Tag Archives: Innocent

Growing up but staying Innocent: Interview with John Durham

Innocent Drinks has gained a reputation not only for healthy, great-tasting smoothies, juices and “Veg Pots”; it is a company that is also known for its relaxed yet buzzy working environment, fitted out with quirky touches and Astroturf for carpet.

For the majority of the last 12 years, Innocent operated from the ironically named “Fruit Towers” – a series of one-storey light industrial units that were knocked together as the company grew and required more space. Further growth and a desire to create a space that reflects the company’s life stage – more ‘grown up’, but still youthful – prompted a move to new premises in the Canal Building at Portobello Dock. The move took place over Easter weekend in April 2011, when 200 people moved from a 17,000-square-feet bungalow overlooking a carpark to a four-storey building almost double the size overlooking a pretty West London canal.

Kursty Groves caught up with John Durham, Head of IT and Environment at Innocent, to find out how people are settling in.

KG: Can you explain the rationale behind the move — over and above creating more space for the company to grow into?

We want it to be natural and authentic and still have space for things to change and grow with the people who ‘live’ here. We very consciously said to people: “This is your building – make it your own”.

JD: Up until now we’ve kind of grown as and when we need to, almost spontaneously, expanding by renovating an adjacent unit on the old light industrial estate. But this move involved signing a ten-year lease – which is a real statement about the company’s commitment to the future. Taking on this building included appointing architects Stiff & Trevillion to remove a significant part of the first floor to create a double height communal space overlooking the canal basin, which forms the heart of the workspace. I think this says quite a lot about us [Innocent] taking on a different challenge – we can do things ‘properly’ – there is space built in under the floors to run cabling and insulation in the roof, unlike our old building, for example. We’re really pleased with our desks too. Luckily our neighbour is lighting and furniture design company, Tom Dixon, who created their first commercial desk system for us using low-energy materials. They are simple yet elegant slab benches, which give us the flexibility to spread out or squeeze up as we grow. We now also have more consistency – there are no ‘bad’ desks – everyone is better off, regardless of how much actual desk space they have.

KG: There can often be a fine line to tread between creating spaces that are ‘nicer’ – better designed, newer, etc – and retaining a feeling that people can feel at home. One of the great facets of the old building was how relaxed everyone was in the workspace. How did you approach that challenge?

JD: We were very aware of that. We deliberately did enough to the new building that people felt it was ‘finished’ and had some sense of purpose about it, but not heavily ‘themed’. We want it to be natural and authentic and still have space for things to change and grow with the people who ‘live’ here. We very consciously said to people: “This is your building – make it your own”. In reality, however, it took six weeks to really feel it. It took about two weeks for people to come down to communal areas and start using them regularly. I think that people felt the need to be at desks more [in the first few weeks], getting to know their areas and their new neighbours. Then gradually they started to explore the communal spaces, next the quiet space and eventually all the nooks and crannies.

KG: That must have been interesting (and nerve-wracking) to watch! It takes quite some confidence to sit back and wait to see how people interact with a new space without heading straight in to try to ‘fix’ things immediately.

JD: It was actually a great piece of advice from one of our landlord’s tenants that saw us through: “Don’t change anything for 3 months to avoid knee jerk reactions”. And it worked. When you think about it, it makes so much sense: when something new gets scratched for the first time, everyone then relaxes.

KG: What were some of the space ‘principles’ you used in this new building?

JD: 1. Dial down the space on desk floors to keep community space – the communal space can become the hub and where people interact more.

2. If you have natural light and healthy products/materials you can work more closely together with your colleagues

3. On every work desk floor there is space to move away from desks to make a cuppa, and there are also private spaces – space to hide. It was really important for us to create a balance of different types of spaces so that people can work anywhere and feel comfortable to be themselves.

KG: When you look back at your last building, what are the main things that you would say worked well in the space?

