How to design office space for 2.5 million people


How to design an office for 2.5 million people

Reading time:  7 Minutes

There’s more to office design than desk placement and adding a couple of pot plants. Here, journalist Alexander Garrett speaks to the Regus teams responsible for harnessing the vital elements of a perfect workspace


Forget ping-pong tables, meditation rooms, and even beer on tap in the communal lounge. The secrets of a truly great office lie deeper – in its fundamental design. According to reports, a good, well-designed office can boost employee happiness by 33 per cent(1), while more than half of workers believe their productivity would increase if they could attain their ideal office environment(2).

Businesses should pay attention to these stats. Research from Gensler, a global architecture firm, shows that lost productivity due to poor workplace design cost US businesses an estimated $330bn last year(3).

Regus understands these issues better than most. It opens millions of square feet of new workspace around the world each year, adding almost daily to the company’s global network of more than 3,100 business centres in 1,000 cities in more than 110 countries. Meeting the needs of the 2.5 million individuals who use these workspaces – not just today, but in the years ahead – is a challenge that calls for an imaginative approach to design and a profound understanding of how the way we work is changing.

1. Understanding the new world of work

“Great office design is a balance of art and science,” says Switzerland-based Filippo Sarti, Global Head of Property Services and New Centre Openings for Regus. “The art is designing the space to be attractive and deliver a wow factor for the user. The science is in making sure the space works for the businesses renting the space and the employees using it.”

He points to Regus’s unique position – offering flexible space to a diverse range of customers around the world. “We have to be able to plan and position office infrastructure that works for any possible future customer,” he says. “What size space will they need? What power and data needs will they have? How long will they stay? And what happens when they leave – will the needs of the next occupant be accommodated in the same space?”

“People tend to think of office design as just about where you position the desks, but it’s so much more than that,” says Francis Cleary, New Centre Openings Project Director, Asia Pacific at Regus, based in Hong Kong. “It’s about responding to when, where and how people work. Workers of all generations – not just Millennials – are discovering the benefits of co-working and becoming more mobile. Offices need to be spaces that foster productivity, creativity and collaboration.”

In a 2017 Regus survey of 20,000 senior managers and business owners across the world, a fifth selected business centres as the most popular location for remote work. “Today’s offices are moving towards being a destination-type space,” says Cleary. “It’s the place you choose to work, because it’s where you work best.”

How to design office space for 2.5 million people

Filippo Sarti, Regus Global Head of Property Services and New Centre Openings


2. Choose the design template

As modern office design has evolved, so too has Regus design. Compared with 30 years ago, when the company was founded, a new Regus office looks as different today as a 2018 Tesla would to a 1989 Honda Accord.

New business centres are based on one of several designs. The location – and the potential future clients – determine which option is chosen. “Our customers range from Millennials in tech startups and creative industries to professionals in finance or services,” says Cleary. “We want to offer space that is sympathetic to different business types and their needs.”

One of the more contemporary designs, known as Sagano, is a clean and modern look that deploys sleek lines and materials, such as stainless steel and tempered glass, to create spaces inspired by nature and the four seasons. “An example of this design is the Clarahuus Centre in Basel, Switzerland,” says Cleary. “It’s more professional in look and feel, which is suitable for the area and the businesses that use it.”

Sagano taps into the current design trend, biophilia – a human desire to be close to other forms of life in nature. By infusing a combination of living things, natural patterns and design elements inspired by nature, workers can feel relaxed, engaged and connected to the world around them. “By using natural materials, including wood veneers, and clean bright lighting, we create a calming, productive space,” says Cleary.

Another Regus design, Bauhaus, has a more industrial feel, and is popular with startups and younger businesses. “For companies geared towards artistic, creative activities, Bauhaus is a stylish, non-traditional environment, with lots of variety in the types of space you can work in,” explains Cleary. The Brin centre in Naples is a great example of Bauhaus in practice: a post-industrial-style space with exposed steel pipework and glass staircases.

3. Remember the fundamentals

New thinking on employee wellbeing is also informing office design. Studies have shown that exposure to blues and greens can boost creativity, while red improves performance on tasks that require attention to detail.

