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What Makes A Manchester Office Cool?

Is it the brickwork, or the exposed services, or the beer on Fridays or the fantastic view from the windows?

Manchester's coolest offices get to be cool how?

A panel of the city's leading designers and amenity experts assembled by Bisnow at last week's Manchester Office Mania event came up with three golden rules. Here they are, and it turns out to be more about culture than about cycle racks.

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Panelists and audience assembling for the Bisnow Manchester State of the Office Market event, 8 November

The hunt for the cool Manchester office has taken occupiers (and developers) to some peculiar places. The latest wild idea is for an Eastside shipping container park, which is obviously so cool it hurts. But for those not gifted with a natural sense of cool, or worse for those who fear they actually aren’t very cool at all, what should you look for in a Manchester office?

How can you be sure, when assessing a few thousand square feet of floorspace, that you can detect the essence of cool?

Bruntwood retail and amenity director Toby Sproll, Sheila Bird co-founder Atul Bansal, Peak Office manager Sophie Chant, Workman partner Anthony Boothman and OBI workplace consultant Nicola Woods took park in a discussion moderated by author Mark Ovenden.

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Moderator Mark Ovenden, Peak Office Manager Sophie Chant, OBI Work Place Consultancy's Nicola Woods and Workman partner Anthony Boothman

1.     1. Cool Is Not Just About Good Coffee And Cycle Racks

The unique selling proposition of so many cool Manchester offices seems to be that they offer amazing proximity to good coffee. But you cannot caffeinate the workplace and expect it to feel cool, warned Bruntwood’s Sproll.

“There’s this idea that being sorted for coffee is the answer, but it isn’t, there are so many other issues, above all how you can help people to feel comfortable. It’s also not about a few cycle racks, and maybe some showers, it's going further and saying OK, you’ve got your clothes wet cycling in, how do we get them dry so you can wear them cycling home? Getting that right is going to be about partnership with customers.”

Bansal said the same more thoughtful approach was needed to routine encounters in the workplace. “Lunch used to be a sacred moment, but we don’t really have that any more, which changes the way workplaces operate, and at the same time we’re putting in things like chill out spaces when maybe what people need is an opportunity for a closer physical moment with their colleagues, because one sizes does not fit all.”

Bansal said his team was working on one office fit-out which deliberately included a corridor slightly too narrow for two people to pass easily. “We’re calling it the love tunnel,” he said.

Hard to believe this will catch on in the era of #MeToo but there is no denying it is cool.

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Workman partner Anthony Boothman, Sheila Bird co-founder Atul Bansal and Bruntwood Amenity Director Toby Sproll

2.    Cool Is Not Coworking

As your Bisnow reporter left the venue for the Manchester event, and wandered into St Peter’s Square, he was handed a flier. It asked: Do you want coworking space in city centre? If street drops are taking place, competition for tenants must be getting intense.

According to Bansal some of those coworking ventures are doomed.

“Not all will survive, nor deserve too,” he said. “I think we’re at a kind of Nokia phone moment, only it's in the office sector. By which I mean that 20 years ago we all thought Nokia’s were amazing and we used them to make telephone calls. That was then, but tomorrow will be very different. The offices of tomorrow will not be about the simple thing one single office does, but about the relationships between them. We’re going to see developers talking to one another, and workplaces become interconnected in the way our phones are today, and that will drive the next revolution in the way we work.”

Workman’s Boothman said that more mundane influences could also render today’s offices obsolete, or very different. Service charges were top of his list of potential game-changers.

   3. Cool Is Experience And Culture, Not Floorspace.

“Cool is just a word for experience,” Bansal said. “It’s really the wrong word for what we’re trying to find.”

“Cool is an individual thing," Peak Office's Chant said. "An office is cool if it embodies your values and culture, and that means some places look cool to me, and others don’t. So before you can talk about cool you need to talk about culture. In our office in the Neo building we’ve got 30 fixed desks, but improvised workspace for 70 people, which feels cool to us but it might not to anyone else.”

“Whatever cool is it has to be about culture. It has to make people feel part of the business,” Wood said.

“Cool is about authenticity,” said Bruntwood’s Sproll. “And that means authentic to that business, because it does something for them, it pays, and it has to, otherwise your office is just a factory and the office workers just battery hens.”