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Landsec’s £2.2B Victoria Overhaul Reflects How Your Brain Works

Carissa Kilgour spends a lot of time thinking about lobbies and how your brain works.

Kilgour, workplace director at Landsec, is tasked with making sure the London portfolio of the U.K.’s biggest REIT reflects not only the way people work today, but that it stimulates the brain in the right ways to get the most out of workers without making them stressed.

Cardinal Place

Kilgour is one of the new wave of professionals in the real estate world whose touchstones are psychology and neuroscience as much as rents and yields.

“As companies change and more and more tasks become automated, a lot of what people do at work will be more about problem solving, creative work, collaboration and new ideas,” she said. “A lot of what we need the office environment to do will be about stimulating creativity. Will a plain vanilla office floor be enough to do that? You need to provide enough touch points to allow people to bring their best self to work.”

Kilgour said this starts the moment someone walks through the door of an office, with the reception. This is an area that is set to dramatically change.

“I spend a lot of time thinking about common areas. Historically companies or buildings would have had a nice polished reception, the kind where the chief executive would have walked in and thought, this is a space to be proud of. But I think receptions need to be vibrant places, people need to walk in and feel they are coming somewhere exciting, somewhere that reflects their purpose, interests, health and well-being.”

In terms of the changes that are being made, Kilgour points to the V Cafe in Cardinal Place, part of Landsec’s Victoria holdings in the West End. The company has undertaken a £2.2B redevelopment in the area, including the creating of Nova, a new 570K SF mixed-use development of three buildings comprising offices, residential and 17 restaurants.

Cardinal Place

Instead of the traditional corporate lobby, Landsec has put a café in the lobby. The design aims to mirror the different ways your brain might need to work throughout the average day. There are standard tables where a business breakfast or lunch might be held, booths for more private meetings and individual soft chairs for people to relax and work in.

“If you go in at different times of day, the atmosphere is very different,” Kilgour said. “At breakfast and lunch it is very lively and buzzing. But after lunch is a lot quieter. You see people facing their chairs out of the windows and relaxing; closing their eyes or watching videos on their iPad. They may not be sleeping but they are resting.

“There are lots of different styles and cognitive patterns, and you need to be different things at different times of the day — introvert or extrovert, collaborating or piling through lots of reading. There is a lot of stimulation of the brain at different times of day, so how does someone step away and take a breather? The landlord needs to provide that and nudge people towards the kind of space they need.”

Kilgour said that to a very large degree this is driven by the new working preferences of millennials and the younger generation now making up a larger part of the workforce. Such workers want to be managed in a different way.

“Younger workers are not simply happy to have a performance review three times a year — they want to be engaged, and get constant feedback to feel like they are learning and improving at work. You need to have the right kind of space to have that meeting and give that feedback, a quiet comfortable booth maybe — if you do it in a meeting room with stark white light they might get the wrong idea about where their career is going.”

Landsec's Nova scheme

Kilgour said the property industry gets the wrong end of the stick when it comes to that current buzzword in the sector, flexibility.

“People get in a muddle about flexibility,” she said. “The kind of buildings we build will be pretty much the same — floor plates might get smaller as banks automate their trading functions, and companies might ask for more shared common space as they realise they are using their meeting rooms less than 50% of the time.

“The really important physical things you need to provide are good light, fresh air and connectivity. Flexibility is also about choice and the service you provide; Understanding the needs of the users, treating customers as people and providing experiences and services which take into account their well-being.”

To this last point, Kilgour said in Victoria, Landsec has been looking to provide opportunities for workers and the local community to learn, with a programme of speakers on a disparate range of topics, some related to business but on the whole just looking to be interesting.

And it has been looking to help workers in its offices to connect to the local area through tours and other events.

“All around our buildings there is such an exciting amount of history and life,” she said. “We know that feeling connected to a place is positive for mental health so we want to help people create a connection to where they work. These are softer things but they create the experience that people want and need.”