Believe in better workspaces
Beckett Frith, March 24, 2017
An ambitious office redesign has helped boost productivity and improve internal networking at Sky
Founded in 1990, Sky UK is a telecommunications company providing television (with channels including Sky Atlantic, Sky Sports and Sky Cinema), broadband internet, fixed line and mobile telephone services to consumers and businesses. The firm has 22 million customers across five continents, and is headquartered in Osterley, west London.
Sky’s offices at Osterley consisted mainly of leased buildings, furnished with standard desks and meeting rooms with little or no break out space or alternative settings. The fittings and internal condition were tired and unimaginative.
“It did not provide the opportunity for our colleagues to work effectively together, or to concentrate when they needed to work alone,” explains Neil Usher, workplace director of Sky’s property services group.
It was clear that the space had a lot of potential going to waste. Jo Lewis, director of people experience at Sky, tells HR magazine that chief executive Jeremy Darroch envisioned a major redesign project. “He had a vision for a campus that would bring everything that Sky is famous for together in one place, from the thrill of broadcasting live news and sport to the incredible work we do supporting the creative industries,” she says. “It was designed to allow collaboration, and to enable the flow of brilliant ideas; not just for the 3,500 employees it has now become home to but for all Sky employees.”
Sky’s team decided they wanted an office to be inspired by and proud of – a hub that would bring people together and allow them to share ideas easily. So when the lease was due to expire on some of Sky’s rented office space the team decided to make their dream a reality. And in late 2010 the plan was set in motion.
Work began on creating a simple, comfortable and intuitive space in the 13-hectare media centre. The building was to be a single three-storey structure with extensive floorspace, and an emphasis on allowing natural light to flow to all levels. The team was determined to stay away from gimmicks and quirks and instead focus on what would make a real difference to employees.
“We wanted the new building to increase chance conversations and break down barriers between departments,” says Lewis. “Our business runs 24-hours a day so we wanted people to be able to manage their own time; making use of the gym at 11am, getting their hair done at 1pm, seeing a movie preview in our on-site cinema at 5pm, grabbing a pizza later with friends, or stocking up on essentials before heading home.”
As the campus began to take shape it started to appear more like a village than an office. A gym, a post office, a shoe repair service, a mini Waitrose and a cinema sprang up in and around the main office.
“There are few projects of this scale so construction itself tested us all,” says Usher. “Facilitating a change of work style for more than 3,000 of the new occupants from a traditional working environment to a new flexible space had to be accomplished on an industrial scale.”
Hassell, an international architecture firm, was in charge of the design of the new campus. Practice leader of interior design UK at Hassell Felicity Roocke explains that its team drew inspiration for Sky’s office from residential and hospitality design.
“We wanted to make sure the environment didn’t feel like a corporate office,” she says. “Cold greys, aluminiums, stainless steel, and other corporate block colours were actively avoided. Instead we decided to use materials and textures that have longevity to create a desirable workplace that you would like to spend time in.
“We needed to create flexibility and value across a large-scale workplace using a series of pre-determined agile work settings that were tailored and unique to Sky, but that could also be easily reconfigured to adapt to different teams and business requirements. They needed to be simple, diverse and different.”
Once the building was ready, one of the biggest challenges the project faced was the careful relocation of the 3,500 people who would work on the new campus.
To help with the transition, 60 change leads from Sky’s ranks helped ease their co-workers into the new space. “A huge number of our Sky colleagues were involved in providing input to the specification and design of the project, and so ensuring we listened and evolved the building accordingly was a mammoth task,” Usher adds.
Sky did not plan a ‘big reveal’, but allowed photos and videos to be shared on employees’ social media before the grand opening. “We’re now in the age of instant accountability, so the building was appearing on Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter from the earliest staff tours,” says Usher.
Sky News was broadcast live from the suspended glass studio in the middle of the new building for the first time in October 2016, signalling the success of the project.
“The opening of Sky Central got a very positive and instant appraisal on social media,” says Lewis. “[Staff] told us they loved the ambience and the look and feel of the building, and that they really felt they work for a TV company.”
In Sky’s staff survey the question ‘do you feel your workspace reflects what Sky is all about?’ saw a 40-point increase compared to the result from before the move, highlighting its positive impact.
“It’s an incredible space throughout,” says Usher. “I’ve walked the floors, staircases and ramps more than most and still find new vistas and stopping points where you can take in both the expansive architectural and the human scale of the workspace.”
There were, however, as with all major change projects, some teething problems. “We didn’t get everything right straight out of the box,” admits Lewis. “Employee feedback is helping us make the little tweaks needed to ensure the space is working for everyone all the time. For example, we’re making more of the open-plan informal workspaces bookable for team sessions, and making it easier to share collaborative work on walls.”
The building is made up of eight ‘neighbourhoods’, each with its own unique colour palette selected by Hassell.
“The experience evolves as you walk across the floor,” explains Roocke. “Colour has been used as an accent only in the furniture, or in interesting materials, rather than block use or large areas of coloured fabric.”
She adds: “We selected desks that felt more akin to a studio loft environment, with solid timber X-shape legs and black tops to create intimacy in the high spaces. The desks’ fabric screens are a bit quirky; the fabric is looped and hung off rounded metal frames similar to a curtain.”
The design of the new workspace has been received well by employees across the company. “The response has been fantastic so far,” says Usher. “We’re getting great feedback about the space being engaging and motivating, but also about it allowing people to be productive both on their own and in their teams.”
However, he adds the project has not simply ended now that the building is in full use. “We’ve completed a survey and a utilisation study, and the change conversation continues – our steering group and change leads remain active,” he concludes. “The workspace is a journey not a product, and for our colleagues it’s just beginning.”