International Business Festival 2018




Ian Hughes
26 May 2017

We've worked in some dives. Dodgy plumbing, wobbly desks, crowded kitchens and crazy lifts are not exactly uncommon up and down the country.

Now don't get us wrong, we have a lovely office. The view is stunning, the people are cool and the amenities are, well, they're fine. Just fine. And there's nothing wrong with fine but there's not that much right with it either.

There's huge inequality in the global workplace and we're not talking pay cheques, we're talking about the office environment. If you're happy with your pleasantly furnished, perfectly nice office don't read any further. You've been warned.

But if you're in the mood for some pure, unadulterated ‘office porn' then read on.

This is a list of five of the coolest offices in the world and it will leave you looking around your own shabby-not-so-chic shamble of desks, thinking ‘what a dump'.  If our office was like any of the ones in this list below (sorry wife and kids) but we'd never go home.

So, sit back in your adequate chair, stare at your unremarkable monitor and dream of working in one of these incredible offices. Try to remember that it's the people who make the office what it is, and that we're happy for the people who work in the following offices. Very happy for them. Not jealous at....




Granny's Flat


British pub-inspired Velourmptious Snug


Google London's 'La La Library' 

roof top

Rooftop gardens, come complete with personal allotments

Location: Central St Giles Development, near Tottenham Court Road, London

Theme: Padded Palace of Pleasure

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Why we love it:

Now, you'd expect Google to have a great office. Of course they would. No surprise there. But there's plenty of unexpected twists in the company's remarkable London HQ. A place where saying “Where's Jamie, from IT?” is likely to elicit a much more exciting range of responses in this incredible office.

Cultivating his allotment? Reclining in a jet-fighter ejector seat? Languishing in the fully stocked library? All of these things are distinct possibilities, across Google UK's five-floor, 160,000 sq ft, London office.   

You might imagine swish high-tech polished chrome, with a splash of coloured scatter cushions, just to keep the place on-brand, but this Google office is quite the opposite.

Take the British Pub inspired ‘Velourmptious Snug' with its deep-pocketed walls and richly upholstered rows. Or the more literally named ‘Granny's Flat' which comes complete with chintzy chairs, endless cups of tea and modest, but oh-so-snug furniture.

For green-fingered employees, there are rows upon rows of perfectly pristine, rooftop terrace allotments (which suddenly become available if they're not kept immaculate by their employee tenants).

Eschewing the usual boys-toys / games room feel of many global tech companies, Google's London HQ is quirky and full of charm, creating a home-from-home that people can easily feel comfortable in. According to Lee Penson, founder of Penson, the design company behind the offices, that's the point:

“It's all about human beings and that's it. Think sunken snugs, comfort, fun, comfy slippers, squishy carpets, cushions, daybeds, nice fresh food, gardening vegetables, health, visual stimulation, relaxation, exercise, fresh air and you'll get what it's all about.”

A day at this office sounds even better than a holiday and with Google UK's staggering £11bn 2016 profit, it's difficult to argue with the results. 



Location: Billund, Denmark,

Theme: The Future of Play

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Why we love it:

It's hard to beat any of Google's offices, but Lego is busy building something even better.

They may be used to construction on a much smaller scale, but that hasn't stopped the company from being just as ambitious with full-sized counterparts.

The toy giant's new HQ will be located in the company's home town of Billund, just a few streets away from the new Lego Visitor Centre. It won't open its doors until 2020 but, by the looks of it, it should be well worth the wait.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that the 52,000 sq metre place might be designed to give the impression it was made of Lego, but Scandinavian architects, CF Møller felt that was a little too ‘on the nose' and that they didn't want to throw their bricks in people's faces, figuratively speaking.

Instead, there, will be touches of Lego, in the airy and open campus design. But not unlike a kid who's mixed up his Lego playsets, there are a few surprise additions to the finished build.

Lego HQ will be home to plant-filled courtyards, play and fitness areas, staff living rooms and a rooftop mini-golf course, all set within a public park. The best thing? Staff are encouraged to take time out to play with, perhaps the world's greatest toy, Lego in the central ‘Lego Play House'.

Pejstrup Claus Flyger, SVP for Lego Business Services explained:

“There are a lot of creative people at Lego, and giving them spaces and opportunities to be creative has been a big request of employees.”

The team are still working on the interior design, but they hope it will feel like a giant playground and be as creative and inventive as the Lego brand itself.

Guess those old, dusty and dog-eared books in your staff room look more than a bit rubbish now.





race track


candy house

Cupcake office


Pirate ship

Location: Pittsburgh, USA

Theme: Forever Young

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Why we love it:

Lego not your thing? How about a pirate ship, race track, cave, castle or red carpet walkway?

InventionLand is the Disneyworld of offices and it makes Wonka's Chocolate Factory look calm and reserved. It doesn't sidestep ‘business as usual' so much as turn it on its head and fire it out of a cannon in an explosion of glitter.  

In many companies, this kind of Disneyfication could be brushed off as distracting, gimmicky or even immature but in InventionLand it's entirely appropriate.

The complex is home to product invention company Davison Design and Development, whose inventions are sold in Wal-Mart, J.C Penny and numerous other major stores.

