The partnership of law firm Kingsley Napley had its sights set on identifying a new address as far back as 2014. Growth was such that business teams were increasingly split across its three separate offices in London. This was long before our no longer quite so new ‘normal’ of regular remote working, of course – but as the firm grew, it was recognised as posing a certain risk to productive collaboration and a cohesive culture. Meanwhile, floor space was running out in all three offices, and all were calling for substantial refurbishment. Leases were coming to an end, and a feasibility study found that a clean slate was very likely to be the more cost-effective option.
Seven years later, in July 2021, the firm officially opened for business at Twenty Bonhill in EC2. It was in December 2018 that Kingsley Napley signed a 15-year lease for the entire 55,000 sq ft of office accommodation (over six floors), alongside 12,000 sq ft of other use, for example retail – a building where the main entrance will be solely for the firm’s employees and their visitors. As people gradually return to more office-based working after the lockdowns of the last two years, it is a new chapter indeed for a firm that was the top-ranking law firm in the 2021 Best Companies to Work For survey (and came 13th among all large businesses in the UK).
Chief finance and operations officer Darren Jesse says: “It will feel very much like our own building, and that’s a factor we’d identified as particularly important. We can present our new brand identity to people from the moment they walk into reception, which is carried all the way throughout the building.”
A lot of activity
The international architecture and design studio KKS Savills was responsible for helping to make this vision of change – and more – an operational reality. The two teams collaborated, discussing interior design decisions and how these intersect with wider business goals, environmental concerns, variations in the practice of law, and workplace strategy issues, including throughout the pandemic (which may, of course, affect those decisions as all businesses try to horizon-scan what the future has in store).
The law firm has in fact had the benefit of KKS Savills advice on such matters for some time. After an earlier consultation in 2016, it considered optimising space across its sites by trialling open-plan. At Bonhill, however, it is an ‘activity-based’ flexible working model that is the order of the new working day – different spaces suited to different sets of tasks that make up the life of a modern law firm.
Earlier experiments with agile working in different pockets of the firm coincided with the engagement of occupational psychologist Hannah Nardini. Managing partner Linda Woolley recalls: “She taught us the importance of acknowledging the disadvantages as well as advantages of an open-plan environment for lawyers – but also that sitting in the open-plan area is really an invitation ‘to be disturbed’ in a positive way. We work in teams, and we do need to be able to talk to each other.”
And with as many as 21 different types of activity, Woolley says an activity-based approach is also something that can be presented as an exciting change for people, rather than an imposition over which there is no control. The idea is that it will be good for productivity, in-person collaboration and engagement alike. As well as being a designer, Nardini is a qualified occupational psychologist – and she also has a law degree. Combined with the science, it’s “a combination of experience that has proved reassuring for lawyers, who do tend to be very slow to change,” Woolley admits. “Combining our own data gathering to determine space requirements with KKS Savills’ absolute flair for design is how we have ended up where we are today,” adds Jesse.
A big fresh change for all Kingsley Napley’s people is a fully supported café that can seat up to 140 people. “The KKS Savills team and Hannah are very strong on the importance of moving around a building for wellbeing,” explains Woolley – while good food and good coffee present a particularly good opportunity to collaborate in this new space.
Elsewhere, if people are in the office, rather than going to the same desk each and every time, or looking for just anywhere to sit, they can now head straight for their new ‘neighbourhood’. Generally speaking, that will mean being near others in their department, and neighbourhoods are also strategically placed next to others that make business sense. Business services are all together on one floor for example, as are the firm’s litigation and private wealth practices.
Jesse continues: “We have also introduced new dedicated case rooms – people can come together from their areas on different floors specifically to focus on big cases, which will be more productive, as well as efficient use of space.”
And separate but related, prior to design there was work to consider the range of people’s personality types and how a building can effectively work for all to thrive. Woolley explains: “KKS Savills has also designed fully silent working areas, and stand-up meeting spaces with touchscreen technology for brief meetings, so people don’t have to find a room and sit down for quick, confidential discussions.”
Jesse adds: “Science has even determined that dividers between desks should come in a range of heights to suit different people, with the addition of stand-sit desks for health benefits.”
The firm’s IT director, Ash Cooper, says planning these switches also led to a big change in technology provision. “The whole workforce essentially had to be untethered on laptops. Covid-19 heightened that need significantly, but it also enabled us to make a good start on change management – agile working has become a natural area for evolution, and people already have the technology to move between locations in a very effective way.”
