At our Best Employers Eastern Region awards conference in October 2018, Bidwells Managing Director Catherine Spitzer and Director of People and Change Julie Archer, shared their experience of completing a total transformation of the leading property consultancy’s Cambridge headquarters to create a truly agile workspace.
Whilst few businesses will have the resources to invest in complete office refurbishment, there is a lot of inspiration employers can take from Bidwells’ story.
During an ‘on-stage’ interview with Jeanette Wheeler, Partner at Birketts LLP, Catherine and Julie described Bidwell’s transformation:
“Our objective was to create a workplace where our colleagues are empowered to be their best and to reaffirm Bidwells as a great place to work. Our head office at Trumpington Road was not working physically or mentally for our employees. It was a traditional 1970s building and the layout of long corridors and individual offices meant people were very siloed. Colleagues who had worked together for over 30 years didn’t really know each other. We believe people are stronger in teams than they are as individuals, yet we had a whole host of knowledge and experience, which wasn’t coming together. Our aim was to create a workspace which encouraged conversation, engaged employees to share expertise and enabled them to work better, both together and individually.
“We recognised that some employees would naturally be worried about change and that not everyone would want the same things from their work environment. To manage this we took the approach of treating everyone as individuals. We actively encouraged everyone to have their say and to help shape ideas for the transformation. We asked people what they needed to do their job well, what most frustrated them about the office and what processes and technology would make things easier. As well as asking what people wanted, we also asked what they thought we should ditch because it wasn’t adding any value. We carried out more than two years of research before we began the reconstruction, as we wanted the design to be right.
“The three-storey office has been reconfigured into zoned spaces. It’s not a completely open plan, but there are no internal offices other than meeting rooms. Instead, there are different zoned areas of anchored desks, break out spaces and quiet areas. The idea is to empower our 250 plus staff by giving them a choice of different environments to work in. Everyone is encouraged to move around the office as they see fit and based on the task they are working on. There are options to work seated or standing, a variety of chairs to choose from including comfortable winged chairs in both open and slightly more private spaces. If people need a quiet space, they can find one. If they want to sit on a sofa to catch up on reading without any distractions, they can. Alternatively, there are a huge number of collaborative areas where people can work together.
“There are still people who are naturally drawn to sitting in the same areas, but we really are seeing people moving around more. One of the biggest changes is that people don’t sit and eat lunch at their desks anymore. We all congregate for lunch in our ground floor café. This really encourages conversations and a team mentality as people naturally talk over food and drink – it’s the social glue!
“The new-look office has only been open for less than a year, but so far the results are really good. When you walk in it feels like a ‘happy’ environment. People are working more collaboratively and talking to each other more. We have even had past employees return to the organisation as well as attracting key personnel to the business because of the changes.
“This office transformation is just one element of us evolving the business without wanting to make changes just for the sake of it. It is part of a wider plan to shape our strategy, vision and culture. Having been established for 180 years this year, we are not looking to substantially change Bidwells, just to build on its strengths and to make the firm fit for the future and the size it has become. The new workspace really helps bring our culture to life and it is encouraging everyone to live by our values, which include having fun. We are delighted with the way it has turned out and our employees love it already.”
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