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  • 25 Lessons We’ve Learned in 25 Years of Oktra

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  • This November marks Oktra’s Silver anniversary, with 25 years having passed since we were first founded in 1995.

    During that time, we’ve grown from 30 employees to over 130 and cemented our reputation as a leader in the world of office design and build. We took some time off from our socially distanced celebrations to compile this list of the 25 tips and tricks we’ve learned throughout our company’s lifetime.

  • 1. Company culture is crucial to success

    We’ve always prioritised our staff and the culture in which we work. We’ve learned that creating an inclusive and diverse working environment where everyone feels supported and listened to, and going the extra mile to create a healthy internal community, makes for a happy and productive business. Bridging affinity distance and bringing people together has helped us motivate and propel ourselves to the forefront of the design and build industry, and is something we never want to change.

    2. The best inspiration comes from outside the workplace

    A successful workspace is designed to foster innovation and can contribute to the inspiration and motivation of your staff. But it’s equally important to leave the office to keep creativity levels high. In designing our own new office space, we drew inspiration from locations as various as a city farm and a motorcycle factory, to keep us thinking imaginatively and looking forward. Once it’s safe to do so again, art exhibitions, location visits and even company-wide trips are great ways to refresh your perspective and spark new ideas.

    3. A supportive culture is a productive culture

    This lesson comes from our designers: they know exactly how rewarding it is to support someone else in their work, and help them achieve great things, both for themselves and for the team. We’ve learned to champion and empower each of our staff members, and in doing so have seen our teams’ productivity and wellbeing flourish, as well as our broader reputation.

    4. Successful change management depends on internal communication

    As the UK’s leading office space experts, we’ve been through hundreds of office moves in the last 25 years, including several of our own. Major changes to how or where people work will always cause friction, but the transition will be easiest when everyone is informed of exactly what changes are being made and how those changes are going to benefit them. Be sure your employees have an emotional connection to your business by taking them on any journeys involving transformative change.

    5. The importance of sustainable office design

    As the climate crisis deepens, we’re aware of the importance of reducing our impact on the environment at every opportunity, taking both embodied and operational carbon into account in each of our projects. Our commitment to The Planet Mark over the past five years, our collaboration with Cool Earth – who help us plant valuable trees in the Amazon – and our ongoing promotion of sustainability in all our projects, are just some of the ways we’re continuing to play our part.

    6. The office is an inherently social space

    Culture-building social events – charity drives, movie nights, art shows, or even a drink on a Friday night – can have an incredibly positive impact on wider company morale. We’ve seen amenity and entertainment spaces in the workplace become a more widespread trend as employers realise the importance of workplace community in talent attraction and retention.

    7. Your workspace is an extension of your brand

    We’ve always known that great branding provides a sleek finishing touch that often helps businesses win over clients. Over the years, we’ve worked with clients to feed their brand into their workplace design in innovative ways. Incorporating the feel of your brand throughout the whole space creates an intuitive occupant and visitor experience that affirms your company’s identity and place in the industry.

    8. We can work from home, but we’ll always need the office

    2020 has confirmed that flexible working is here to stay. While remote working is great for more focused work, the office is set to become more of a destination space: somewhere for socialising, collaborating, and entertaining. It’s a place for employees and clients to come together for creative brainstorming and the celebration of business successes.

    9. Workplace wellbeing drives business success

    COVID-19 has shown us the real importance of employee wellbeing: even more than biophilia, natural materials, and active design, right now your staff members need to feel as though their health is being considered in each and every part of your workplace strategy. Find out how your employees really feel by conducting internal surveys, and take their lead in making sure you’re providing the right environment for them to be as productive and comfortable as possible.

    10. Proper ergonomics are essential to employee wellbeing

    With many of us now working from home on makeshift living room and kitchen desks, we’ve realised again how absolutely critical it is to equip your employees with the space they need to be great at what they do, and that means adjustable chairs, screen height, light levels and even desk height. Wrist rests for keyboards and mousepads can also help prevent stress injuries in desk-based positions.

    11. Every office needs different working environments

    The most fundamental aspect of workplace design comes from understanding the different ways in which people need to work, and how different environments can support those working habits. From comparatively private spaces for digital meetings, to wide open collaboration space, ensuring your environment reflects the work you do will always help your business be more dynamic and efficient.

    12. More space doesn’t always mean a more efficient office

    Our space rationalisation process frequently reveals that businesses assuming they need more space are really just using their current space inefficiently. Collecting data on space use and occupancy levels demonstrates how and when your workspace is used, and can highlight opportunities for greater efficiency. We’ve saved clients millions of pounds per year using our space rationalisation process.

