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NEW YORK CITY-The London headquarters of British law firm Eversheds LLP was co-star of a CoreNet Global New York presentation this past Wednesday at Manhattan’s Time-Life Building. Titled “Workplace Innovation: Changing the Rules in the Legal and Banking Industries,” the event featured Eversheds senior partner Cornelius Medvei showcasing his firm’s headquarters on London’s Wood Street. That firm has apparently been successful at fostering a flexible workplace culture through what could prove to be potentially revolutionary architecture, design and technology.

Event moderator Phillip Ross, Cordless Group CEO, said the Eversheds headquarters represents a cultural and architectural shift that “shattered the ceiling” of traditional legal workplace design, a workplace where individual-traditional offices were not part of the floor-plan. Also featured Wednesday was the Australian investment banking firm Macquarrie Group’s Anthony Henry, who provided details on how his company is establishing new benchmarks in environmental sustainability and workplace functionality at its Sydney headquarters.

In addition to encouraging workplace flexibility, Eversheds says its London headquarters minimizes environmental impact and promotes sustainability. The complex includes 163,000 square feet on its seven main floor plates, and includes about 26,000 square feet of green roofing, chilled beam air conditioning, sustainable and recyclable building materials. The building has a BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) “excellent” rating. The building uses recyclable carpet; certified timber veneer; intelligent lighting; recyclable furniture and locally sourced products and finishes.

Last month, the building won the 2009 British Council for Offices regional award for Best Corporate Workplace. A spokesperson from KKS Strategy, the company responsible for the strategic planning and briefing for the firm’s headquarters plan and implementation tells GlobeSt.com that the space goes on to the national awards finals in October.

Speaking to CoreNet through a satellite feed from London, Medvei told the story of how and why the international law firm, founded in 1988, decided it was the time to take what might be seen as “daring” steps into the future. He admitted, the design proposals went against the traditional legal workplace structure. Instead, this created a physical workplace that stressed flexibility, openness and more team-oriented approaches to work.

“In the UK we’ve had open plan for some time,” Medvei told the group. Open plan is the generic term often used in architecture and interior design for a floor plan. Usually, open planning makes use of large, open spaces while minimizing the use of smaller private offices.

Despite the trend toward open space, “in London, we were conscious that no other significant law firm has been able to go with open planning, or go anywhere near it,” and no law firm had been able to successfully “adopt a flexible plan in its work structures,” Medevei said.

Perhaps more pressing, the design changes would present an obvious challenge to traditional law firm hierarchy culture. For example, associates in the firm, close to partnership status, would no longer be aspiring to the private corner office with a door, since they would no longer exist.

Contacted by GlobeSt.com after the CoreNet event, Medevei says “the biggest challenge was undoubtedly changing the culture. We did it all very carefully, over time by relentlessly seeking feedback, listening and answering it and slowly.” He says that eventually led the key influencers at all levels of the organization to share their views.

Medevei says that leaders in the firm realized “we had to change the culture if we were to succeed and remain ahead of the curve, as we believe we are, going into the next couple of decades.” Once the initial design was in place in 2006, he went and talked to a number of key influences among the firm’s partnership to find out what aspects of the plan particularly concerned them.

Among their worries: they would not be able to have enough quiet and an environment in which they could concentrate and work and drat; that they wouldn’t be able to be confidential, price sensitive; the worry that deals would be difficult to conduct and close.

Medvei also points out that the firm traditionally “trains our young,” to a very large extent, by involving them in conference calls. Historically, those conference calls have been done in a regular office space with a group of people sitting around a conference table listening in to a conversation, participating when it’s appropriate. The new plan proposed participating in these calls from employees’ desks.

Once the concerns were noted, Eversheds worked with KKS Strategies to figure out solutions, one by one. Upon taking the solutions to the concerned parties, at least intellectually, the reluctant partners began to buy into the proposed plan.

Among the solutions offered: with the conference phones, give everybody Bluetooth headsets, which Medvei says proved very successful and popular. People are not only able to participate in conference calls without disturbing their neighbors, but also able to move to and from their desk and around the area near their desks while still on the phone, he says.

Noise from neighbors, clearly a key issue, resulted in the use of studio materials and walls, including partitioning that helps push the sound upward into a sound-absorbent ceiling. Most importantly, throughout the building, discreet electronic pink noise is generated. This diminishes the irritability because although you are conscious of other people talking in the distance, you can’t distinguish the words.

Site amenities include a restaurant and café, an informal space at the center of each floor, an information services area and collaboration bench which is wireless, a separate meeting room on each floor with comfortable chairs instead of the standard table and chair setting, enabling more relaxed meetings, a support service on each floor offering business administration and a business lounge for clients to work in.

And since law firms often demand long hours, the firm also provides “sleep pods” for napping or longer rests. Also, Eversheds’ building provides 100 cycle racks; full shower and changing facilities; hundreds of lockers and drying for wet cycle clothing.

On Wednesday, Medvei acknowledged that a replication of its London headquarters might prove challenging in traditional United States legal culture. But he tells GlobeSt.com that he believes “we as a society will all be having to work more flexibly and thus productively in years to come.”

Noting books could be written on the topic, Medvei expounds “we have the technical capability through IT and telecoms to do so. Transport infrastructure and transport cost–both financial and environmental–is such that we have to find alternatives to going into our office to work and for our efforts to be assessed by ‘counting the backs of our heads, i.e. by inputs rather than by outputs.”

On the roof the Eversheds building, bird boxes and insect habitats grow. Medvei says that the company hopes species such as peregrine falcons, housemartins and black redstarts will be attracted. A PA system on the roof of the building will play birdsongs that Eversheds hopes will encourage species to colonize the space.

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