JD: 1. The double-height communal space. That is where we held our Monday morning meetings, informal meetings, people would sit and have food, it was a great place for catching up. I think one of the key reasons it worked was because it was very fluid – not over-designed with some clever wall that you pull back in a static way

2. The big kitchen in middle of office worked incredibly well. It was a thoroughfare and the noise from the buzz of chatter in the kitchen would move out into the workspaces in a good way – it was not hidden away. People would make tracks through the kitchen en route to their desk every day.

3. Although our former office was open plan, there was a mezzanine that broke up the view and created little pockets where small communities would form. It wasn’t just a sea of open space.

KG: What would you say didn’t work so well in the last office?

JD: 1. Privacy: In the old building, there was really nowhere you can be on your own. I guess when that is the case you feel as if you’re always ‘on show’ and it’s difficult to really be yourself. We now have lots of opportunities for people to find privacy – more than just a ‘quiet room’.

2. Meetings: Our former workspace was great for impromptu, informal encounters, but more structured, formal meetings weren’t really well-catered for. Here we’ve made sure that our meeting room bookings system works really well we’ve focussed more on the way things work – the things you can’t see but make all the difference.

3. Environment: The last building was a light industrial unit – it had no insulation. We’ve moved into a building that has a good environmental rating – a much lower impact. That makes us very happy! Also, about a third of the people in the old office found it difficult to work because it was too noisy, so the individual working floors in the new space seek to address that. However, now it’s sometimes a little quiet! We’re working on getting the balance right between getting ‘head-down’ work done and connecting with others.

KG: I see you’ve kept the Astroturf ‘carpet’, which has become almost like a trademark of your workspace – and copied by many. Was it inevitable that you’d have Astroturf in the new building or did you consider other options? How did you make sure that it wasn’t just a token head-nod to the old office and that it really ‘fits’ here?

JD: The Astroturf is really interesting – it has really helped our office reflect values – if you know Innocent then when you come into our offices you see things you’d expect to see: Oak, glass, grass, etc. The notion that there is grass on floor fits with stuff growing, it’s all ‘natural’. But importantly, it’s also incredibly practical. We don’t have expensive tastes here – lots of things are nice and simple. And everything else in the environment follows that way of thinking: nicely done, simple and not flashy. Nothing contradicts the grass on the ground

In fact, the reality was that we weren’t wedded to the Astroturf – we did look at lots of other options for the flooring, but then we looked at the merits of Astroturf: it’s (very) cheap, doesn’t need replacing for 10 years, which is better for environment, and it acoustic properties are great – it absorbs a lots of sound, especially compared with wood or concrete floors. One of the things we were conscious about was ensuring that the grass runs throughout the workspaces – not just for the place where you ‘have fun’.

KG: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced with the move?

JD: We sweated a lot about choosing the site. It’s just 2.8 miles away from our old office. We did a postcode analysis to find out who would be affected most or least and found with this site that the move was not dramatically different for most people.

We were very aware from the start that, even though the move team was really excited about the new building that any change can be difficult for some, and needs to be communicated well.  Very few people like change when they’re not in control; it can create a lot of angst if not managed well. So right at the start of engagement around the move we created an email address: “ournewhome” where people could send ideas and we asked each team to elect team champion to provide 2-way communication. We also created special storage space for people, as the new building brought with it more ‘clear desks and a new way of managing personal and professional filing.

KG: …And the biggest successes?

JD: I can honestly say that we don’t have the “Sunday night feeling”! This is a place that people really enjoy getting up on a Monday morning and coming to.

We’re starting to see some of that spontaneity that was so great at our last workspace come into this building. Tonight, we’re having a BBQ on the terrace because it’s been a sunny week, for example.

I love that those things are possible and easy. For me, one of the things I’m most proud of is that we have created an environment that people flourish in and respond to. I love seeing people dotted round having meetings, moving around, lots of interactions BECAUSE of the way we’ve designed it.

KG: Finally, what are your plans and hopes for the future?

JD: I hope that as we grow as a business, the building grows and changes with us – that it becomes the place that supports the growth and new ideas for our business – rather than limiting us.

When I look back at the last building – the second generation of Innocent – so much good stuff happened there. It was the place where it all happened – from Fruitstock to This Water to Veg Pots.