    13. It’s time to bring the outdoors in

    Offices have been around in one form or another since the 18th century, and a lot has changed over the past three hundred years. It’s become indisputably clear that a feeling of connection with the natural world is vital for employees’ wellbeing and productivity. With biophilia and flexible working becoming more important in the world of office design, the lines between office and the outside will continue to stretch and flex.

    14. Embrace new technologies and always look ahead…

    As we’ve entered the 21st century, technology has become more and more a part of our work practice. From motion sensor activated lighting and thermal imaging, to innovative design software like Revit, it’s transformed the way we are able to imagine workspaces. It’s important to keep exploring new technologies as they develop, ensuring you make the most of the efficiency they can offer.

    15. …but remember that no amount of tech can replace strong working relationships

    We recently took a survey asking people what they missed most about the office since they’d been working at home more regularly, and the most popular answer by a long way was colleague relationships. Despite the way technology has enabled us to continue collaborating throughout the pandemic, the office remains the place where professional relationships are forged and sustained through company-wide events and entertainment.

    16. Build your workplace around your people

    The McKinsey Institute in the US has shown that as diversity increases within an organisation, profit and productivity also go up. A wider variety of perspectives can generate more creative solutions and keep you relevant and adaptable, creating a work environment that, as it more accurately represents the wider world, nourishes a healthy internal culture of mutual respect.

    17. A great business is built on great client and supplier relationships

    Our connections to our clients and our suppliers have made us the industry leaders we are today. These relationships are the foundations on which you build a business, and ensuring that you communicate with both your clients and suppliers with trust, respect, and transparency will carry you a long way in the world of design and build.

    18. Honesty is imperative

    Staff often feel as though they’re unable to speak candidly at work, which can cause friction in management relationships. Keep hierarchies small, like we’ve done by dividing our staff into small business units, and multiple communication pathways open: clarity should be structured into each level of your company, ensuring your employees feel their opinions are heard.

    19. Learn to laugh and don’t take it all too seriously

    As in all creative industries, we have to remember that, even though it’s hard work making the office spaces that we do, to stay relevant it’s crucial to keep a sense of playfulness running through each project: a sense of novelty, and excitement. This joy translates to clients as passionate enthusiasm, and helps avoid complacency or stagnation, as well as making sure that your work continues to authentically deliver.

    20. Voice your ideas: someone will be listening, and will likely help make it happen

    You never know where the next brilliant design and build trend will come from, so have faith in your ideas and voice the ones you believe in, even if you think they might be outrageous. Without that kind of innovation and mould-breaking, we might never have installed sleep pods in Gymshark’s headquarters, created environments like adidas’ Entertainment and Influencer room, or been able to pioneer our brand-new, COVID-secure workspace designs.

    21. Good design starts with a good conversation

    All design comes from a delicate balance between form and function, and each client will have a different understanding of how they need those elements to bounce off each other to best help their business. We’ve learned it’s our job to both listen and speak up in those first conversations, to really understand our clients and how to create something that will deliver for them in ways they might not have considered before.

    22. Materials matter

    Durability and quality never go out of fashion, and that’s something our supply chain partners understand. We keep samples of our materials to hand throughout the entire design process to maintain a tangible understanding of how each material works alongside the other; whether it be custom vinyl flooring, stonework tabletops, or sustainably-sourced wood joinery, the materials we use always support each other to help create balanced workspaces that last.

    23. Act like an industry leader and you’ll become one

    Since we were first founded, we’ve gone into every project with high standards for ourselves: to innovate, to deliver and to support our clients every step of the way. This high level of quality and commitment to consistently invent, as well as the esteem in which we hold our business relationships, is what has ensured that Oktra remains a relevant and dynamic player in the industry, and is ultimately what has secured our position as the UK’s leading company in design and build.

    24. The importance of taking care on site

    Over the past 25 years, we’ve affirmed countless times the benefits of running a safe and considerate site. Making sure that your build takes into account the impact on local residents and businesses, as well as caring for your own staff’s wellbeing, is a way to ensure that the people bringing your vision into reality are able to bring the best of themselves to work, empowering them to deliver projects that will exceed your client’s expectations.

    25. Know when to challenge and when to compromise

    One of the most crucial services we offer our clients, our expertise, stems from our 25 years of experience. While often a client will approach us with an idea of what they want, we are ready to challenge everything we need to, in order to give them the best workplace we possibly can. Design Director David Bishop sums it up perfectly when he says: “Challenge the brief. You have to challenge it or you wouldn’t be doing your job.”

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