Since 2012, Opencast has had a people-first approach to work. The technology consulting company is built on the desire to do right by its clients, and its commitment to leaving clients in a better position than when work started.
Initially, Opencast’s teams were mostly guiding and supporting clients on-site. Its small headquarters in Newcastle, England was in alignment with its day-to-day work but when the pandemic started everything shifted.
With client offices closing, Tom Lawson, Chief Executive at Opencast, knew the company’s own workplace needed to change. He wanted to build a new office model that supported Opencast’s hybrid approach and empowered people to do their best work.
To meet the needs of its team and stand out in the industry, Opencast set out to:
- Accommodate their rapidly growing team
- Find technology to support and improve their HQ
- Open satellite locations to support an expanding, UK-wide team
How did the company do it? Let’s find out.
With plans to double its team by the end of 2022 and client-site work becoming more infrequent, Opencast created a workplace project team led by Sheena Widdowfield and then Daniel Pearson to reconsider the role of its office and look for technology upgrades.
“We knew we had to increase the size of the office, but the extent of it changed massively throughout the pandemic as we moved from working predominantly on client-site to a hybrid model with a greater emphasis on Opencast-led spaces. This provided an opportunity to define what an Opencast office should be,” said Daniel.
Opencast’s existing headquarters was small and relatively simple. With only one conference room, 25 desks, and no way for teams to make reservations, the space was no longer fit for purpose.
“We had 27 people at Opencast when we moved into our original office in 2016, so the space made sense at the time, but we went into lockdown in 2020 with 110 people,” explained Daniel.
Since 2020, Opencast has grown rapidly; the company now has around 350 people on its team. With an increased demand from clients, the business knew it needed to address its new spatial challenges as soon as possible.
“How do we ensure that people who come into the office will get a desk?” asked Daniel. “My worst nightmare is someone coming to the office, traveling 30 minutes or sometimes longer, and not having a desk available for them.”
Opencast was relying on a spreadsheet to track office usage and desk availability. It was a struggle to keep track of all the moving pieces and information was often missing.
It was time for something new. Opencast knew it needed a space that was more than just a home base with seating; a space that didn’t only support collaboration but encouraged it. A space that would be both inviting and equipped with technology that enabled hybrid work.
“One of the biggest challenges was around how we work and where to work,” said Daniel. “There were so many unknowns. How are people going to use the office? When were they going to use the office? What do they want to do in the office?”
Staying true to its user-focused ethos, the team at Opencast began extensive user research and consultation with its people to design a user-centered, intentional space supported by technology. This led to a workplace design focused on not replicating the home office, but providing amenities and opportunities that are difficult or impossible to achieve at home.
“We designed a space with different modes of working so our people had the flexibility to pick the best space for them to work on a particular task or achieve a certain goal,” explained Daniel.
“Our new office is four times larger, but only has around double the number of desks. Instead, we invested in spaces that meet our design objective and support collaboration and socialization. As a rapidly growing people-centric business, this is really important to us,” said Daniel.
That left the company with one last step: finding a tool that would help them keep desk and room booking organized, support team coordination, and make coming into the office seamless and enjoyable.
Opencast’s new HQ would be a space where people wanted to work. The idea of increased attendance and office usage was exciting, but first Daniel needed a tool that would make coming into that office a simple and pleasant experience.
“Before, very few people came in, you could be pretty sure you’d get a desk, but now we’re going through a lot of growth.”
Daniel and his team evaluated multiple space management tools. They wanted a tool that:
- Easily integrated with Office 365 for seamless room booking
- Simplified the desk booking process
- Offered an intuitive, user-friendly interface
- Provided workplace analytics and office usage data
- Offered flexible contract terms and pricing models
Robin stood out for all of these reasons, but what compelled Daniel was Robin’s company values and customer service.
“I remember talking about Robin and its history and thinking that it actually sounds similar to our story,” said Daniel. “Having that connection and that culture from Robin really stood out.”
As Daniel started implementation, he realized everything was self-serve. Daniel was able to set up his account within a day.
“It took me no time at all,” said Daniel. “Implementation was a piece of cake.”
The Roll Out
After integrating Robin into its systems, setting up technology in its new office, and testing the software with a small group at its headquarters, Opencast rolled out Robin across their entire organization.
“I was really curious to find out what questions people would ask. What areas do we really need to address and communicate when we roll Robin out company wide? What things are going to go wrong?” said Daniel. “It was seamless. No one came back with any questions, except one person who was like, ‘this is great, thank you.’”
Despite this being a significant company-wide change, everything ran smoothly with quick adoption and increased engagement.
Today, Opencast’s teams use Robin every day to book desks and spaces. As the team got more comfortable, Daniel began utilizing other features like:
- Health checkpoints: A quick survey before entering the office
- Announcements: A streamlined way to share office events or changes
- Employee experience surveys: An effective way to solicit feedback from teams
- Workplace analytics: An easy way to track office usage and office trends
The Opencast People Team also incorporated Robin into onboarding; sharing guides and videos with new hires, and requiring they practice booking desks and rooms.
In Newcastle alone, Robin helps Opencast support 10 collaboration spaces and 50 desks. The best outcomes show that employees are engaged with the workplace and there is plenty to celebrate from the Newcastle office:
- 10 out of 22 monthly working days sit at 40-60% occupancy
- Tuesday-Thursday are the most popular days for the Opencast team
Even better? Office utilization has been steadily increasing as people rediscover the value of the office, with days often exceeding 70% capacity usage and even reaching 100%.
“We’re not trying to recreate people’s home offices. We’re trying to build something that you can’t get from home. And that is socialization and collaboration,” said Daniel.
Continuing to improve the HQ space, Daniel and his team are finding new ways to bring purpose to the Opencast office. The company culture relies on flexibility and coming together as a team.
The company now also supports satellite offices in Leeds, London, and Edinburgh, to ensure people have spaces where they can connect and collaborate. These smaller spaces help Opencast support employees living outside of Newcastle, with the bonus of creating nationwide recruitment opportunities.
“Our approach to hybrid and workplace strategy is not about being in the office between certain hours or set days. It’s about being at the right place, at the right time, to deliver your work, with our clients and team,” said Daniel. “That could be working from home, or in our office together with people and some whiteboards, if that’s what’s best then that’s the right thing to do.”