Until recent years, broken air conditioning, fluorescent strip lighting and cheap grey furniture were staples of the typical UK office.
And despite the average full-time British worker spending more than 40 hours a week at work – considerably more waking hours than they spend at home – bosses deemed these dreary conditions to be acceptable. Or rather they weren’t prepared to stump up the cash to offer anything more inspired.
But as architects, psychologists and savvy bosses have slowly cottoned on to the link between employee happiness and productivity and between office layouts and creative collaboration, a seismic cultural shift has begun.
Architecture pioneer Norman Foster was one of the first to focus on the social side of office architecture when he designed the headquarters for insurance company Willis Faber Dumas in Ipswich, (1970 to 1975), with its atrium, central escalators, rooftop café and lawned garden and swimming pool.
But it is in the last five years that the ‘employee experience’ has been taken to an entirely new level. As the tech giants of Silicon Valley battle it out to create the most outlandish employee-friendly havens (think branded scooters, meeting pods, table football, in-house gyms), the bosses of smaller firms are beginning to follow suit with their own quirky versions of the employee Utopian dream.
Over 40 years after the creation of the Willis Faber Dumas building, Foster is now set to unveil possibly the most ambitious workplace ever created. California’s new Apple ‘campus’ looks like a descended spaceship – a silver doughnut gleaming amid acres of orchards and rolling hills.
But while only a small percentage of the workforce will ever stroll through Apple orchards (note: Apple with a capital A) to make their way to a Monday morning meeting in the great glass circle, it is only a matter of time before we’re all lounging around on comfy chairs and enjoying the spoils of a free fridge between meetings at the very least.
From multibillion dollar campuses to small but achingly hip independent creative agency offices, here are some of our favourite inspiring workspaces.