As many organisations also consider different working patterns in future, Kingsley Napley has opted for a desk-booking app solution that incorporates sensors for an additional layer of flexibility.
Cooper says: “Some people want to plan where they’ll sit, and how long they’ll be there, well in advance. Others won’t mind so much, provided they can be in their neighbourhood.” The second group can simply check the app on arrival, which is checking occupancy throughout the day. Meeting rooms and other spaces are also automatically marked out as taken – green and red lights displaying outside – when people enter to assist the flow around the firm.
Jesse adds: “We’ve really tried to think about removing as many inefficiencies and frustrations for people as we can.”
On the other hand, Woolley and the team have resisted creating too many rules about how all these new spaces should be used, instead relying on their collegiate culture to create a new ‘How we work’ guide to encourage being considerate of others’ feelings and time. This also extends to the hybrid-working that will become the norm around the building. “We won’t be saying people must be in the office three days a week, or every other Friday, for example. We’d expect people to come in on two or three days a week, which reflects what they have told us they want to do through surveys, but we won’t be counting the days across the weeks.”
While it’s expected to help with the gradual return to the office on a more frequent basis, the decision to integrate a desk-booking solution predated the pandemic. A project that was impacted, however, is communication and collaboration technology. Cooper says: “We’ve decided that many more meeting rooms need to be videoconference-enabled now, with larger screens – compatible with both Microsoft Teams and Zoom – and integrating to an industry standard with other third-party solutions, for example if used by the courts. There have been quite a lot of connectivity and integration challenges to resolve.”
Also currently on his agenda is ensuring a unified communication experience for those in the office and at home on any given day – something that even extends to the firm’s new ‘wellness suite’. A fitness studio is equipped with videoconferencing technology as well, enabling ‘hybrid exercise’ to take place. The suite also has a meditation room, and – following consultation with an accessibility consultant and a diversity and inclusion group – a single, fully accessible changing area with private individual shower cubicles but no signs of gender on the doors.
Katrina Kostic Samen of KKS Savills says that following a post-pandemic stress-test review of the pre-pandemic designs, further modifications included no-touch bathroom taps, high-specification air conditioning with exposed services ventilation (the latter coming with the building), and additional lockers. The building has also been rated ‘Excellent’ in line with the ‘Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method’ (BREEAM) to measure long-term sustainability. This score places it in the top 10% of interior fit-out projects in the UK for sustainability, considering factors such as responsible construction practices and waste management, sourcing, and energy/water reduction and monitoring. The areas that working with KKS Savills and engineer Medland Metropolis made most impact here – earning the firm most credits – were the materials used, pollution control and wellbeing (see box out below).
Jesse explains that the involvement of commercial property adviser Neal Scambler/BH2 in identifying the opportunity, and a strong relationship with the landlord, means the firm has been able to make more decisions about spaces and appearance of the entire building than might have been expected with such a project. A few, such as the fully unisex cycle/shower and changing room area, were arrived at later in the process. Project manager Seven and KKS Savills also worked in conjunction with the base build team to ensure that the Kingsley Napley design scheme was fully integrated in the shell and core ready for the category A and B fitout. Several of the areas’ colour schemes were also modified in line with accessibility advice from the Centre for Accessible Environments. Around a third of desk spaces are of the sit/stand variety, and others can be reconfigured if necessary; all are open-plan and non-assigned, clustered around a choice of informal private spaces to support concentrated work.
Woolley says: “Designs were really developing throughout the entire process, and it’s important to check in from time to time. Quite late in the day, for example, we received feedback that our reception area wasn’t as friendly and accessible to all as it might be, so that was quite a big piece of work to adapt the desk and furnishings and add Covid-related equipment.”
Jesse adds that the flexibility of the building is such that spaces could even be reconfigured later based on the sensor data about occupancy that will be continuously coming through. And Cooper says cabling around the building is purposefully designed so a change like this does not become a major project. “There is full Wi-Fi coverage from top to bottom, even in the stairwells; so people can move from floor to floor, and between activity bases, without any loss of signal.”
KKS Savills, of course, played a very significant part in reaching, reviewing and revising numerous decisions within this vast transformation exercise. Woolley concludes: “We have worked together for seven years, and it’s always great to be able to bounce new ideas around, and for them then to confidently deliver their strategic designs to the rest of the partners.
“They have a true flair for design – and much experience with law firms – as well as being very responsive, and I’d say that we have also both learned a lot from each other in the process.”