John Cridland looks to ‘working café’ culture in CBI’s new home


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The Independent Online

When the CBI director-general, John Cridland, took the top job at the UK’s biggest business lobbying group in February 2011, his ambition was to find a fitting new home for the organisation: in his words, a “modest palace of glass and steel”.

That vision becomes reality at the end of March when the  Confederation of British Industry finally moves from its headquarters of more than 30 years. Its 180 staff will swap the ageing Richard Seifert-designed Centre Point tower at the east end of Oxford Street for a new home in the heart of the Square Mile. Cannon Place, the office complex built above Cannon Street station, is by contrast a glistening temple of 21st-century modernity, with a steel exoskeleton framing eight glazed floors.

The move was forced on the CBI by the 2010 sale of Centre Point to the property developer Almacantar, which intends to transform the listed 1960s-built tower into apartments. But Mr Cridland says the move befits a change of approach across the organisation since he took over as it attempts to play its part in spurring a recovery following a traumatic five years for the economy. Now it’s all about open-plan offices, central hubs and a “working café” atmosphere.

“Centre Point is of its time and we are ready to move. The CBI has itself been on a journey in the last couple of years and this will be very much complemented by the move to Cannon Place. We have been trying to make the CBI a more agile and vibrant place over the last couple of years, to give it a bit more of a cutting edge in the way we operate and communicate with our members.”

The new 25,000 sq ft headquarters is contained on one floor and is fully open-planned, unlike Centre Point’s much smaller floorplates. The requirement dictated the move to the City – where bigger trading-floor style offices are more readily available – rather than any underlying shift of emphasis from the organisation.

From March, visitors from its 240,000-strong membership will find themselves in a new members’ lounge, a where they can use their laptops and recharge their phones, as well as meet clients and CBI staff with a cup of coffee. Mr Cridland also plans a “rolling exhibition” on a “Best of British” theme.

“I am saying to them [the members] – it is your office, make use of it. That wasn’t possible in Centre Point,” he says.

The principle of open-plan offices was particularly important to the director-general – “part of the mentality where we are all mucking in together,” he says. “I will have the same chair and desk as everybody else.

“The challenge of generating ideas to revive the British economy demands real creativity. That comes from being inclusive, not being shut away in executive suites.”

Staff will be based around a “working café” hub, Mr Cridland says. That means staff will be “encouraged not to talk over their desks but to go and have a cup of coffee and generate some ideas”.

He adds: “In 2013 we were still dealing with an economy still struggling to find a growth path. In 2014 there is more confidence, more demand and more investment, but the political environment in which we operate is more challenging – we are basically in a 17-month election campaign.”

The CBI will at least be in easy reach of Westminster and Whitehall from its new home as policymakers shift from finding elusive growth to securing a recovery.