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By Atul Bansal, co-founder, Sheila Bird Group
Estimated to be worth nearly £184 billion to the UK market, the tech sector is growing 2.6 times faster than the overall economy. The tech start-up scene is thriving, while scale-up numbers are accelerating at pace.
Gone are the days where these IT companies are confined to dull, corporate offices. Today, they are leading the way when it comes to innovative ways of using a space. And that’s not just reserved for tech giants like Facebook and Google – start-ups and scale-ups are doing it too. Here, Atul Bansal, co-founder of Sheila Bird Group, shares his top tips for designing for a tech company.
- Design with millennials in mind
When new and growing tech companies approach workplace design, they must be designing with millennials in mind. That is where they will find the skills they need to make their business a success in the long-run, because, after all, millennials are the workforce of tomorrow.
What do millennials want from a working environment? Two things; first, they are looking for a home from home – more of an experience. It should be a place that people want to enjoy for the social aspects and networking as much as the work itself. A space where the blend between work and home is blurred and teams can work collaboratively, eat and meet with other people.
There is little distinction between work and life anymore, which means buildings need more public-like amenities – think coffee shops, clubs and classes. Without these, tech companies, and any other business or sector for that matter, will struggle in the war for talent. It’s a necessity, not an exception.
The second thing millennials look for is a workplace community and by that I don’t just mean one that works in a business – we are now also talking about the community that works with the business. It’s something that comes up time and time again in design meetings with young tech companies. Just as businesses want to link into communities, communities now want to link into businesses, too.
Working with landlords to create co-occupied retail spaces on the ground floor of a building, for example, will animate how the building interacts with the things and people around it. Encouraging thought inspiration, these areas don’t belong to one business but rather the community in which the building sits in.
- Design with innovation in mind
The main differentiator of young tech businesses from other sectors is their innovative nature, and interaction is key to that.
There are many opinions on the role of the office in a more flexible working world – some see the physical space as a place for meeting and dialogue, as the foundation on which we build trust. Others will vouch for a more productive workforce means one that isn’t tied to one location or one desk. And I’d agree, but for tech companies with growth aspirations, an office must absolutely bring people together. Whether that is physically or virtually – it must work as a space that inspires and motivates people to innovate, come up with their most ingenious ideas and do their very best work.
It’s also important to remember that the people in your company are individuals. They have cultures and they have rituals that are generally overlooked. In order to design an environment that breeds innovation, we need to understand these cultures and rituals. I like to use the Sunday lunch example of a ritual that unites people today. If we think of that in a work context, tech companies should be thinking about how they capitalise on and make the most of these things to build trust and community.
- Design with productivity in mind
There are many studies out there today, which conclude that we have to work less to be more productive. Of course, it’s a luxury in today’s working world to have the technology at our fingertips to be able to work remotely or on the go. I’d say that small tech teams have the advantage, thanks to the advanced technology that we have today – they have the intellectual freedom of a start-up, with the resources of the mature enterprise.
- Design with growth in mind
Tech start-ups are notoriously fast moving – they need to be that way in order to keep up with competition, the pace of emerging technologies and succeed in today’s market. So, having a space that will grow with them is a must.
If you’re paying for an office space, especially as a small or start-up tech business, it can and should serve multiple functions. There’s no reason why your ‘office’ can’t be public facing, providing value to the community in which it sits. There’s no reason why it can’t be a learning and mentoring centre, a coffee shop, a partnership with likeminded businesses.
It should also give you space to grow. The trick is to be clever with how you use a space – can you build on it, for example, adding new levels to be shaped to suit the company at any given period in time?
The office, like the smartphone, is ripe for disruption. The phone you use in 2019 may look much cooler, sleeker and have better apps and cameras than the one you had in 2008, but it is still essentially the same. That’s what we have been doing with office space for the past 25 years. It’s easy to add more biophilic elements, or bring in soft furnishings and more windows, but it’s still an office. Ultimately what we have been trying to do is make the office look more like the third place, but what we should be doing is creating a third place that can perform office functions when needed.
In the future, we will see more spaces that are not only unique places to go and work in, but also to hang out in. It’s not just about the physical environment anymore – it’s about what is created in them that gives them character, the mood, the identity and, ultimately, what attracts and retains the best people.
Design with tech businesses in mind
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