Practising What We Preach (…or Avoiding ‘Cobbler’s Children’ Syndrome)

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “A cobbler’s children are the worst shod,” or the Biblical quotation, “Physician, heal thyself.” Consultants often find themselves solving everyone else’s issues and neglecting their own.

When we at HKS London found ourselves in the exciting but somewhat daunting position of being both client and architect for our new studio, there was only one thing we could do: imagine that we were undertaking the discovery and design for a third party, and be as robust and objective with ourselves as we are with our clients.

Any creative business that has gone through the process of designing and delivering their own website or brochure will understand the challenge. Everyone has an opinion: be it subjective, commercial or aesthetic. Applying the same research-based and results-focused approach that we employ with commercial clients, we consulted with our staff, senior management, suppliers and clients, and we dug deep to create a design that would enhance our culture, our productivity, and our ambitions.

Our workplace strategy is based on looking at organizations though the lenses of their people, processes, technology and space. Only when these factors are optimized and aligned can the true potential of a business be unleashed. We validate our research through triangulation, which is to say, we look at the same aspects using three types of tools: digital, engagement and observational. This process yields deep and dependable insights.

Digital tools included:

  • An online employee survey
  • An HKS Culture Survey
  • An HKS Place Performance Scan that analyses activities, collaboration, internal communication and culture
  • Environmental readings including light, sound, temperature, humidity, CO2 and VOCs (volatile organic compounds)

Engagement tools included:

  • Leadership alignment
  • In-depth briefing
  • Change enablement that goes beyond management to help teams understand and embrace change
  • LEAN processes including Gemba waste analysis developed in the Japanese automotive industry

Observational tools included:

  • Experience mapping
  • Behaviour mapping
  • Heat mapping
  • Identifying user personas to understand user motivations, needs, goals and concerns

Our focus on well-being and sustainability meant the new studio must meet exacting WELL and BREEAM standards. It needed to provide a variety of flexible spaces that inspire creativity and collaboration. The aim was to design for a studio culture, enable cross-fertilisation of ideas, and encourage celebration of design excellence in all its forms. And of course, it should be beautiful.

Among the key objectives identified by our research were that we wanted to

  • Promote staff health and well-being
  • Create the feel of a studio, not an office
  • Use design and technology to aid collaboration and flexibility
  • Enable better technology and IT integration
  • Create a client experience inspired by world-class hospitality
  • Put our process at the center of the design, engaging staff and clients equally and creating an ever-changing canvas
  • Create a powerful sense of pride in the environment

Our HKS workplace guidelines, which we call LiveIt, were developed in tandem with this process and enshrine four concepts at the heart of our workplaces: studio culture, flexibility, collaboration and the idea that we serve as a Living Lab for the exploration and evolution of advanced workplace strategies and design solutions.

The studio achieved a BREEAM Excellent rating and will be submitted for WELL rating in the coming months. With well-being at its heart, it demonstrates our commitment to designs that minimise environmental impact and optimise productivity and satisfaction.

Improving air quality meant reducing or eliminating volatile organic compounds (VOCs), increasing air supply and additional air filtration. Indeed, the lack of a ‘new office smell’ is remarkable. Lighting is low-energy LED and is controlled by motion sensors. Lighting levels can be adjusted to decrease eye strain. Daylight is maximised with large glazing and insertion of rooflights and floor penetrations. Water is filtered via UV and regularly tested, and there are on-demand boiling water taps throughout the studio. Constant environmental measures ensure that the environment remains consistently optimal.

Post-occupancy surveys analyse satisfaction with temperature, comfort, workstations, IT, light levels, noise levels, and environment. Initial indications, after three months of living with the new space, are that our colleagues are very satisfied indeed.

On entering reception, visitors step into a creatively enriching space, with a programme of exhibitions, workshops, and talks. They might bear witness to a brainstorm or collective design review, with its participants gathered in the generous collaborative space. Beyond are the design and operations teams. A variety of settings cater for both privacy and community. The workspace is designed to support 20 distinct work modes with 11 types of collaborative space and eight types of individual work spaces. The objective was to create an environment that organically responds to individual and group activities, always providing the right space for the task, be it learn, focus, socialise or collaborate.

The brief was incredibly complex:  immersive client experience, enabling workplace, event venue, collaboration space, gallery, showcase, strategy case study (or living lab), social space, learning space, and engine room for a practice with diverse sectors working across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The solution was simplicity. To be efficient by making every space multipurpose, to be functional by offering a huge variety in work settings and to be futureproofed by designing flexible and adaptable spaces. We don’t know how we will use the studio from week to week, but we do know that it will be up to the challenge.