I’m excited that this building is going to be the canvas for the next chapter of Innocent.

For more on the thinking behind Innocent’s unique workspaces see my Enviable Workplace blog post: http://enviableworkplace.com/growing-up-but-staying-innocent/

Why ‘lean’ office design might actually hinder business success

Article from FM Magazine

Kursty Groves discusses what makes a creative and inspiring workplace, including examples from her book I Wish I Worked There!

With a growing resistance against ‘lean’ office design, and new research suggesting that it lowers productivity, she asks: do today’s ‘knowledge workers’ need more individual, less standardised workplaces than many of them currently have access to?

One of the most inspiring and humbling experiences I’ve been privileged enough to enjoy in recent times was the year-long tour I took of about 60 different corporate workspaces around the world as part of researching my book, I Wish I Worked There! The fact that large, successful companies were willing to throw open their doors and share the inner workings of their daily corporate life – warts and all – allowed me to report on what was working (or not working) for them, and for us all to learn from it.

Several common threads emerged as I visited a large variety of companies in industries ranging from Automotive to Banking, Consumer Healthcare to Film, and two specific comments stand out that I think illustrate an interesting challenge that many businesses face as they embrace new office design philosophies to support new ways of working.

Whilst being shown around a newly refurbished office by a Facilities Manager, she turned to me and proudly proclaimed:

‘We’re implementing a “lean policy” here – doesn’t it look great?’, which was followed quickly by, ‘It’s a shame we have to put people in here – they just spoil it all!”’

On another tour of a large utilities provider in the USA, a Project Manager metaphorically threw up his hands as he exclaimed: ‘This is supposed to be hot desking, but look!…’, indicating to piles of paper and files on a surface, ‘..and you should see the lockers – they’re chock-a-block full of people’s crap!’ Hot desking, it seems, is a phrase that most people understand comes with the obligatory “clean desk policy” but the reason behind the initiative is not always understood. Depending on whom you turn to, you’ll hear different sides of the story, but at the heart there lies the same problem: in a bid to increase space efficiency, manage mess and create a unified “look and feel”, something goes wrong.

Enabled by technology, organisations are moving (some more quickly than others), toward paperless systems removing wires and cables and working in more agile ways. Whilst this move is clearly in the right direction, it has fuelled a surge of minimally-designed offices – with clean lines, matching everything and enforced clean desk policies. In some cases, the office environment looks like one has walked onto a Hollywood set designed to depict heaven – yet, for the employee, it can feel like hell.

Environments like these might be pleasing to the designer’s eye and apparently easy to maintain for the Facilities Manager, but how does it affect the worker? And what are the consequences for business? In recent times, I have witnessed a resistance to this type of one-size-fits-all lean office design. The reason is that – in some cases – it is having an adverse effect. By focusing on design for design’s sake it can strip the personality out of a place and take with it a sense of ownership that often contributes to employee happiness, wellbeing and productivity.

I am a huge advocate for those businesses who are looking forward and seeking out working environments that support more modern working processes, and methods enabled by technology, but they also need to be seeking to answer the question: ‘How can we create a productive yet inspiring working environment?’

Save the Office Soul

Without soul, a place lacks a deeper connection to people. Pause for a moment to consider those places you just love being in – those environments that seem to speak to you. For some, it’s the pomp and grandeur of a cathedral, for others it’s the unadulterated beauty of nature and others still it can be the humility of a friendly local pub. In many cases, people talk of feeling a sense of “possibility” or “inspiration”, feeling “connected” or being “at one” when surrounded by places that are rich in history, showing evidence of the patina of time, imbued with meaning or stories or just indescribably beautiful.

Yet when I ask people where they go to be inspired, or to describe an environment that helps them to think clearly, problem-solve or create, the office is never indicated as top of the list. Cynics might argue that productivity and creativity don’t mix – that offices are for processing and creativity is for “out of hours”, but I have seen countless examples of higher-performing individuals and teams within organisations who all share one thing in common: a strong culture reinforced by an appropriate physical environment. Of course there are many successful companies who have a thriving culture within mediocre offices, but one can’t help but imagine how much better the culture and performance of those people would be if some attention were paid to ensuring the spaces that surround those people support them and work with them.

