%.
Elliott said there had always been “a very informal agreement” for the directors to acquire the business and it “got to the point where they [Foster and Richards] wanted to exit”, adding that it was a “golden opportunity” to own and develop the firm.
This includes hiking revenue from an expected £150m last year by another £100m by 2020. Its financial year closed at the end of last month and is expected to see it post a pre-tax profit of £4m when its results are published later this spring.
“We don’t have the demands of a public company or hedge fund that force you to do things that go against your values. We could grow the business to £300m or £400m but that’s not where we want to be. We’re comfortable at a quarter of a billion,” added Elliott, who spent nearly a quarter of a century at Morgan Sindall.
In its most recent published full year results, the 200-strong firm posted a £100m turnover and £2m pre-tax profit for the 15 months ending December 2016.
But Brown said it wants more and added: “We’re keen to build the business to a size where we can roll with whatever’s going on in the industry.
“If the market tails off a bit over the next few years, we can still afford to keep the company sustainable, keep the people we’ve recruited, and if we take a little less profit we take a little less profit. We haven’t got the City breathing down our neck.”
The firm, which specialises in office and higher education fit-outs, says it has no plans to break out of its London and South-east stronghold into other parts of the UK.
Instead, the firm is looking overseas to borrow ideas and increase business, announcing last August that it had linked up with US turnkey construction company HITT for a global alliance.
BW had already struck a similar deal with Australian fit-out firm Shape the year before. Elliott said the aim of the alliances is to share clients, as well as innovation and development and to develop employees.
How encrypted databases and cryptocurrencies could transform the way contracts are managed and payments are sent within the construction industry
It’s not often that you get to tie the conservative world of construction together with the hi-octane lifestyle of Superstar DJs, but if the former were to look at the advantages of the latest secure communications techniques then it really could be rubbing shoulders with the later.
It might take a leap of tremendous faith – not something the construction industry is traditionally blessed with – but with a little forethought and a willingness to plunge headlong into the choppy waters of cryptocurrencies, the industry could be looking at waving goodbye to the scourge of late payments, retentions and cashflow crises and saying hello to smart contracts and instant payment.
The route to this fiscally efficient Shangri-La is through Blockchain technology. Fundamentally the blockchain is a database made from a series of secure, encrypted entries – or blocks – that can contain information. The information in these blocks is confirmed at the point of acceptance into the chain and is then secured, making it virtually impossible to alter any of the data that they contain without the acceptance or knowledge of other sections of the chain – perfect for international money transfers, shareholder information or indeed complicated and nuanced business contracts.
With a little forethought and a willingness to plunge headlong into the choppy waters of cryptocurrencies, the industry could be looking at waving goodbye to the scourge of late payments.
The music world has already cottoned on to the idea that the blockchain can help deliver payment fairly and instantly. American star DJ Deadly Buda is using the system to pay the artists that feature in his latest ‘Rock the Blockchain’ music mix. He has integrated smart contracts into the blockchain that supports the Musicoin cryptocurrency and by attaching them to this latest mix, those artists are paid their royalties with seconds of the mix being played.
Now the success of that system rather depends on everyone in the system being signed up to the Musicoin currency and happy to be paid in it, but swap Musicoin for a more widely accepted cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin, DJ Deadly Buda for a main contractor and the supplementary artists for sub-contractors and it is easy to see just how blockchain technology could benefit the construction industry.
By placing all contractual requirements within smart contracts and the financial triggers within the blockchain then we could see sub-contractors getting paid automatically and immediately – with no contractual fighting and an indisputable trail of proof showing clauses had been met.
If blockchain has the potential to integrate with BIM software, then it could automatically generate contracts between supplier when amendments are made to construction model.
It is the ability to create, validate, authenticate and audit contracts and agreements in real-time, across borders, without third-party intervention, almost standardisation by proxy, that makes this technology so appealing to the construction world. Blockchain also takes transparency to a new level with ability to track the supply chain in terms of material, contracts and payments, with ‘real-time’ information regarding when material have arrived on site.
Operationally, if blockchain has the potential to integrate with BIM software, then it could automatically generate contracts between supplier when amendments/updates are made to construction model.
Of course, there is the relative danger of the unknown. The concept of dealing within a currency that is supported only by the fact that there are so many others exposed to it even the prospect of its failure is viewed as abhorrent, can be difficult for some to accept.
But for others the blockchain has the potential to offer a secure alternative to the traditional banking process, saving time and money while also offering the chance of real, tangible benefit to the supply chain with smarter, cost effective, fair and immediate contracts.
The deal gives the senior management team a majority shareholding of 60%; BW founders and co-owners Craig Foster and Mark Richards retain a combined minority stake of 40%.
