Wild and wacky workplaces are in vogue

By Marianne Halavage, the newest member of the Magenta Associate’s team

The trend seems to be for workplaces, creative and otherwise, to look increasingly wild and wacky.

For Magenta’s new offices in Brighton we’ve rejected outright wild and wacky and instead opted for flashes of colour to liven the place up. Courtesy of IKEA we’ve added a lovely bold picture of a magenta-coloured flower to the white walls and there’s a vase of pink and white flowers standing in the corner (we prefer to say they’ll live forever than call them fake).

But like many smaller workplaces, we’re constrained by the will of our landlord who, possibly understandably, won’t let us paint our white walls, even the tiny ones beside the fireplace, magenta.

Many bigger companies, on the other hand, have greater reign to create their own wild and wacky universes – and are increasingly doing so.

Take for example the Googleplex, the global headquarters of technology giant Google in Mountain View California, where there are slides, firemen poles, beanbags, replicas of SpaceShipOne and a dinosaur skeleton, not to mention 18 restaurants, a gym, free laundry rooms, two swimming pools and sand volleyball courts.

Then there’s the new Red Bull office in South London, which has a slide between three floors, ping pong table meeting rooms, a modern bar and cafe, and a comfy lounge area, and even a terrace which converts into a bungee jump bridge.

And over in West London, smoothie maker Innocent has a pillar red telephone box, table football, picnic benches and astro turf grass for each floor.

The FM community’s perspective

But despite the trend, the jury in the FM community is still out on whether having these wild and wacky playthings truly add value to the employee and to the business. Or are they just a bad case of keeping up with the creative Joneses?

BIFM chairman Ian Broadbent thinks they add some value: “Gimmicks can help but true creativity has to come from the minds of the leaders of an organisation. Slides and meeting beds would just be an enabler – a creative culture needs to exist in the minds.”

A premises and facilities director at a leading law firm agrees. “I think these wacky ideas can encourage creative thinking but they need to be suitable for the type of business. For example slides may suit media and technology firms with dress down codes but wouldn’t be appropriate in a business suit environment.” Cost is also an issue he points out – what might work in California where there is more space, may not be so cost-effective in central London (or, presumably, Brighton).

Craig Knight, head of the Prism team at the University of Exeter which explores the psychology of working and living space, is all for a bit of wackiness in offices. He argues that thanks to Taylorist principles of consistency, standardisation, and efficiency, offices are increasingly becoming lean with little personalisation or decoration. “A happy rat sits in a luxurious cage, a sad rat in a lean cage, so why do we create lean offices?

But others are more sceptical. A facilities manager at a search engine company says that thinking beds and slides is “just a designer taking the idea to its limit.”

And Principal Consultant at Agents4FM, Lionel Prodgers, says that the wacky examples of slides and bean bags are mostly gimmicks, for PR and to attract staff rather than stimulating creative thinking. “If you go behind the facade of a ‘wacky’ showroom type office environment you will find rows of conventional flat top bench/desk space.”

But one FM in the media sector says that slides add to the ambience – even if no-one uses them, “You are setting your stall out as a creative organisation. People can be proud to work for an organisation which has a slide, even if they don’t use it. It is a physical manifestation of that organisation’s culture and beliefs, a bit like the expensive furniture.

Back in Brighton, I wonder what our landlord will say to our proposition to extend a slide from the window into the garden two floors below and to add a fireman’s pole from our office straight into the kitchen which will, naturally, be stocked with free champagne and cupcakes …

So what do you think about the trend for creative workplaces to look increasingly wild and wacky? Would you like to work in somewhere like the Googleplex? Or would you be too distracted to get on with your work? We’d love to hear from you.

Cathy Hayward