Davison makes more than 2,500 products a year, so being inventive is its modus operandi and a child-like openness and enthusiasm is exactly what they're after.

InventionLand's 230 employees aren't employees, their ‘Creationers' and blue-sky thinking is all part of the job.

Workspaces are decorated with swirly lollipops and cupcakes and located in treehouses, giant boots and even behind a flowing waterfall.

Taking its cue from Narnia's wardrobe, the 75,000 sq ft fantasy land is revealed when someone presses a button in a showroom and a large bookcase slides open.

The somewhat eccentric company founder, George Davison, believes that the zany surroundings inspire his employees, stating:

“Creative use of space motivates creativity. I never want to get stale or get bored looking at a computer screen. Whether it's a one-room home office or an office park to rival the largest industries, finding the most creative way to structure space is fun and productive.”


Pionen,  Bahnhof Data Centre


Villain's Lair


Atmospheric waterfalls


A cool exterior


Location: Stockholm, Sweden

Theme: Dastardly 007 Heaven

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Why we love it:

More like a movie set than a place of work, Pionen's Bahnof Data Centre conjures up more Bond villainy than a bald man with a facial scar stroking a fluffy white cat. In fact, it's hard to believe that this office is a real work environment.

This underground data centre has greenhouses, waterfalls, simulated daylight and can withstand a hit from a hydrogen bomb. Run by one of Sweden's largest information service providers, the facility is located 100ft beneath the bedrock of Stockholm city, sealed off from the world with 16-inch-thick doors.

The reason for this insanely cool design? CEO Jon Karlung has a thing for films. He said:

“I'm personally a big fan of old science fiction movies. Especially ones from the 70s like Logan's Run, Silent Running and Star Wars, especially The Empire Strikes Back. James Bond movies also had an impact on the design.”

No kidding. Whilst some might find life in a living, breathing ‘Bond Villain' bunker to be a bit oppressive after a while, the office has actually been great for business. The unique approach to both the location and the design has helped the company spread the word about its facility and the work it does, easily helping it to stand out from (or perhaps even blow away) those irksome ‘arch rival' competitors.  



bugs eye view

Bug's eye view


Bringing the outside in

under tree

Work under the trees


'Camping out feel' at dusk

Location: Madrid, Spain

Theme: Into the woods

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Why we love it:

Now you might be thinking: ‘Theme parks, underground lairs, toys, padded cells… they're not really me' and that's fair enough. It is possible to be overstimulated and an office, after all, is a place for work.

You don't need to resemble a fun-filled, kiddy play centre to be a cool office and no office exemplifies this more than architects Selgas Cano and their head office in Madrid.

Effortlessly simple and sleek, this seemingly secluded and submerged aerodynamic structure looks like an elongated iPod earphone case but needs no additional design ‘noise' to stun its visitors and showcase its resident worker's considerable skills.

A 20mm-thick, curved glass window forms the north-facing wall of the tunnel-like space, bringing the outside in and offering a bug's eye view of the forest floor outside,

The south-facing wall is constructed from 110mm-thick, insulated fibreglass and polyester, offering shade from direct sunlight and natural ventilation, through a pulley mechanism system.

The design completely eliminates the need for artificial light during the day, and what could be more inspiring than natural sunlight in the natural world?

Selgas Cano has designed many beautiful places of work, with a strong proximity to nature being a prevalent theme. Alicia Cervera, one of the firm's seven architects explained part of their ethos:

"What is being sought with this studio is quite simple: work under the trees. The beautiful space makes us want to be here. The atmosphere matches our relaxed attitude, and we don't have any strict office rules or any official time to come and go. It's an incredibly inspiring place."

Couldn't agree more. Selgas Cano prove that you don't need a lot of material to build something beautiful. Take a look at some more of their work here. It presents a refreshing antidote to the mass-produced office space that is so often the soul-crushing status quo in cities throughout the world.

(Photography by Iwan Baan).



Since Google USA introduced its indoor slides 10 years ago, a new era of interior office design was born. Many companies have followed suit, kick-starting a cool/kooky office trend to lure the greatest talent.  

It's easy to imagine yourself working in a wondrous or wacky office. But the chances of you landing a job in one are likely to be slim. (Google alone receives a CV every 25 seconds)

Our advice? Make more of your existing surroundings, outside of your office. The average worker spends an incredible 80,000 hours seated in their lifetime, according to The Mayo Clinic. That many hours in any office – no matter how cool - is going to get tiresome.

If your office is a bit bog-standard, go for a little walk now and then, squeeze in some sights in your lunch hour or log off when it's time to go home. Happier, healthier staff boost productivity and that's great for business.

Beautiful or brilliant architecture and décor are great, especially if it's closely in line with your company's culture. But the physical work environment can only do so much.

An office needs to provide its workers with a good, comfortable work environment, but inspiration and stimulation can also be sought out by ourselves, through venturing out or talking to other colleagues and riffing off their creative energy. It's the people you work with, not the furniture, that really matter.

That said, we wouldn't say no to a private spot on the hull of our own pirate ship. Perhaps with an office parrot and a free cupcake cafeteria. It's always fun to dream.


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