People Place Performance, Workplace Design

At our recent launch event for the latest issue of See Further magazine, a lot of the debate focused on people – for example, “how can we make space that suits both extroverts and introverts?” and “how can space cater for several generations, each with a different set of values?”

I believe that the reason questions like this are being asked ever more urgently is that we are all starting to really take in the fact that work is following people. We’re all probably familiar with the statistic – 80% of an organisation’s costs are its people – so it does seem counter-productive when a company designs its spaces according simply to cost saving, rather than people: how they work, how they want to work, and what the business wants from them.

I wrote in the previous issue of See Further about the link between happiness and productivity – happiness is a big factor in efficiency, trust, and attracting the best people in the first place (not to mention retaining them). But we know better than to focus on this alone, and occupiers are wary of fads that cater too whimsically to staff’s apparent happiness – more than one client has, when discussing a brief, pleaded “please, no slides or bean bags”.

But leaving aside the debate on playful design (which Gavin Hughes recently blogged about), there IS more to office design than fun. Lydia Dutton sat on the panel at the event and, talking about Argent’s development at Kings Cross, London, said “we want to create a space where people can live, work and play”. Also on the panel was Richard Jackson of UCL, who commented “students and staff need different things from our spaces; the challenge is creating space to suit both sets of needs”. And that’s before getting started on what the parents of the students might want to see!

So what we’re hearing, in different forms, is “how can one space be many things to many people?” The key to this is asking the right questions, in the right order. What do we want to do with our space is where occupiers often start, but a more urgent question is, What do we want to get out of our people? Starting at this point, more questions become obvious – what kind of behaviour do we want to encourage? How can we represent our organisation’s values? And suddenly there are a lot of important tributaries of information, all feeding into what to do with your space.

So – work is following people, and workspaces will be all the more interesting for it. I look forward to seeing where it can go next.


Nicola GillenNicola Gillen ( is a director of AECOM’s Strategy Plus practice in London.

Originally published Jul 15, 2014

Author: Nicola Gillen