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From inspiration to realisation: the journey of Oktra’s new showroom workspace

Oktra walk us through the influences for their new Clerkenwell home, drawing inspiration from working spaces outside the world of office design.

16/12/2020 5 min read

2020 has been a year of refocus and recalibration for businesses all over the world, far more than we had any idea it would when Oktra first started planning the move to their new workspace at 6 St. Cross Street in Clerkenwell. The team had reworked their old office multiple times as the company grew, and as their lease came to a break it became clear they had outgrown the space. Because the growth rate hadn’t slowed, relocation was the natural solution!

As industry leaders in office design and build, it was incredibly important to Oktra that the new space put their own principles into action, creating an environment in which the team members would be able to innovate, collaborate, and ultimately thrive. ‘We wanted the whole design to form around our company ethos of openness and honesty, and part of that meant using the products and design concepts that we recommend to our own clients,’ says Head of People and Workplaces, Lorna Killick.

Here, the team walk us through their influences, drawing from working spaces outside the world of office design.

Influence and inspiration

We first visited the urban oasis of Hackney City Farm where, amongst the hubbub of chickens and donkeys, we were reminded of the importance of a connection to nature. Seeing how the community there formed within a functioning work environment, and how people felt nourished and invigorated by that kind of space, inspired us to bring that sense of wellbeing back into our own office, grounding it in its location and bringing the outside in.

Next, we paid a visit to the Triumph Motorcycle Factory in Hinckley, a factory which was specifically designed to host tours. We were guided around the entire production line, able to view every angle of the bike’s production from start to finish. This was something we were keen to recreate: to build an environment in which all our materials, our products, our tools and systems would be to hand, on display, ready to demonstrate a truly outward-facing space to colleagues and collaborators as well as new visitors.

We even drew inspiration from clinical hospital spaces: their ultimate flexibility and adaptability was something we really wanted to harness and use in our own way. This inspired the entirely agile nature of our ground floor space, with bookable tables ready to be moved as and when required, depending on whether we want workspace, a movie night or even an art show!

We let our imaginations run wild in Covent Garden when we visited Galeria Melissa, an experimental shoe shop and exhibition space. Confronted with such a wide range of artistic possibilities, and the built-in flexibility of the art show environment, we were excited by the potential of bringing the drama, malleability and creative lightness of its installations back with us into our new showroom office.

The final stop on our whirlwind tour of inspiration was the only traditional office space of the lot, Facebook HQ. Known for their whimsically designed spaces, Facebook’s London HQ comes complete with pick ‘n’ mix, doughnut and ice cream shops, and free vending machines with essentials like phone chargers and earphones available to staff. We were particularly excited by their Analogue Workshop, an area filled with craft materials, cutting mats, guillotines, paper and cardboard—we loved the intention behind this space, its acknowledgement of play as a fundamental part of work, evidence that workspaces which best serve the holistic needs of their staff help to enliven and invigorate a business. We brought this into our space as well: look closely and you’ll find equipment, samples and swatches all ready to be handled and compared with one another as part of our own work process.

Meeting challenges with creativity

Armed with this wide pool of influences, we began the design process in full, consulting each department to ensure that every one of our staff members had a say in the final design, and after a few months of planning, we had finally sketched out an office space where we could showcase the very best of what we do. However, in the midst of this process, we were stopped short by a challenge none of us could have foreseen, and the defining event of 2020: the coronavirus pandemic. Before we knew it, most of our team members were working from home, and we had a new set of requirements to fulfil, needing to incorporate an entirely new set of COVID-secure measures into our design.

With businesses around the world suddenly facing uncertainty, we knew we needed to future-proof our space in a way even we hadn’t anticipated up until that point. At the time, Martin Peck, our Group Health and Safety Director, stated that “We’ve always had to think on our feet. Under normal circumstances, we come across problems on a daily basis and we come up with practical solutions to them. It’s absolutely the nature of what we do; it’s enabled us to move this forward quickly and make sure that all the necessary measures are in place.”

The first priority of our newly-formed COVID response team was to gauge the attitudes of our own employees, stakeholders, and clients towards the impact of COVID-19, and so we conducted sentiment surveys, measuring how their workspace requirements were changing in real time, and building that information into our own design strategy. Our designers factored in government health and safety guidance as it emerged, experimenting with rationalising our workspace layout to accommodate social distancing and other COVID-secure measures.

Redefined and realised

The finished showroom workspace features layouts and finishes which support regular sanitation processes, as well as a one-way flow management system directed by new signage, and strategically placed hand-washing and sanitation points in higher-traffic areas. ‘In our environment, we have promoted behavioural change over physical change – and this has been assisted by technology,’ explains Lorna. ‘We have simple apps and software to book ‘a desk for a day’, to monitor and check-in visitors, to run a virtual phone system which connects us to the office in any location and to hold video meetings or chats.’

Stretching over two floors, the new office is bright, open, and flexibly organised, with biophilia and sculptural decorative features which elevate the space. Oktra have stayed true to their original inspirations, creating an open environment which supports both the collaborative and focused aspects of their work, also incorporating light elements of creative improvisation, while ensuring that the office operates easily and safely under the new COVID-safe guidelines. The new Clerkenwell headquarters is an invigorating environment, which centres the experience of Oktra’s employees and visiting clients, and which continues to support the team as they create and define what workspace means today.

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