And furniture isn’t left to chance. An environment with curved lines – say, circular tables in a meeting room, or desks with smooth corners – is linked with positive emotions, which aid creativity and productivity. “Whichever design template we use, we consider every detail,” says Sarti.

The Clarahuus Centre in Basel, Switzerland

The Regus Clarahuus Centre in Basel, Switzerland, is based on the Sagano design 


4. Divide up the space

The next step in designing an office is deciding how best to divide up the space – making sure you create the right mix of work areas. Gensler’s 2016 UK Workplace Survey found that 67 per cent of the UK workforce feel drained at the end of each working day due to their immediate environment – and that workers were more likely to be innovative if they had access to a range of spaces supporting different working styles.

As wholly open-plan environments fall out of favour, offices are being redesigned to accommodate more varied work settings, known as activity-based working (ABW), and more opportunities for movement. “Offices in the past often resembled schoolrooms,” says Cleary. “That uniformity has been replaced by a diverse range of elements, including individual office rooms, meeting booths, communal tables, reading tables, think tanks, phone booths and meeting rooms.

“The key is to offer every type of space a client could want. That same client may have changing needs for different spaces at different times. The challenge is to correctly estimate the demand for each element so that the space is neither crowded nor underused.”

5. Prioritise social spaces

Another important consideration is the non-work space. There’s a glut of research showing that interactions, including accidental meetings – sometimes termed ‘creative collisions’ –  boost productivity rather than drain work output. A case study cited in the Harvard Business Review described how employees were given sociometric badges to track their movements and interactions. The data collected over weeks showed that when a salesperson increased interactions with co-workers on other teams by 10 per cent, his or her sales also grew by 10 per cent.

A simple decision about where coffee machines are placed can prove critical in engineering such collisions. That’s why a café area and social space is at the heart of every new business centre – from China to Colombia. “We want to encourage interactions,” says Cleary. “The café is right at the entrance when you arrive, and it’s connected to all the other areas, so that you as an individual also feel more connected.”

How to design office space for 2.5 million people

Francis Cleary, Regus New Centre Openings Project Director, Asia Pacific 


6. Provide a sense of place

The final stage involves customising the space: with materials, furniture, soft furnishings and artworks. This is where there is most scope to give each business centre a distinct identity which resonates with its locale. At the Menara Boustead business centre, which opened in 2017 in Penang, Malaysia, old maps of Penang line the walls, while decorative floor tiles come from traditional Malaysian shophouses. “It’s all about picking some part of the local architecture to give a sense of place,” says Cleary.

“To ignore the local input on design would be a mistake,” says Sarti. “Regus centres around the world may draw from the same design guidelines and aim for a consistent quality and standard, but they use locally sourced products and are far from uniform.”

7. Check it’s working

From sensors under the desktops to employee wearables, the office is becoming more connected and is driving how workplaces are designed. “We have a huge amount of intelligence on how our centres are used,” says Andre Sharpe, Regus’s Chief Information Officer. “We’re like a laboratory, able to monitor how customers use our products and services – and then adapt and improve their experience based on the results.”

One such example is using booking data for each component for the office, drawn from other worldwide sites, then observing how customers use the business centre. “We can see which spaces experience high traffic – and at which times of the day. This helps us to understand if the areas are performing as well as they could be for our customers.”

“In the future, companies will be able to cross-reference information on employee movements with performance data,” says Sharpe. “The results could then be analysed to find out how the space is serving the users and how it is impacting the company.”

Sharpe points out that while data privacy will be a crucial consideration, “when correctly used, these services help companies create tailored offices that encourage positive performance and collaboration”.

Cleary and Sarti also recognise the importance of using data to inform future design – and the exciting prospect of this. Says Cleary: “We’re designing for companies, but we’re also designing for people. If we can give people what they want in a workspace before they even know it themselves, it’s good for everybody.”


Alexander Garrett is a British freelance journalist who writes on a wide range of business issues for the UK press

Additional reporting by Hannah Hudson