Interior motives: Shaun Watts on the changing face of the office after delivering Hull’s largest location

ResQ’s expansion onto the second floor of Hammonds of Hull brought a new title to the proud outsourced contact centre. For the 64,000 sq ft it now operates across makes it the biggest single occupier of an office floorplate in the city.

And the informal announcer of the rather niche accolade should know. Shaun Watts’ experienced team of international interior designers has delivered countless times in the city it proudly calls home, as it clocks up 25 years trading.

The number of new fit-outs delivered by Chameleon Business Interiors for ResQ itself needs two hands to calculate, with the latest nudging it beyond Arco’s £16 million Fruit Market addition when it comes to scale.

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A much-maligned commercial property market post-Covid, with home-working and remote-ready technology, the basic human need to interact and the benefits of collaboration are now being realised in boardrooms across Britain.

But now, more than ever, there needs a reason for being present – and not being in your PJs from the waist down surrounded by home comforts. This is where Chameleon steps in, in spectacular fashion.

When Mr Watts started his business, high speed broadband, 5G and HD webcams were unknowns. A question on remote working would no doubt have you checking the batteries in the television controller.

And it meant effort wasn’t overly needed on often drearily dull premises. Think about that fictional paper merchanting business Wernham Hogg in Slough, of the same vintage. The Office, Ricky Gervais’ mockumentary of the day-to-day slog of the 9-5, completely representative of the brown/beige, cigarette-stained rooms of minimal inspiration, thrust out on business parks on edges of towns and cities.

Shaun Watts, chairman of Chameleon Business Interiors.
Shaun Watts, chairman of Chameleon Business Interiors.

A quarter of a century has seen some changes, not least location – as the retail monopoly of the high street has faded. Not having those high volume footfalls for lunch, pre- and post-work purchases was an oversight of many a town planner – but ResQ and others have headed back, albeit in the grand buildings now vacated by those who needed them most. Co-working space is being created too, putting a buzz back into the urban sprawl.

But what lies within these buildings is the biggest transformation. Where once a fire extinguisher and a pinboard with a call out for five-a-side football players may have been the only interruption to the magnolia, we now see art installations, living walls, functional features and light, bright airy spaces suited to differing styles of work.

ResQ’s arrival and subsequent expansion in the heart of Hull has certainly been welcomed, not least by Mr Watts, having met the management team before the first call centre in Chariot House was drawn up. “It has been a good relationship, as the business has grown over the years, requirements have changed, trends have changed and developed, and in 17 years we’ve always found a way to work through any challenges,” he said. “Working with ResQ has been a really enjoyable 17 years, growing together. It is our biggest relationship, and the team have become very good friends.”

A guest on a selected list to usher in the latest chapter, the champagne flowing was also a fitting toast to a business milestone.

His first experience of the sector was as a 17-year-old van driver’s mate, delivering furniture. By 20 he had made warehouse manager, before discovering an appetite for sales, eventually deciding his ambition outweighed that of his then-employer. Now with offices in Canada and the US, who could argue.

“This is our 25th anniversary year, and we’ve been doing this type of project right across the country, and in North America too,” he said. “The change in the way we design offices to how we were designing them, even five years ago, is phenomenal. When we first started back in 1998, everyone had a massive workstation, a great big computer terminal, and everything was pretty drab. You’d expect it to be beige, brown or grey. Over the years it has changed, and technology has made a massive difference, the way people work. A lot of what we do now is designed around the people, and heavily supported by technology.”

Vision to reality. The cafe addition to the ResQ second floor.

ResQ's second floor expansion at Hammonds of Hull.

The big slab of tech had become slimline – with the flatscreen monitors now by far the largest element. Away from the desk is, however, where the real action is.

“Increasingly we’re starting with a social hub, and building the design out from there,” Mr Watts said. “The biggest challenge for most companies is how to encourage people to come back into the office, so when you get them there it is what is different that matters. We all know how important human interaction is, it is hugely important for mental health, and ideally you want to create an environment, design a space, that is different to the work area, which also needs to feel comfortable, and may have different requirements for different people or workstreams.”

At Hammonds of Hull a coffee shop fit-out worthy of any premises along Ferensway has been incorporated, while the vast floor of desks also features mini amphitheatres for group briefings, break-out rooms for training or more formal meetings and one-to-one pods that provide a sound-proof capsule. Leisure space too is part of the design.

Purchasing has changed too, with a big focus on carbon footprint now for the 30-strong team and its supply chain.

“People do still want to be with people, and for us it has been really interesting the way we have had to rethink the way we design spaces,” Mr Watts said.

“We’ve got some fantastically talented people, who genuinely really enjoy what they do. And how could you not? We often start with an old building, and create an environment that has such an impact on people’s lives. It is also about attracting and retaining good people. For us it is really important to get it right, to understand from the people in the business. We can transform anything, but if it is not right for those people it is the wrong investment.”

Site manager Russ Drinkell, project manager Harry Gamble, apprentice project manager Jack Snape and head of design Kevin McIntosh took the plaudits from the boss and the ResQ team for the latest design.

And while nine years ago Chameleon crossed the Atlantic to Toronto, and a Chicago office opened earlier this year, the pride in achievements in the city is clear. Just recently it revamped Humber Quays for Rix, the marina building in which it is a tenant.

“Hull is my home town and for us to be an integral part of the business community is a source of great pride, so too when I think of the thousands of people benefiting from space our team has created across the city,” he added.

Original artice – https://business-live.co.uk/all-about/yorkshire-humber

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