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Will Lewis, director of OBI Property – on wow-factor workplaces

If you’re a keen reader of the Mail Online, the Mirror Online or the Manchester Evening News website, you might have seen a story last month on rentalcars.com’s new Manchester office – asking the question “is this Manchester/Britain’s coolest office?.” I mention this not specifically because OBI designed and project-managed the rentalcars.com investment (although we’re hugely proud of the work), but because it seems to be a landmark. Companies often talk of how important their people are to them, but rentalcars.com has really gone the extra mile to make the place special.

The office (at 35 Fountain Street, Manchester) includes an open-air cinema and rooftop beach, a games room and 90 flat screen TVs. There are pool tables, swings and a drive-in style diner, along with film-themed meeting rooms and an indoor park. It’s all about energising people, giving them the drive to fulfil themselves. To fuel the team through the working day, there are free breakfasts, an all-day salad bar and a Starbucks. The colour schemes are bold, the configuration imaginative.

A more informal, relaxed office environment has been a general theme of the last ten years, and while people might think firms in more professional settings such as law or accountancy wouldn’t go as far as this, they’ve changed pretty radically – Pannone Corporate’s new Castlefield Chapel office, also in Manchester, is a world away from the sombre and oak-panelled law HQ of old.

You might be surprised though just how many companies still seem to be taking their people for granted and taking a perverse pride in only spending when they absolutely need to. While there’s something to be said for not rubbing clients’ faces in lavish surroundings their fees pay for, they ultimately understand as well as anyone that tired offices where nothing ever changes, with worn carpets and the rest of it make for depressing places to be – the best people don’t tend to hang around long.

Such things as paying for breakfasts isn’t going to be for everyone of course – I imagine a few financial directors raised an eyebrow on reading about it. But however much companies spend is entirely up to them – if it gets them the results they need, then where’s the problem?

The fact is… making offices better needn’t cost the earth. There are “quick wins” to be had: interesting artwork, a bit of thought going into colour schemes and how the office is configured. A nice welcoming area for visitors with water available and interesting things to read – again, plenty fail to do this basic stuff. If done well, it all helps to ‘soft sell’ a company’s brand, so it’s worthwhile. If a visitor, whether it’s a client, a new prospect, or an individual you’re keen to recruit, gets a better, more lasting impression elsewhere, you’re chasing the game. Why take the risk?


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