PDM International’s Marcus Foley talks to Tamsin Bradshaw about what’s driving change in office design, and how design and architecture can help pave the way for effective working environments.
The way we work is changing, says Marcus Foley. As we become increasingly connected thanks to technologies in the workspace, we are increasingly recognising the value of information sharing, and the importance of efficient spaces that get the most out of limited square footage – both functionally and creatively.
Foley is one of the founding partners at PDM International (PDM), an interior design consultancy with offices across the Asia-Pacific, which has been leading the way design responds to changing needs in the workplace environment. PDM has created new-generation offices for CBRE Hong Kong, KPMG, Phillips, Dentsu Aegis Network Ltd. and Swire Properties, to name just a few. Here, Foley talks about trends in the workplace, and solutions to maximising creativity in an office environment and attracting and retaining talent.
Please tell us about the changes happening in the workplace.
It’s a disruption of how people work today. It’s not a revolution; it’s more of an evolution. The trend now is to create working environments that support an agile style of working. The new trend is about breaking down the barriers so that people can come together spontaneously.
I think it’s gone beyond that to harnessing talent; now, we’re looking at a much broader spectrum of how you can bring talent to fit a task. You want to create activity-based workspaces. Furniture vendors and other suppliers are even producing products that cater to this.
How can design support this evolution?
In the past, designers used to go in and say, “Here’s a lounge area, here’s a coffee table.” Now we go in and analyse desk occupation, meeting room bookings, travel plans. If everything’s set up properly, the work settings and the spaces in which you want people to engage should support the type of meeting you’re having there.
The big thing is the workplace cafe. It’s a place for people to meet together, to have accidental collisions. For KPMG, for example, we’re putting together a proper barista – it’s not going to be your franchise-style coffee shop. People can sit and work here. It’s something to ignite creativity – we’re trying to harness people’s ability to think differently and get out of their traditional work environment.
What is technology’s part in all this?
The big enabler of all this is technology. It’s now possible to work anywhere, anytime.
You’ve also got to have a very good booking system in order to make the agile workspace function properly. There’s software now that will tell you who’s booked which room, which desk, who’s going to be in which place. You should be able to say, “I’m going to have a meeting with the legal guy, the marketing guy, to talk through this proposal,” and the software should narrow it down.
These are big changes for a company to make to the way its employees work. What does the company need to do to make the transition as smooth as possible?
Within trying to structure all of this, there’s a really large component of change management. If the leadership’s not embracing it, and if it’s not explained well and there aren’t HR policies around it, it’s not going to work. Working while sitting in a cafe and drinking your favourite cup of java should not only be allowed but also promoted. People shouldn’t feel bad about it or scared of being told off by their boss for doing their job.
We have to ask the companies we work with: How ready are you to accept these new ways of working? How dynamic is your workforce? How many generations? From Baby Boomers to Generation X through to the Millennial Generation, they’re all going to respond differently to this.
And if you’re not going to buy everyone laptops, then what is mobility?
What about co-working spaces?
The real disruption to how we work is this sort of co-working space. It’s about driving collaboration, knowledge sharing and the sharing of ideas. There are several types of space. There’s the very profit-driven one; someone who owns real estate wants to make a profit by renting desks and you buy a desk to work at. It’s not that creative.
Then there are incubator spaces that have been around since the old McKinsey days. The Swire Properties blueprint space is a mix of co-working space and incubator space. Inviting startups to submit their ideas and they get free rent for six months. If you look at the way Swire’s done it, it’s not about generating revenue; it’s very much a community offering.
The next generation that we’re starting to see pop up, and there’s not too much of it in Hong Kong, is what we call the knowledge sharing society. You still have your traditional office, and you come and go. It blends food, arts, culture, knowledge sharing and community.
To make the initial investment worthwhile, you’ve got to make sure you get the offering right first; it’s got to be future-proof. And that’s where the content and events help. It all goes hand in hand: the secret is to maintain some interior architecture, that’s really important in determining how people respond to things – it can’t just look like a furniture showroom.
So it’s got to have great design, it’s got to have the exciting offering, the technology and it’s got to be multifaceted. If you get all that right, you’ve got a great space. And it’s also viral. The people operating there are probably on social media posting selfies of themselves in their cool office.
We’re working on a few of these membership-style communities that haven’t been released yet. Watch that space, it’s going to be quite interesting.