We feel strongly that it is the optimum time for BW to make this transition due to the following factors: sustainable increasing profits, growth story for the future, strong cash flow, brand advantage and untapped potential for a high-quality/service fit out company.
It has been a transformative 3 years for BW with new management appointments, rebranding, new headquarters and a strengthening of our team of experts.
The MBO will help us keep up this momentum into the future. We have an ambitious strategy to become the first 100% Defect Free company.
HITT provide a wide range of services from corporate campus development to small jobs, service and emergency work, offering the resources to support all commercial contracting needs.
HITT has a fit-out turnover of $500m ($1.3bn total), operating from its headquarters in Washington DC, they also have offices throughout the US in Atlanta, Baltimore, Charleston, Dallas, Denver, Houston, New York, Richmond, Seattle, South Florida and Northern California.
Steve Elliot, CEO said: “There are three objectives to our global alliances: sharing clients, developing globally minded employees, and sharing innovation and development. HITT, like Shape, aspire to the same highest standards of service delivery and quality as BW, the partnerships allow us to share development ideas and cost on a global scale.”
Our first alliance was with SHAPE, one of Australia’s largest fitout and refurbishment specialists, who share an ethos of collaboration to project delivery to ensure the journey is enjoyable for all stakeholders with zero disruption to business operations.
The UK construction industry is possibly the most traditional of traditional industries. This is an industry that has been quick to say, ‘We’ve always done it that way’ and instead of dipping its toe in the bubbling waters of innovation has, in the main, prefers the tried and tested.
In fairness, it hasn’t all been about resistance from the industry itself. The money men should put their hands up and admit their unwillingness to accept any sort of perceived risk has stifled the take up of new technology within the construction sector. But times are changing and they must. The industry is in the middle of a skills crisis, which with the advent of Brexit is only likely to become more acute.
This is where technology can step in. If we can’t attract more skilled staff into the sector or train up enough apprentices in time to make a dent in those targets then we will have to utilise our existing expertise more efficiently. What is the point in tying up skilled engineers for a few days carrying out pre-and post-construction site surveys when the whole thing can be done in a couple of passes of a drone?
As well as training up a gang of bricklayers, why not help make the ones we do have more efficient and work more healthily by using some form of automation? There are already examples of these robot bricklayers working on sites across the US and capable of laying five times the average of their human peers. They still need brickies working alongside them to clean and strike the joints but really, how long can we ignore those sorts of efficiencies?
Thankfully the industry is starting to wake up to the fact that it needs to embrace the 21st Century – and beyond to the 22nd. Now companies are looking from beyond the realms of the construction sector to import technology that could be useful. One major civil engineering contractor is using computer technology imported from the world of physics to more accurately predict the strength-gain of concrete after it has been poured. By using this technology, the contractor’s teams can save time and improve site efficiency by stripping formwork earlier in the construction process. The time gains are significant.
Others are looking at importing developments in the use of sensors to improve the health and safety of their existing workforce. They are looking at trialling site safety helmets fitted with sensors that indicate when a worker is tired and ready for a break. A tired worker is an unsafe worker and so it makes sense to protect that worker – and those working alongside – from the effects of fatigue.
Gloves similarly fitted with sensors to help protect staff against the effect of Hand Arm Vibration syndrome (HAVs) more commonly known as vibration white finger are also being developed.
The construction industry has done well over the last 10 years to accept and embrace the use of Building Information Modelling but there are still so many untapped areas for the industry to exploit. Energy efficient design, analytics and cloud computing, robotics and automation, machine learning and data mining, open data and social media.
The toolboxes of yesterday’s sites will be very different to those of tomorrow.
Vicki Webb is senior designer at BW: Workplace Experts
As technology pushes huge step-changes through traditional industries the well-established business mantra ‘Adapt or die’ has never been more prescient.
Uber is a classic disruptive innovation but is there any chance this ‘Uberisation’ could happen in construction, one of the UK’s most conservative sectors?
Theoretically, yes. In fact, you could argue that one of Uber’s basic tenets, that of dynamic pricing, is already alive and well in the construction sector. In Uberland the price for a journey can vary as supply and demand varies. Number of drivers = higher fares until those high fares in turn attract more drivers. Swap ‘driver’ for ‘stock brick’ and the rampant price increases witnessed when hiked demand from housebuilders caught brick makers napping a few years ago, reflects that same dynamic pricing model.
Similar fluctuations can happen with most construction commodities. Steel, concrete, timber and of course bricks, have all seen demand outstrip supply recently leading to the solution to the bulk of dynamic pricing models – throw more cash at it.
Where the construction industry is vulnerable to true Uberisation is with the supply of labour – skilled or unskilled; blue or white collar.
Uber is successful thanks to the commoditisation of an individual driver. The client has limited control over the quality of a car and the journey can be treated as a commercial purchase of a commodity – in this case 15 minutes or so of the driver’s time.
