The growing trend for flexible office design

Soapworks’ Manager, Jennifer Bamber, addresses the growing trend for flexible office design.


Have a look around your office – does it inspire you? Is it good for your health and wellbeing? Increasingly, these are factors at the top of the checklist for leading corporate businesses when looking to set up a new office base. After all, it’s no secret that a happy workforce in a motivating environment is a productive one.

The question of productivity in the UK is one that comes up time and time again. So often, the UK’s productivity rates are proven to be lacklustre when compared with our European counterparts. When you couple this with the economic uncertainty threatened by Brexit, it’s not surprising that business leaders are prioritising initiatives to improve employee happiness and wellbeing. One of the growing areas where businesses feel they can address this is through the working environment.

Earlier this year, the British Council for Offices and Savills released the latest edition of their research paper What Workers Want, highlighting a number of important trends in employee desires. A clear pattern was choice and control; workers want to be able to choose how and where they work, while also having a desk space to call their own.

Almost half of those surveyed considered access to collaboration space with colleagues as imperative, while half of workers agreed that if the internal design of their office matched their ‘ideal’, it would increase productivity levels.

With studies showing that employees work better in a well-designed office environment, finding the right office space and using office space more effectively has never been more important for business leaders. What is clear is that employees are looking for more from their workplace. In the same vein, occupiers are looking for more from commercial developments. They need office space that can be adapted to suit the needs of the individual business and the desires of their employees. They need flexibility.

Creating a flexible working environment starts first and foremost with the building. Commercial office developments provide the foundations from which businesses can ‘design in’ elements they see as vital to the success of their business and to the wellbeing of their employees. For developers, space has to be able to satisfy the changing wants and needs of occupiers and employees over a longer period of time. It has to offer a blank canvas, allowing businesses to grow and be more adventurous with their workplace criteria. The demands of the modern workplace are such that offices are expected to accommodate solitary work as well as group discussion space, and room to socialise as well as formal meeting areas. The capacity for different styles of working spaces to stimulate different types of work is becoming a necessity.

It is no surprise then that larger, edge-of-city premises are becoming more attractive to businesses looking to set up a new office base. These developments have the luxury of physical space where city centre schemes are often confined. They can accommodate greater integration of advanced technologies and a greater spectrum of amenities on site, making them a much more exciting prospect for employers and employees alike. The ability to offer tailored, adaptable design has almost become the secret weapon for commercial developments of this kind, looking to tease occupiers away from the bright lights of the nearby city.

As the largest speculative scheme to be built outside of London, Soapworks was designed to be a magnet for forward-thinking, fast-growing businesses. The large-scale redevelopment of the former Colgate-Palmolive factory at Salford Quays, Manchester, spans over 400,000ft² of Grade A office accommodation with unrivalled floorplates of up to 46,000ft². Its unique proposition has meant that is has been successful in attracting the likes of Talk Talk, The Home Office and global engineering firm MWH Treatment, a subsidiary of MWH Constructors headquartered in the US.

Soapworks was designed with flexibility in mind. Vast floorplates, exposed ceiling heights and expansive spaces with the flexibility for subdivision, give occupiers the freedom to design a workplace that suits the needs of their workforce. With this unique combination of features, occupiers have been able to create a multitude of space configurations.

When MWH Treatment agreed to take 25,000ft² of office space at Soapworks in 2015, they needed an adaptable and contemporary space, in a location that would allow them to continue to attract the very best talent and further develop their core delivery in the North West. Now the firm’s offices, spanning two floors in the second phase of the development, are among the most dynamic in the region, incorporating design elements specifically aimed at improving productivity.

The key driver for the engineering firm’s relocation was a culture change. They wanted to create a workplace that inspired innovation, collaboration and creativity. Workplace specialist, The TSK Group, took up the challenge, and in just 12 weeks was able to deliver a space that has created a real sense of community, choice and collaboration for employees.

Key features include Wi-Fi enabled discussion hubs to encourage collaboration, open-plan breakout spaces for social interaction, quick-meet booths, cleverly integrated locker storage and a clear brand identity throughout.

Paul Bresnan, Managing Director at MWH Treatment, has praised the changes to the way the business operates on a daily basis. He says: “This office design has allowed us to completely change our culture. We’ve exchanged formality for community, without having to compromise on professionalism. We’ve introduced choice so that each and every member of staff can work in an environment that suits changing their working style, and most importantly we’ve created a culture where people are allowed to be themselves.

“You can’t underestimate the difference even purely aesthetic design elements can make to the wellbeing and motivation of the workforce. We’ve been amazed at the improvements to productivity since the relocation and office fit-out took place. The feedback from staff has been extremely positive.”

Creating a flexible workplace clearly has its benefits, none more so than to the happiness and wellbeing of employees. Companies are investing more and more in creating interesting, dynamic spaces because they understand the difference it can make to the productivity of their workforce. While we might not have seen the last of the traditional office just yet, as long as developers are building expansive commercial developments, the trend for flexible office design looks set to continue.

Share this article

Login to post comments

About us

Future Constructor & Architect is a specification platform for architects and building contractors, which focuses on top-end domestic and commercial developments.

As well as timely industry comment and legislation updates, the magazine covers recent projects and reviews the latest sustainable building products on the market. Subscribe here.

Privacy policy

Latest updates


Sign up below to receive monthly construction, architecture and product updates from FC&A via email: