San Fran sets the bar for London's offices

US über-geeks know how to style their workspaces and now their ideas are coming to London
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A on-site massage service, a free restaurant and copious supplies of coconut water — in California, this is, according to the tech start-up firms of San Francisco and Silicon Valley, the holy trinity when it comes to creating good office space. And if anyone can identify the next big thing, it's probably them.

Given that where these firms lead the rest of the world follows, what can London's office workers expect in the future?

Staying perky
Cool, trendy offices and a fun environment — albeit one where staff are expected to work seriously hard — are crucial for recruitment and retention in San Francisco's Bay Area, says Mark Bartels, chief executive of software start-up firm Stumbleupon. Serious perks are also vital: "When you have Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, eBay and a load of other start-ups all competing for the brightest people, you have to have something exciting to offer. Free food isn't really even a perk here any more. Now we offer things that really matter to people, like healthcare coverage and a monthly taxi allowance."

Every office has its pull. Co-working hub Runway Incubator has giant igloo office pods and a free coffee stand; social coding company Github has a bar and on-site gym, and RocketSpace has beer keg Friday.

Some offices have cosy, light-free "coder caves" where people can go to focus on a project, or have a rest. But staying the night at work is disapproved of — if not forbidden.


Brainstorm in comfort: communal areas for staff to meet and discuss ideas at Google's London offices

The space between us
The Bay Area is ahead of the curve when it comes to creating the sort of offices most people — certainly the young and creative — really want to work in. It's all about open plan, with break-out areas prioritised over square footage per person.

Most desks are adjustable to allow staff to choose whether they sit or stand, and set places are no longer a must-have. The bar is also being set increasingly high when it comes to facilities, including gym-grade showers and bike racks. Runway Incubator has a "bike wall" in the office itself.

A former rave warehouse is set to become software company Weebly's new HQ. Jon Dishotsky, director at property agent Cushman & Wakefield says: "It will feature a three-storey lobby entrance with 50ft-high ceilings, a full dining facility and bar, a movie screening room, a sound studio, fitness centre with yoga room, massage room, a spa-grade showering facility including laundry services, a bike barn, speakeasy and roof deck."

While some of the quirkier San Francisco office trends — such as the reception area that is an exact replica of the Oval Office — might stay Stateside, there are plenty of office design ideas and innovations that could travel. With the London tech sector set to explode when Google arrives in King's Cross in 2016 — and as US tech start-ups eye the capital as a location for their European hubs — the Bay Area way may not be as far off as we think.

Time to crack open a bottle of that delicious free coconut water...

* Emily Wright is Features Editor of Estates Gazette.

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