What’s the office culture like at Knox Bhavan?
We aim to foster a working, teaching and learning environment that is inclusive, respectful, inventive and responsible – and above all else it is important to us that people are happy working at Knox Bhavan. We act collaboratively and collectively: everyone is expected to contribute and engage, and in return we work hard to make sure that the voice of each individual member of staff is heard and respected.
When did you move to your current studio? And what inspired the move?
We moved into our new studio in November 2016. For the previous 20 years we were based in a beautiful but small, purpose-built studio attached to the side of the partners’ house: a deliberate arrangement that enabled the partners to spend time with their three children as they grew up while building their practice.
Back then, after 6pm the children moved into the studio with their homework. When they grew up, the partners wanted some separation between work and home life, in a more neutral space where members of the team could take greater ownership of the practice and their workspace.
The old studio was beautiful, with access to a well-used and good-sized garden, used from spring through to autumn for outdoor meetings and lunches. A koi fishpond and stone paved entrance courtyard completed idyllic surroundings. We were spoilt and not prepared to move anywhere that was not at least as enjoyable to work in. This meant that moving into a purpose-built generic office space was not an option. The answer was to make our own new space.
I know you recently conducted a staff survey, which focused on team wellbeing, happiness and productivity. What did that involve?
In 2018 our new office won a RIBA National Award. We were very proud of this recognition for our efforts to create a new office environment with wellbeing at its heart. However, the real test was always going to be how our team responded to their office and workplace culture. We therefore carried out a simple and anonymous survey to establish the impact of our new studio upon staff wellbeing, and to help us consider further wellbeing initiatives.
What were the results and what kind of insights did you gain?
We were extremely happy with the insights provided by the survey – all of our staff reported that they feel happy at work and satisfied with their physical environment. We have made a great deal of effort to discourage long working hours and encourage flexible working, while also providing opportunities for staff to look after their own mental wellbeing such as breakout space, a daily staff lunch where we all eat and relax together, and weekly yoga sessions. It’s clear from the survey that these are used and appreciated and have a demonstrably positive impact on our team’s health, happiness and wellbeing.
As well as the usual mix of Christmas banquets and parties, we also have a Knox Bhavan football team – which, to the surprise of some of us, is cherished by the team. With their bespoke strip and koi carp logo, they take their rankings in the architects’ league very seriously indeed.
What do you think are the three most important things that make a successful workplace?
A happy and contented workforce, interested in their work, enjoying coming to work and able to laugh. A valued and respected workforce, sharing information and in control of their working life. A healthy and inspiring workplace that reflects the value placed upon and offered by a high-quality environment and space. We would add koi carp too – although that’s four!
How important would you say it is to integrate wellbeing into a workplace?
It’s absolutely essential. To be unhappy and miserable at work is to be miserable and unhappy in life. From an employer’s perspective, really good work can only emanate from people happy in their work, and wellbeing is central to this.
What are the rewards and challenges of trying to do so?
The rewards are phenomenal. Creating a good, caring and healthy working environment means less sickness, more enthusiasm and a responsible, ambitious, energised team. A business is only as good as the people within it and our experience is that our great working environment and community culture has attracted talented people who value what is on offer and deliver work of an extremely high standard. Success breeds success and a good team working together has far more to offer than a bunch of talented but insular individuals.
It is challenging to build and sustain an environment that nurtures and supports its workforce while being demanding and setting high standards. It’s not a one-way street, what an individual gets out of work with us depends upon what they are prepared to put in. We depend upon the engagement of the workforce. A good place to work is not necessarily an easy ride, hard work and achievement that makes the studio a great place to work are as important as the physical environment. The quality of the physical environment stimulates the quality of the work produced.
How do you define wellbeing?
Wellbeing at work is having a healthy working environment, fresh air, good food, exercise and respect. It is both a physical and mental state. Well-being is enjoying your work life.
What are three pieces of advice you would give to a practice or office attempting to implement wellness into the workplace?
Remember that a third of your life is spent at work – so how staff feel about going to and being at work affects every other part of their life. The relationships they forge at work are not the same but just as important and influential upon your wellbeing as those in the rest of your life – so having a nurturing and understanding director is crucial to giving people a solid support network.
Employees should be expected to be capable, dynamic, self-motivated, proactive and inquiring, and take responsibility and have ownership. In return they need to feel have the freedom to think clearly without anxiety if they are to feel engaged and motivated to get the most out of each project.
As we have done from the very beginning, we foster a familial nature to our practice, where the team are supported and encouraged to work hard, deliver and achieve. We provide the freedom to experiment, to broaden horizons and to learn – underpinned with lots of support.
What do you think the future is with regards to incorporating wellbeing into the workplace? Do you think this is a fad or something more?
Wellbeing at work as a key contributor to wellbeing in life; it is not a fad or anything new. It underpins everything we have done, are doing, and will do in the future.
London-based architecture practice Knox Bhavan tells OnOffice how they integrate wellness into the workplace – and have a good time doing it!