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KI Europe help Societe Generale 'work smarter' with a radically new office landscape

06 November 2015

KI Europe, working with Directive Office and TP Bennett have created a radically new office environment for Societe Generale (SG), one of the world’s largest financial services companies

With increasing demand on their existing real estate around the Square Mile, and a new Kohn Pederson Fox-designed consolidated office in Canary Wharf set for completion in 2019, SG decided to explore opportunities to maximise efficient use of their facilities. After reviewing the workplace strategies of other global companies and how they address challenges of space planning and ever-evolving work styles, SG launched a pilot scheme introducing agile working for 250 employees in support roles, on the 2nd floor of their Tower Hill offices.

Jeremy Gibbs, Director and Project Manager of COO Projects at Societe Generale commented: “We now have a 44% increase in capacity in a much nicer environment. This is a first for Societe Generale and as such the concept of agile/dynamic working is a new concept, which has been globally introduced across the company. We’ve introduced a “Work Smarter” initiative for staff and as an organisation we have approached this in a highly democratic way. As a result, we found that there was a need for more meeting, collaboration and confidential phone call spaces, including a desire for a better provision of coffee, printing and copy facilities.”

Appointed as lead consultants for the company’s eventual relocation to Canary Wharf, TP Bennett were also required to bring SG’s “work smarter” initiative to life within their existing offices. In effect, this gradual roll-out would help transition the workforce to a new way of working, in an environment that is much more open, collaborative and flexible.

Kate Sian Boulter, Spatial Interior Designer for TP Bennett commented: “Given that this was the first of its kind within the Societe Generale Corporation there was a certain pressure to ensure it worked. It was clear from the start of the process that SG were keen to explore new ways of working and very much viewed their new premises in Tower Hill, Level 2 as a pilot for the larger future project as well as a potential template that they could roll out globally. From the initial design SG were very interested in exploring new ways of working and providing an exciting work environment for their staff. They had a keen interest in what furniture would be utilised to help achieve efficiency and looked to inject a level of colour beyond their black and red brand.”

Prior to the refurbishment, the space was dominated by cellular offices and lacked sufficient meeting rooms, with no informal or breakout spaces. Previously used as a trader floor, it was densely populated with assigned desks, partitions and access control, which in turn darkened the space and generated a sense of a fragmented workforce.

The TP Bennett team introduced open plan work spaces, with benches accommodating up to 10 instead of 8 people. The new 1:1.2 desk sharing ratio allows more efficient use of space as flexible working becomes increasingly popular. With senior management and their assistants occupying the only assigned workstations throughout the floor, the remaining 80% of desks were divided into ‘neighbourhoods’ and are unassigned to support flexible and collaborative working - a dramatic change from the former, rigid working environment.

As the floor is not client-facing, the now entirely open plan office was free to depart from the red and black SG corporate colours. Instead, a colour palette of white, blue and grey was selected to create a contemporary and calm atmosphere. UniteSE workstations were specified with white worktops on black understructures in order to further lighten the aesthetic and create an illusion of floating worksurfaces. There is no screening between workstations so as to maintain an open vista, but also to facilitate easy reconfiguration and flexibility in the future. The assigned workstations for senior management are also UniteSE, but can be differentiated by their generous 2000mm width.

Another first for the company is the introduction of sit-stand desks. Three clusters of 6 ToggleSE sit-stand desks have been placed around the floor and have proven extremely popular, becoming occupied very early in the day. This popularity has lead to Societe Generale dramatically increasing the provision of sit-stand desks at other upcoming refurbishment projects to 50% of all workstations.

UniteSE storage has been integrated into the floorplan, providing one linear meter per person for personal storage in lieu of pedestals, plus additional team storage has been positioned at the end of the bench.  Additional 50cm unassigned lockers are scattered around the office for those who cycle or run to work, or need to store gym kits. Integrating perfectly with workstations, they help delineate neighbourhoods and walkways. Larger, general storage can be found all over the office for coats, stationary, waste and recycling.

Quiet zones are dotted throughout the floor and offer a variety of work points designed to support isolated, focused work. These phone free environments allow individuals to work without distraction. There are also drop-in positions provided for visitor use within these zones, should they seek an alternative to the generous provisions at the central hub.

The central hub is very much at the heart of the new floorplan, offering team touchdown opportunities and collaborative spaces for the first time. KI’s Work2 bench has been selected for this area at two different heights - a standard workstation height of 740mm, and at a higher level for standing or high chairs. With integrated power and data, these benches are perfect for quick get-togethers. Oversailing worksurfaces supported by robust A-frame legs and a clean, simple cantilevered understructure free from obstructions maximise freedom of movement. Nearby informal occasional tables and chairs, presentation booths and refreshment areas complete the easy and accessible communal zone.

Surrounding the central hub are some of the 17 meeting rooms found on the floor. Designed to be accessed from both the collaborative and workstation neighbourhoods, these more private spaces act as a visual and acoustic barrier between the hub and desking areas. Accommodating small groups, the 4 large meeting rooms are bookable. One of these features a custom-made UniteSE column-base table at standing height suitable for 6-8 participants. The remaining 13 smaller meeting rooms for up to 3 people are drop in only, allowing staff to access private spaces on an ad hoc basis.

Upon moving into their radically new workspace, employees were overwhelmingly impressed with the new design and have embraced their new working culture. The 2nd floor has even begun to attract employees based on other floors within the building, keen to enjoy the vibrant collaborative spaces. Jeremy Gibbs comments: “We’ve had really positive feedback from staff and visitors – even from the sceptics!”


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