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Interviews

A world away from bland

eporta workspace re-design.

design stories x eporta

Read time 5 minutes

Workspace design is a complex beast to unpick. The spaces we choose to work in affect how we work and how we feel about what we do. They need to facilitate a number of behaviours, personalities and working styles, whilst also embodying a brand's values in a tangible way. These were just some of the considerations faced when designing our own eporta workspace in late 2018. This project story looks at the tale from start to finish with the three major project contributors- Aneeqa Khan, founder and CEO of eporta, Samantha Kay-Foster, Director of Brand and Design and Jo Dolan, Head of Procurement.

“Boring. Bland. Fine.” Where the story begins, with Aneeqa's three-word synopsis of the office in its original form. Jo goes one step further describing the space as “bleak, grim and temporary.” In reality, the 3,000 sqft shell in London’s Clerkenwell district had potential. Complete with kitchenette, exposed pipework and large windows lining one whole side of the North-West facing space. This was eporta’s first foray into a singular company workspace, having worked in co-working spaces to date. Following a successful $8 million funding round in April, Aneeqa knew that eporta needed it's own space to reflect this significant step change for the company.

"Outline" sofa by MUUTO in reception area of new eporta workspace
"Outline" sofa by MUUTO in reception area of new eporta workspace

Defining Roles

It was critical that the office project team had defined roles. When asked hers, Aneeqa described herself as the “overly attached client in the process.” She provided the initial brief, confirmed sourcing specifications, and exercised final sign off on decisions. Sam sat somewhere in the middle between client and designer. “My main priority was maintaining the integrity of the visual style throughout the space and making sure it felt on brand.” She also encompassed the role of a designer; gathering inspiration, space planning and product designing. As Head of Procurement, Jo is used to taking a design brief, procuring the items to bring the design to life and project managing the scheme to installation on the client's behalf. As such it’s no surprise that Jo took on the role of Project Manager.

The office can get pretty lively. As we’ve scaled the business we’ve worked to maintain a culture where everyone is comfortable being themselves and working in a way that suits them.

Where to begin?

The critical requirement for the design according to the trio was future proofing. In the last year, eporta has grown from 22 team members to 45, as Aneeqa points out “we are growing really quickly, so we always have the need for more bums on seats.” The space needed to be flexible and accommodating for growth, even if it meant compromising on other elements of the space. But what else was integral to the success of the scheme? To answer this question, the senior team sat down with the wider company to compile wish lists for the design. Jo noted that “surprisingly the feedback from the wider team was fairly aligned.”

The workplace of eporta dreams would have three other major elements:

Variety- A range of meeting spaces with different levels of formality and privacy. The original space had one meeting room, with echoey acoustics and poor visibility to the wider office. There also needed to be a space that accommodated larger team meetings, such as supplier training sessions, all hands meetings and team presentations.

Time away- eporta live by the age-old principle that the family who eats together stay together, so break out spaces were critical. Aneeqa notes- “A large lunch area was a must, people in our office like eating together and we needed to create a space that allowed them to do that comfortably.”

Cocooning tones and soft lighting solutions from Petite Friture create a formal but inviting meeting room.
Cocooning tones and soft lighting solutions from Petite Friture create a formal but inviting meeting room.

Sound quality- As Jo pointed out from the offset, one of the difficulties within the space was the acoustics. Hardwood floors and exposed ceilings meant that noise carried, so if one person was on the phone in one corner of the space they could be heard in the meeting room at the other. A solution for this had to be found. Ironically the team also wanted an injection of noise, in the form of a sound system. Jo pointed out “Music was a must." Aneeqa followed, "We wanted to create an environment that was inspiring and productive, the survey's proved that for team members music was critical to that.”

But as with most workspace designs you are catering to opposing needs, there are members of the team or activities that they undertake which need quiet. Aneeqa continued, "The office can get pretty lively. As we’ve scaled the business we’ve worked to maintain a culture where everyone is comfortable being themselves and working in a way that suits them." This point is echoed by Sam, “The idea was that you come from your home and get to work and still feel like you’re at home.” This also influenced 'the look' of the space it needed to hit a domestic tone that resonated with the friendly, relaxed and welcoming eporta values.

