Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Fantasy workplace to boost creativity

Movie-themed rooms has potions, dinosaurs and Oompa Loompas

Willy Wonka room
Willy Wonka room
Wii room
Wii room
Grant Thornton Partners Gareth Neill and Mark Allen with Senior Designer Lisa Allen
Grant Thornton Partners Gareth Neill and Mark Allen with Senior Designer Lisa Allen

The future of Northern Ireland's offices has arrived, and it's not grey.

At least not for the most part because business advisors Grant Thornton have tossed aside the traditional model for office interiors and instead replicated some of the most famous fantasy movies of the last few decades at its Belfast base.

The three floors of the company's office in Clarendon Dock do have conventional office space for the hard graft but that's interspersed with themed meeting rooms based on Harry Potter, Star Wars, Jurassic Park and Willy Wonka.

That might sound more theme park than accountants' lair but is intended to provide a "creative workspace" in which the company's staff feel excited to work in and one which is more fun than the norm.

Taking inspiration from offices in the likes of Google and Innocent Drinks, the new base may draw raised eyebrows from traditionalists but will ensure a creative workforce, according to Gareth Neill, a partner at the company.

He said 250 people work at the Clarendon Dock offices, with 80% in so-called client facing roles.

"We hire people who are smart and determined and we favour ability and attitude over experience," he said. "It was important for us to invest in a creative environment, showing we care about our people, while inspiring them to grow with the business and most importantly recognising the excellent work that they do."

Approaching the front door of the Grant Thornton offices there's little evidence of what lies inside but once at the reception desk it's evident that all is not as it seems.

The canteen is in fact a staff restaurant based on an airport lounge complete with rows of airport-style seating.

The back door foyer has a table tennis table and table football and leads on to a Wii room.

Behind reception is one of the stars of the show, the circular Willy Wonka meeting room which has everything apart from Oompa Loompas.

On the first floor the Star Wars meeting room could have you believe you were aboard the Millennium Falcon by the time "any other business" was reached and that's before you've taken a seat in one of the pods surrounding the table in the Jurassic Park room.

On the top floor you could be forgiven for thinking traditional design ideas had been resumed with large leather arm chairs around a potentially roaring fire.

Closer inspection reveals it is based on the Harry Potter movies, right down to the potions in a glass cabinet and framed rules on the wall, all of which will make for interesting board meetings.

A magical place to go to work

The senior designer of the new Grant Thorton offices in Belfast's Clarendon Dock explains how she came up with the ideas for the building.

Inspiration for my designs for the Grant Thornton office came from blockbuster movies – people are fascinated by movies and are in awe of what Universal and Disney can create, transporting people on a new discovery and away from the day-to-day stresses of modern day life.

Life along with work can be stressful and people can find it hard to gain a work life balance.

My design aim was to create an open functional office design for Grant Thornton people to work in, yet have unique meeting rooms where they could step away from their desks and feel they have been transported to a jungle when they are in the Jurassic Room or a Spaceship when in the Star Wars room, or magically appear in the Common Room at Hogwarts.

Office space does not have to be traditional and boring – it can be a fun place for people to work and relax during breaks and recommend to their friends as a great place to work.

Grant Thornton people can play a quick game of ping pong or table football during their breaks.

There are also video-game consoles for those employees who prefer to let their thumbs do all the work.

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