New work-spaces for the way today’s employees work
When it comes to making offices more attractive and healthier for the employee, Arup’s new Warsaw headquarters is exemplary. The BPCC’s Michael Dembinski visited the office last month, and was struck by the concept and execution of a workspace that’s fit for the future. He talks to Małgorzata Madalińska, senior project manager at Arup, about how office space affects recruitment and retention of skilled employees, and what companies are looking for when planning a new office.
There are so many things I like about your offices, but above all, I was struck by the widespread recycling. Rather than commissioning the use of new raw materials with which to fit out the building, Arup has chosen elements that have already had one life, thus saving money, reducing carbon footprint and creating an attractive neo mid-century-modern aesthetic. The use of plants across the building is also notable. As well as bringing a calming atmosphere and increasing the oxygen content, what are the benefits of having so many living plants in the office? I notice your vertical hydroponic ‘farm’ in which you grow mint and other herbs…
A sustainable approach to project implementation while ensuring our employees’ wellbeing was our North Star when developing Arup’s Warsaw office. As plants benefit both the planet and the people, they are a key element of our workplace. We collaborated with NAS-DRA Conscious Design, who helped us arrange the greenery in a way that boosts people’s wellbeing.
One of the most unique places in the office is a round installation surrounded by plants, where employees can immerse themselves in the herbal aromas that stimulate memory and cognitive functions while they sit back and unwind.
Plants placed in our regeneration area create a relaxing atmosphere – and they also help clean the air. They were ‘produced’ during plant-growing workshop for employees, who prepared more than 300 seedlings out of 60 plants.
Aiming to encourage employees to eat healthily we also created a micro-plant farm in the kitchen. Micro-plants are the most nutrient-rich form of herbs and vegetables. You only need about 2-3 grams of them a day to ensure you get the right amount of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
What steps have you taken to save energy and thus reduce your office’s carbon footprint in the long term?
The lighting as well as heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems were designed to reduce media consumption in the long term. The space has been fitted with movement and presence sensors to ensure the lighting is switched off during periods of absence.
According to the building’s standard, opening the windows turns off the heating and cooling equipment. In addition, the operation of heating and cooling equipment has been remotely set to ‘work’ mode and ‘eco’ mode (outside Arup’s working hours).
Both systems are connected to our local Building Management System (BMS), which allows us to control and monitor both the lighting use – that is, the number of times each group of lights is switched on, as well as their operating times and the operation of the HVAC system. All media (electricity, heat and cooling and water) consumption data is collected in the system, enabling us to analyse it and implement remedial actions if necessary.
Your office features activity-based workspaces; employees have their own lockers for personal effects, but otherwise will sit and work wherever makes most sense for the task in hand. How does this work in practice? Is it popular? Are people still tied to certain places? Are some spaces more popular than others?
We want everyone to feel comfortable in the office and have space, which fits the type of work they currently do. If you need peace and quiet to write a report, we have focus rooms and quiet work zone. If you need to brainstorm with your team, we have plenty of space for that too.
As for not having your own desk, this was a big change, but it became clear in interviews and workshops with staff members that the activity-based set-up is the best fit for the type of work we do, as we work on different projects with different teams.
We also communicated that this was coming from an early stage, which had a positive effect.
I also hear a lot of good feedback about the ‘clean desk’ policy we implemented – employees enjoy starting work when the workplace is squeaky clean. A rotation of assigned team zones is planned, so that everyone can work in a different place around the office and different teams can integrate with each other.
When it comes to Arup’s client work, are you noticing any changes in what your clients expect from office spaces in the wake of the pandemic? How is the market reacting to the new reality?
Encouraging employees to return to the offices is often a challenge for clients. Today’s office spaces need to respond to people’s needs and support their wellbeing, while at the same time looking after the wellbeing of the planet. As you have noticed, workplace area and the areas for ad-hoc meetings take up about half of the space in our office, with the remaining half being networking and workshop areas and the regeneration zone.
An office boosting collaboration and championing sustainable development filled with greenery and natural light was the expectation of our employees, which we have successfully implemented. I often recommend similar solutions to clients, it is very important to listen to your employees and adopt a sustainable mind-set.
ESG [environmental, social and governance] is now a crucial concept across the construction sector. How has it changed the demand-side of the market? Do your clients generally understand what this means to them in terms of how they commission and use buildings? To what extent do you have an educational role to spread the ESG message?
Due to the increasing role of ESG in the construction sector, clients are now looking for buildings that are environmentally sustainable, socially responsible and well governed. A lot of clients are now aware of the environmental impact of their buildings and want to reduce their carbon footprint. They are also interested in buildings that promote social responsibility – accessible to people with disabilities and incorporating green spaces.
In addition, clients are looking for buildings that are well managed as they report to globally recognised standards. Often companies engage stakeholders to ensure ESG compliance also in the supply chain.
While some clients have a good understanding of ESG, others want to learn more about its implications for contracting and building use. Arup’s goal is to raise awareness about ESG and educate clients on the importance of sustainability, social responsibility and good governance. In this way, we help our clients make informed decisions about their buildings and support the development of business strategies in line with ESG.
Hybrid work is crystallising across different organisations in different ways. Some firms work two days from home, three days in the office, others have Fridays from home with a view to slowly introduce a four-and-half or even four-day working week. The notion of work-life balance turning into work-life blend or work-life integration is also becoming a trend. How does this look in practice in Arup?
At Arup we opted for a hybrid mode of working. We work three days from the office and two days remotely. However, we believe that our primary work environment is the office, this allows us for the most effective work and team integration. Our recruitment processes show that this form is the most suitable for our job candidates at the moment as well.