Network Rail rolls out flagship agile working concept in Brum

Birmimgham is jumping on the agile working bandwagon. Major corporations are increasingly embracing collaborative workspaces and many are looking for new office space to support their switch to a more flexible way of working.

Network Rail is one of them. Last year, it took 85,000 sq ft over three floors of the grade II-listed Baskerville House in Birmingham and refitted its space to meet the company’s requirements for agile working.

Gone are drawers under desks, which are magnets for clutter, and in are banks of lockers that allow the 900 personnel to hotdesk and work more freely in the breakout areas.

Prior to occupying space in the former civic building, Network Rail’s Midlands workforce was split between three locations.

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“Departments that need to collaborate are now located next to one another,” says Karen Bignell, project manager for Network Rail’s workplace management. “Our DNA is all about collaborative working, trust and empowerment. This office was designed around those values.”

A flexible brief

The workspace was designed by architect Weston Williamson+Partners, which followed a brief provided by Network Rail that it is using for all its office fit-outs. According to lead architect Phil Breese, this was not as restrictive as it might sound.

“Network Rail has produced its own ‘DNA guidelines’ for [its] workplace environments to assist project teams and ensure the end product reflects the core values of the organisation,” he explains.

“[We] found the document a valuable resource. Without it being overly prescriptive, we were able to still develop a design, sequence of spaces and aesthetic that was specific to the particular Baskerville House opportunity while staying true to [Network Rail’s] workplace requirements.”

Breese says the design was in part influenced by shared space offices created by operators such as WeWork.

“We consciously broke the formality of [traditional] office design, and of Network Rail’s previous offices prior to the move to an agile working environment,” he adds.

Variety of settings

This was achieved, he says, by creating a variety of workspace settings, offering different amounts of space, privacy, comfort, connectivity - visually and in terms of technology infrastructure.

“The result was to encourage people out of the conventional desk environment [to one] where research has proven productivity increases,” Breese says.

Jamie Phillips, a partner in Knight Frank’s Birmingham agency, one of the letting agents for Baskerville House, says agile working is becoming “far more acceptable and desirable”, not just in London but in the regions.

“We’re finding there’s more interest in it, and therefore businesses are looking to fit out space to support it,” he says. “This is great for cities such as Birmingham, which has really become more attractive as [an office] location in recent years.”

Network Rail is one of the first businesses to bring agile working to Birmingham. Will others follow in its tracks?

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