The offices of Bloomberg, whose primary business is analysing and sharing financial data which relies on technology to operate a paperless office, could be like many in the financial industries: dull and corporate. Yet here, where speed, transparency and trust is at the heart of the company’s success, layers of light and colour are to communicate round-the-clock information. The appreciation of how the environment can inspire and sooth goes deeper than mere information displays: a more visceral engagement can be experienced aurally – where meaningful sound codes denote business successes and the now “signature” fish tanks stocked with beautiful and interesting colourful fish entice people to slow down for a moment of contemplation.

One of the strongest competitive advantages a business can have is that of a strong culture. A product or service can be copied, but you can’t copy a culture. A place that reflects the collective soul of the people who ‘live’ there will resonate with the energy that encourages those people to be who they are, encouraging them to work towards a common goal with a purpose higher than clocking in from 9-5.

Bloomberg “signature” fish tanks entice people to slow down for a moment of contemplation
Bloomberg “signature” fish tanks entice people to slow down for a moment of contemplation

Purposeful Belonging

Places with soul also have an undeniable identity, where the purpose and personality of the people who occupy them seem to resonate through the very fabric of the environment. When people develop a sense of belonging or attachment to a workplace, it helps to reinforce values and attitude, feel “at home” and consequently free to bring their whole minds to work. The result: people who are have permission to be productively creative.

When it comes to belonging, there are four levels to consider:

  • Organisational belonging, where people feel aligned behind a common vision, set of values and way of doing business.
  • Geographic belonging, where local cultural differences are encouraged, which makes for a more friendly environment; people are less likely to feel like just another cog in the wheel or just another desk number! You can walk into any Google office in the world and know that you’re in Google. Yet each has its own unique flavour – rather than being exactly the same the world over, attention is paid to local preferences. This applies not only to the “quirks” -London is kitted out with traditional red phone boxes and brightly coloured Brighton beach huts, Zurich has ski gondolas and reclaimed original expedition igloos for meeting rooms – it also applies to the less ‘flashy’ stuff like meeting space allocation, tech-stop and micro-kitchen décor as well as individual desk personalisation.
  • Team belonging, where teams mark out a territory (which may have blurred boundaries). This can fuel positive inter-team competition, make way-finding easier and yet still allow flexible working within a defined area.
  • Personal belonging. People need the freedom to interpret this differently, and as an organisation, the interesting part is establishing the principles that provide guidelines to manage a cohesive look or feel, without being overly dictatorial. For some, personalisation is in the form of “trophies” of achievement (consumer feedback, performance data, product output, etc), for others it’s photographs of their nearest and dearest. Other people find surrounding themselves with stimulating images or objects can put them into a productive state. Personalisation does not have to mean allowing”junk” to accumulate on workstations; it can include personal touches in communal areas. At an adventure travel company I worked with in London, one employee was well-known for her green fingers, as over time she had created a mini oasis of plants around her desk. Her passion gardening has more recently extended to include the company’s reception area and outdoor spaces, and both she and her colleagues derive great pleasure from seeing the personal touch that she has added.
Reclaimed expedition igloos are used as meeting pods at Google in Zurich. The originality of these spaces is specific to the Swiss location, but the principle of creating a variety of different meeting spaces is core to Google’s spatial philosophy
Reclaimed expedition igloos are used as meeting pods at Google in Zurich. The originality of these spaces is specific to the Swiss location, but the principle of creating a variety of different meeting spaces is core to Google’s spatial philosophy

Space for Creativity

It’s no longer enough to expect people to turn up to work and just process information. Computers do it more quickly and efficiently. Many organisations have acknowledged the shift to a more innovation-driven economy, where cross-functional teams share and build upon knowledge, create, conceive new processes, services, products and methods. By definition the ability to create something new and appropriate, creativity is essential to the entrepreneurship that not only gets new businesses started it’s the lifeblood that sustains the best companies once they’ve reached global scale.