That sort of exchange could and should be available to those looking for plumbers, carpenters, bricklayers, quantity surveyors or engineers. Indeed, there are some online platforms that offer – for a yearly fee – their services as a holding pot of available construction staff. It is a model that has worked in the fast staffing turnover world of call centres and could equally apply to the building site.
Except that construction has nowhere near the staff churn of an average call centre. Construction workers will take into consideration other factors such as length of project and job security, convenience and career progression and balance that against the thorny issue of wages. The mechanics of hiring an electrician for a six-month project is very different to those of hiring a taxi driver for 15 minutes.
But these are revolutionary times. Across the pond in New York City the construction labour market has changed drastically since the lowest ebb of the downturn in 2008. Here in a city that at one point could boast an almost 100% union backed workforce is starting to move away from this expensive closed shop model.
With thousands of workers coming onto the open market contractors and developers have been emboldened to use non-union workers on their ‘open shop’ sites. With an estimated 10-15% cost savings it is easy to see why. Now estimates put the union controlled workforce at less than 50% – a remarkable figure given the former strength of the construction unions in the city.
If a market like New York City can be shaken to its foundations, there are few reasons why the UK construction industry couldn’t be similarly revolutionised.
Anthony Brown, Sales & Marketing Director from BW: Workplace Experts
Buyers are no longer satisfied merely to know that the products they buy meet specific environmental standards and are made from recycled and sustainable materials. They want to know where those materials came from, who made the products, what processes were used, where they were made and how they were transported.
This is crystallising into a very sophisticated response from suppliers and manufacturers which means people and firms not only want to buy the most sustainable products in terms of materials, processes and recyclability, but also buy them from suppliers who can demonstrate a sustainable approach in all aspects of their business.
These are welcome developments. They challenge the cynicism that has grown up around the greenwashing of products and the mundane claims of some firms. They help to circumvent the homogeneity of standards that can reduce client briefs to box ticking exercises and instead allows everybody to work in partnership to create sophisticated, transparent and enlightened approaches to supply chain management.
Strolling around 700 Bourke Street in Melbourne, home to National Australia Bank, and visitors could be forgiven for thinking they’re in a shopping centre not an office. The ground-floor “village” has racks for 600 bicycles, a pedestrian forecourt that funnels into a pyramidal central atrium, there’s a rooftop garden and people can even stop for a coffee, access the free wi-fi and rub shoulders with the bank’s 6,000 staff.
Designed by Woods Bagot, the 63,000sqm building heralds what many believe the modern workplaces now needs to be – a place that doesn’t just house staff, but involves the local community.
“Australia is about eight years ahead of the rest of the world,” says Anthony Brown, Sales and Marketing Director at BW: Workplace Experts. “But more and more buildings are now incorporating areas they want the community to embrace.” And, according to Mr Brown and other experts, this dual-use is as much being driven by employers as it is by architects and town planners.
“The new premise is that a building should be part of the community,” says Matthew Blain, design leader and principal at design practice Hassell. “Not only is this because employers want to attract people as potential employees from the local area, but there is a growing sense they should give back to the community they occupy too. In particular, the young have different demands about what they expect buildings to do; they see community participation as an important reason for choosing an employer in the first place.”
Chris Hiatt, director of London real estate developer Landid, says: “There is no distinction between work and life anymore, which means buildings need more public-like amenities.” But the overwhelming reason is to achieve what architects are increasingly calling “place-making”.
According to Colin Macgadie, creative director at building design consultancy BDG: “Employers are wanting to break down the ‘ivory tower’ view of offices. It’s crazy most workspaces stand empty after 6pm through to 8am the following morning. Giving an office area back to the community after hours, or even during the day, keeps a building vibrant, gives it more of a purpose, keeps the neighbourhood exciting.”
Mr Hiatt adds: “Employers no longer know what their day-to-day headcounts are. As buildings are already morphing into places to meet people rather than be home to desks, the view is why shouldn’t the public enjoy this meeting space too?”
With his team he is working on buildings designed specifically to incorporate public space and invite community participation. These include the Charter Building in Uxbridge, west London.
Mr Macgadie has done extensive work with ad agency WPP developing their Ideal Office concept globally. The latest project will redevelop the Rivierstaete building on the banks of the Amstel River in Amsterdam.
Other new developments include the soon-to-open White Collar Factory development in London, which specifically features a mix of office, retail and residential space, plus a new public square to be called Old Street Yard. Created by regeneration company, Derwent London, White Collar Factory comprises 237,000sqft of office space, but there will be 56,000sqft of public campus-style areas.
Derwent’s director Simon Silver says: “This is about creating a new type of office environment. The public space is literally a place people can go. It’s about the office being untethered and more immersive.”
