Spreading our wings - Issue 128 - Magazine | Monocle

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Have you ever been to a working zoo? No, I’m not talking about a fully functioning reserve for giraffes and chimps. I’m thinking more about a beautifully designed environment, full of exotic-looking office workers, housed in perfectly engineered settings fit for their respective roles and daily functions. Look over there! That’s an editor of a respected publishing imprint going about their routine in an authentic manner: pen behind ear, glasses perched on nose, pack of ciggies peeking out of an overstuffed McNally-Jackson tote under the desk, stacks of manuscripts spread across a matte oak tabletop and a neatly arranged cluster of chairs for long-winded cover discussions with the art director.

Meander further along and behind glass there are other creatures that help Fortune 500 firms, family holdings and overfunded start-ups to function seamlessly. Behind triple glazing there’s a woman in an elegantly cut blouse with an exaggerated pussy bow. There’s no plaque on her door but her fancy get-up and soundproof office must mean that she’s a consultant brought in for restructuring. Further along there are some floor-to-ceiling metal grilles that can swing open to expand the office. Must be for some kind of herd. Accountants? Lawyers?

The largest spaces are reserved for those at the top of the food chain. And, just as gorillas have barrels and boulders to push around their enclosures and plush surroundings to care for, these offices have enormous sofas, rare art and lots of different zones for thinking, entertaining, napping and scolding.

With everything looking so perfect and the residents seemingly happy and healthy, my colleague Andrew had to stop halfway through the tour and ask, “Was there a casting for all these characters posing at their workstations?”

It also made me wonder: which came first? Was the office built around the chief people officer (an awful term, I know, but I had to use it to make a point about how truly dreadful it is) and their needs? Or was it more a case of finding a candidate who would work in the surroundings?

“I can assure you that these are all real people doing real jobs,” says the zookeeper. For the record he is David Bright, senior vice-president of communications at Knoll and one of the sharpest minds when it comes to the subject of how the state of the workplace is evolving.

“Is it OK if I take a picture?” I ask.

“But of course,” he says. “Take a picture of whatever you like.”

At the end of a row of glassed-in offices I was taken by a smaller corner room that could have been designed for those particularly loud colleagues who love to crank up the volume for conference calls. With curved felt walls in various tones of greys, khaki and olive, I imagined it as more of an elegant, mini radio studio for intimate one-on-ones with authors, big thinkers and complicated artists.

Back out on Sixth Avenue, Andrew commented about how inspiring the whole set-up was, while I was wondering why more companies with fine wares to flog don’t put more effort into creating “living showrooms”. A visit to a big fashion brand on the same trip revealed why sometimes it might be better to not let visitors back of house; keeping up the illusion by holding the meeting in a setting that maintains the fantasy would be advised.

It’s now a few weeks since our little Knoll tour and I’ve since thought a lot about our own office set-up in London – in no small part because, after 10 years, our lease is expiring on Midori House. In a little over a year there’s a good chance we will be in the midst of a big move to a fresh but, hopefully, nearby corner of London. While we’ve already moved our printing and continue to build up our Zürich base, London presents some challenges – along with opportunities. Those readers who’ve previously joined us for our Christmas market (this year it’s 30 November to 1 December in Zürich and 7 to 8 December in London), and various other events at Midori House, know it’s a special place.

Wander through the anonymous archway and you realise that Midori is every bit our home; it informs all our creative output. Given that the clock is ticking and we need to start budgeting for a move, we’re keen for all leads that might secure a new building, or a set of sprawling floors with wraparound terraces and a private entrance. To this I would add: not west of Paddington, north of Regent’s Park, east of King’s Cross nor south of Oxford Street.

If you’d like 120-ish lovely tenants, famous guests and plenty of office dogs, let us know; you can find me at tb@monocle.com. Thank you for your support.

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