The innovation process itself requires many different modes of thinking throughout – from analytical decision-making through to care-free ‘blue sky’ thinking. These thinking modes – stimulation, where the mind is inspired or thought process triggered in some new way; reflection, a period of uninterrupted focus; collaboration, where ideas are shared and built, and play, where experimentation occurs – show up as different types of work. The physical environment should support these modes otherwise it will become a barrier and a source of stress or frustration.

Principles to create inspiring working environments

There are three clear principles that I believe, if followed, help to guide thinking and the design of inspiring working spaces. These hardy principles have stood the test of time and have guided some of the most successful spaces I have witnessed in business:

1. Nail the Needs

All too-often I see people rushing into space re-design without fully considering the essence of their needs. Once these are well established, then it’s time to roll in the designers to translate those needs onto visual and physical reality.

DreamWorks Animation SKG (California)

Rather than following the ‘de rigueur’ of open-plan spaces to encourage collaboration, DWA supported the needs of its creatives by clustering them in small pods. These ‘work dens’ were often dark (most animation work is carried out on screen), so to encourage people to get outside, take a breath of fresh air and bump into other colleagues, several outdoor devices lure people away from their desks to mingle. Of course in the UK we don’t have the luxury of year-round fair weather, but the principles hold true!

2. Brilliant Basics

When embarking on an office space transformation, often the basics are overlooked. In fact, paying attention to those small, sometimes invisible features of the working environment can make all the difference.

Google (London, New York, Zurich, Mountain View)

Google is known world-wide for its impressive working environment. Possibly more famous for its culture and workspaces than its products and services. The number one response when I ask people to name a company with a great working environment. But few appreciate that Google’s mantra is to deliver on the basics first, and deliver them well. This thinking has driven workspace innovations such as the 24-hour ‘Tech-stop’ for IT support, the ubiquitous ‘microkitchen’ and endless walls of whiteboards.

3. Iconic Touches

Once the first two have been established, it becomes easy to create those one or two really out-standing features that express the personality or uniqueness of a workspace. Importantly, these iconic touches should be deeply connected to the personality and culture of the people who work there.

Innocent Drinks (London)

It only takes one or two bold touches to create a compelling and memorable message that inspires both employees and on-lookers alike. Importantly, Innocent Drinks does not brandish its logo all over its workspace. Rather, the team has understood what lies at the heart of the brand and the company culture and used that as inspiration to inform some key spatial design choices. Its now-famous Astroturf flooring has been copied by others, but where it may be seen as ‘gimmicky’ or ‘whimsical’ in those spaces whose brand or culture does not align with it, for Innocent, it’s a natural choice.

Innocent’s iconic Astroturf grass in place of carpet has become an iconic talking point
Innocent’s iconic Astroturf grass in place of carpet has become an iconic talking point

4. Get People Involved

As already noted, it’s really the people who make a space come to life. So it stands to reason that involving people in the creation of an exciting working environment is a great way of engaging them through any transformations you may want to make. Eliciting contribution and feedback in the process of designing your spaces can not only provide essential information, managing their input into team and public spaces can make them feel they’re part of a community. At T-Mobile’s Innovation Centre in Seattle, teams competed to decorate the previously clinical and “bland” loos. The result was a wonderful set of themed areas (based on a pre-determined brief) that not only provided daily interest for colleagues, but also injected a real sense of ownership. 

Implementing a workplace philosophy that is grounded in ‘agile’, ‘lean’ or ‘flexible’ ways of working can be the right choice for many organisations seeking to update and transform their environments, but this should be taken as a starting point – don’t rely on it as a silver bullet. Often what happens is a new trend in office design will be seen as a solution for a problem of the time – to the detriment of the business. This new buzz word can be implemented without acknowledging its appropriateness to the company in which it’s being applied. The most important thing to recognise is that what works for one business might not work for another and so understanding what makes the business tick – as well as having serious commitment and engagement from senior leaders – is essential.