What community means
But the concept of the multi-functional, communal office is developing so fast that the very idea of “community” is itself changing too and is now being extended to include much more than the immediate population.
“We’re also seeing community being used to talk about the inclusion of a firm’s clients, partners and suppliers,” says Mr Macgadie. “In this sense, we’re talking about their sector-specific ‘extended community’.
“In 2015, KPMG opened the KPMG Club in Grosvenor Street, London, a free-to-use place to work. Crucially, it’s not just for KPMG staff, but for clients and suppliers too. It’s not a public community space as such, but it’s a destination place for a wider set of people. I think very quickly, the vernacular of ‘the place’ – a space that is a unique place to go to and work at as well as hang out in – will become normal.”
The question is, of course, whether the trend for private companies to mix with the public will be a permanent fixture or a temporary fad. “Oh, I definitely don’t think it’s the latter,” argues Hassell’s Mr Blain. “Brands are competing for talent, so they want to be nearer the people they serve. It’s not local councils that are insisting public space is provided, it’s developers and employers believing it’s the right thing to do, to plant themselves more with their locality – and to make the environment more pleasant.”
While there will always be the need for parts of buildings to remain off-limits, he says, diversity of purpose is now paramount, concluding: “Buildings were already opening up to suit agile working. Incorporating the public is the natural extension of this, to create a truly strong community that is open to all.”
If there’s one thing you won’t have failed to have noticed, it’s that offices and office space is evolving. A growing body of evidence now links fantastic work environments to fantastic improvements in productivity too, with all the happiness and wellbeing benefits that come with it.
Quite rightly, there has been significant progress in the planning and design of more agile and flexible working spaces. Firms like Google, with its campus, play-based approach to work, is heralded as having reinvigorated the work environment by shifting the focus on how it gets the best results from its brightest people.
This is a subject that fascinates us at BW: Workplace Experts, so we commissioned Lily Bernheimer and her team at Space Works Consulting to produce a white paper on our behalf to interrogate personality, productivity and work.
The acceptance of the relationship between space and work is to be applauded. But does this mean research into space should stop? We don’t think so. In fact, we believe the default Google approach isn’t always appropriate. Workspace is actually much more complex than being just about the building. It has to be about the relationship it has to the people that occupy it and, as we all know, people are different.
As we enter the so-called fourth industrial revolution, when workplaces need to understand different people’s “personal algorithms”, it’s our view that buildings must meet the different psychological needs of workers within them. In short, offices need to have a two-way relationship, but with lots of different personality types.
Typically, human resources tools, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test, have divided workers by different personality traits, the big five being open, conscientious, extrovert, agreeable and neurotic. But it’s well known this doesn’t tend to account for personality development or growth. As such, we believe current personality productivity research is an outdated framework to look at productivity. Under this spotlight, traits such as conscientiousness or agreeableness are still analysed as “inputs”, which are then correlated with outputs like job satisfaction and earnings.
We feel this no longer applies in today’s workplace. That’s why we’ve begun to use a model – the Enneagram – that instead establishes the behaviour and the type of thinking patterns people fall into. The Enneagram Institute is leading this research and has identified nine “types” – the reformer, helper, achiever, individualist, investigator, loyalist, enthusiast, challenger and peacemaker.
So why is this so important. Well, because the Enneagram model identifies unique patterns of traits, motives and values, we believe it has the potential to transform the next phase of workplace science. Knowing that investigators experience the world differently to helpers, for instance, is dramatically important. Investigators seek privacy to recharge and analyse. Open-plan, break-out-based office space would be a completely stressful place for investigators to work in. By comparison, reformers, who are dedicated and committed, and motivated by a set of high internal standards, need a working environment that will inspire them to be more creative and relieve more stress.
We believe the Enneagram model provides new insights and new ways to challenge the accepted view that personality traits are “inputs” in the productivity machine.
What we believe is that office space needs to be far more personal. It needs to support different personality types in a way that fosters their strengths for maximum output. The fourth industrial revolution will require an iterative approach to office design, one that is responsive to workers’ patterns and contributions. The future workspace should at least be sensitive to the complex combination of personality patterns in terms of layout, seating allocation, and the balance of open and sheltered space.
Ultimately perhaps, understanding the future office is about understanding what the purpose of a building really is – an asset to be invested in, to help get the maximum return from the people in it.
We believe office design that is more reflective of its people can have a bigger impact on productivity and performance than other areas human resources directors typically focus on first, such as training and development. To ignore how your office impacts people is to ignore both of most organisations’ biggest assets and cost centres. A building can so easily become an asset that isn’t performing, but if thought about with its occupants’ productivity in mind too, both can be managed so they’re working at the top of their game.
BW: Workplace Experts are committed to delivering defect-free fit-out and refurbishment projects, driven by innovation and characterised by transparency, personality and fit-out expertise.