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Spacestor "Residence" sound proof pod for private meetings and quiet work
Spacestor "Residence" sound proof pod for private meetings and quiet work

With its loose c shape, hardwood floors, and pillars, the game was on to create a workspace that could successfully evolve with the company, whilst reflecting its current needs too. The space was relatively tight for the newly enlarged team, so to add even more desk space in the future would mean sacrificing the luxury of some break out space. For this reason, very few items in the office are fixed, so that spaces can be expanded into with workstations, should the need arise.

Jo also looked to solve the need for a variety of meeting spaces. The suggestion of Spacestor’s soundproof pods arose as a solution to peoples need for quiet workspaces. And it looks like they aren't alone in their search for workspace zen, searches for soundproof pods on eporta have risen by 20% in the last year. The layout also includes an open meeting space opposite the entrance. Here, collaborative meetings take place around the whiteboard and Studio Henk table, under soft domestic lighting from Menu.

Menu "TR Suspension Lamp" providing soft lighting over the informal meeting area.
Menu "TR Suspension Lamp" providing soft lighting over the informal meeting area.

In the meantime, the trio shared inspiration and product suggestions through a collaborative Pinterest board. Sam was keen to point out that “We didn’t look to ‘offices’ for inspiration, we looked at homes that felt comfortable and clean, as well as welcoming.” These melting pots of individual contribution can spark genius or disaster, in this case, they realised early on how closely aligned the team were. “In all honesty, it felt right and was very organic. Aneeqa and I had the same vision and it worked really well.”

This is also when the tangible inclusion of brand arose. The idea wasn’t to just paint the walls in brand colours but to incorporate the visual identity more succinctly, as Sam explains “Our brand is very pared back and although I didn’t want us to use our brand palette for the room, the colours needed to complement each other.” A big personification of the brand values is the kitchen area. A blush pink "Stelvio Table" sits alongside black “Co Dining” benches from Ton, allowing 16 to sit comfortably. The hanging Tala pendants in this area added a domestic note and softer glow lighting.

Communal living- soft nude "Stelvio Table" by Ton in the kitchen area
Communal living- soft nude "Stelvio Table" by Ton in the kitchen area

But was it all plain sailing?

The trio looks to each other and chuckle, Jo is the first to speak. “Timing was everything. We had a window of opportunity during the summer break in August to complete the project with the least disruption to the team. However, that is also supplier summer shutdown time, so the process took longer than desired.” Jo says this, but from design to completion the workspace was transformed in under 4 months. Some alternatives had to be sought in order to complete the scheme on time. “Where we had to make changes or move away from the original vision, we did it in a way that never felt like a compromise. Using our own platform was great because it provided us with so many amazing choices to go back to.”

The seemingly simple act of communication is vital for the smooth running of a project...

Now that the dust has settled, and the project completed, how do the trio describe the space they’ve created in 3 words. All three opted for 'welcoming’. Given the mission of the design to create an inviting, relaxed and friendly place it sounds like they’ve achieved their goal. Other words include happy, warm, sophisticated and considered. When asked would they change anything about the space, Aneeqa is a resounding “NO!”. For Jo it’s not that she would change anything, it’s more about what she has taken from the project. She notes it was great for the wider team to understand first-hand what goes into a workspace design, plus it's a great opportunity to see how suppliers perform from a client perspective. For Sam, it came down to the importance of collaboration in a design process. “The seemingly simple act of communication is vital for the smooth running of a project, we were lucky that as a small team we synced up well.”

Hard at work- The new workstations and office chairs in action
Hard at work- The new workstations and office chairs in action

My next statement may seem biased as an eporta employee myself, but in reality, this space was designed for myself and the 44 other colleagues I work with. It only seems fair that I get to offer a judgement of the success on the scheme. So here is how I would describe the original space: bare, mundane and cold. Compared to now: alive, warm and relaxed. I guess the trio completed their mission.

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