How SMEs can benefit from the right office design

For as long as they’ve existed, offices have been culture carriers. That means your office sets the tone of your business; it’s where people get the essence of what you’re about, what matters to you, and how you treat your people.

Today, the office is also a demonstration of how much attention your business pays to the protection of the planet. While there is an onus on property developers to create commercial spaces that tick boxes when it comes to sustainability, there is also a huge benefit for business owners to seek them out.

By choosing a sustainable building to operate from, you show you’re environmentally conscious, which in turn attracts likeminded clients and staff, helps secure additional business, and enables you to build a positive reputation. It also has a natural, knock-on effect to the health and wellbeing of your team, proving you’re a conscientious employer.

So, if you’re on the hunt for a new office or co-working space, what type of features should you be looking for to ensure you’ve selected a space that centres on sustainability? And what else besides, ensures you’re also in an environment that promotes comfort, collaboration, productivity and creativity?

The building’s history

As well as considering the future life of a building, it’s important to understand where it’s come from. There has been an ongoing trend of demolition and rebuilding in the commercial sector, but it’s much more sustainable to update and revitalise an existing building.

During our work on the Merseyway Innovation Centre, an office and co-working space in the heart of Stockport, we were tasked with taking an obsolete, former retail asset in the town centre and redesigning it to be a vibrant space with all manner of eco and social benefits. The project was part of a wider strategy being delivered by Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council to develop its future high street, with Merseyway Innovation Centre serving as a hub for thriving new businesses.

Given that the construction of a building’s above and below ground structural frame produces about 65% of its overall embodied carbon, we were able to significantly reduce that figure by reusing what was already there. If you’re looking for an office space that’s changing trends, start by looking at the building fabric.

Energy usage

One of the most obvious things to ask the team operating a new office space when it comes to sustainability is how much of the building’s energy is generated from renewable sources. There will also be fixtures and fittings that are environmentally friendly such as low energy lighting which automatically switches off when a room isn’t in use, or low water use fittings in the bathroom and kitchen.

However, there’s more to consider. For example, how much energy is required to ventilate the office? At Merseyway Innovation Centre, for example, we placed occupied offices on the perimeter of the space enabling all future occupants to use windows to control fresh air requirements. Wherever possible, ventilation should be managed organically through windows rather than mechanically, using fans which have a big energy demand. Designing the space this way also ensured we could use the more central part of the building as a co-working space, driving collaboration and networking between different businesses – something that was key to the client.

Designs for worker wellbeing

When browsing a new space, ask about the features that are in place that will support your team’s wellbeing. For example, certain products might have low energy usage and the residual demand be powered by sustainable sources, but do they also work to minimise pollutants in the atmosphere?

Products like insulation and ceiling slabs should be made from natural products to ensure they contain lower levels of embodied carbon but are also non-toxic. They should also work to deaden external sound to create a comfortable acoustic environment so your team has a more productive working space. Facilities that encourage active travel, such as bike storage and showers, mean you’re actively promoting exercise and reducing carbon emissions from other methods of commuting.

In Merseyway Innovation Centre specifically, we also increased the size of the windows. While this increases solar gain and can increase heat loss – as glass isn’t as strong an insulator as a solid wall – this was a conscious design choice. The larger windows let in more daylight, which means the artificial lights don’t need to be used as much, but more importantly, means the people using the building benefit from the increased external view which is better for their wellbeing.

Local supply chain

A finished building is only as successful as the team that worked on it, so be sure to ask about the supply chain who helped bring your potential new office together. When it came to Merseyway Innovation Centre, it was vital for us to choose local service providers to bring everything together. The contractor was based locally, just half a mile away from the building, while everything from the wall art to the furniture has been supplied from within the region.

Even the three-way colour scheme is linked to Stockport – the terracotta is synonymous with the brick colour used in the town’s more traditional buildings, the green connects users to the local peaks and the blue is used to represent the River Mersey which runs through Stockport’s neighbouring villages.

Working locally, we know that something so important to Stockport and its future as a business hub is working organically to put money back into the local economy, something that’s as key to sustainability as knowing your Wi-Fi will be powered by solar panels.

Whether you need to complete tenders for new opportunities, want to employ an environmentally minded team, are creating your own ESG reports or have your own very specific carbon credentials that you wish to maintain throughout your supply chain, choosing a sustainable office helps you do it. Use these steps to help learn more about the spaces you’re looking at, and know that ultimately, choosing a sustainable office or co-working space is the right thing to do for everyone.