IBM is to move out of its South Bank headquarters — a five-story Brutalist landmark on the bank of London’s river Thames — this year, with the company to take a “hybrid work” approach on the return of staff.
Staff will be moving in to the Shell centre complex at Waterloo “just a small hop along the Thames in a phased move later this year,” said Sreeram Visvanathan General Manager, IBM UK and Ireland (UK&I).
He added in a LinkedIn post May 24: “And when we return, we’ll take a #hybridwork approach that combines the best of how we worked pre-pandemic with the best of the virtual work we’ve done in the past year.”
The move is likely to draw mixed reactions. While some IBM employees have developed a grudging affection for the concrete behemoth, it also — as architects AHMM noted in earlier refurbishment plans (thwarted by the building’s Grade II listing in 2020) — “’suffer[s] from a lack of daylight due to a large ceiling zone, which aligns with the base of the external concrete cladding, narrowing sight lines and daylight penetration.”
Visvanathan added: “Our new physical workplace is being explicitly designed to be open, flexible and created for collaboration, experimentation and to inspire. When teams are in the office they will work together, innovating and co-creating ideas, defining outcomes and determining the best path to get there. Not limited to a desk, if people want to grab a hub, a break-out space, a private room or space on the outdoor terrace, they can.”
With Big Blue late last year reportedly planning to lay off 8,000 staff across Europe, with 2,000 positions expected to go in the UK alone, UK&I employees will be watching closely for signs that the move will come hand-in-hand with major staffing restructuring also.
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Visvanathan pointed to development and hiring opportunities in a post on IBM’s website, saying that the company is “committed to providing development opportunities to help IBMers succeed in their careers through open, two-way transparent dialogues. We are also recruiting people with specific industry-leading deep technology skills… In the UK and Ireland we currently have openings for Designers, Architects, Developers, Data Scientists, Business Strategists and Thought Leaders on Cloud and AI.
He added: “To work hand in hand with our workforce we are elevating the role of our ecosystem partners. Globally we are adding hundreds of new partnerships with global system integrators, independent software vendors and major third-party software partners. Together we will deliver more value to clients.”
The move comes after the government granted IBM’s existing building Grade II statutory protection in June 2020, complicating plans by the building’s owner Dubai-based Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group for a sweeping overhaul of the 1980s building, designed by English architect Denys Lasdun towards the end of his career. These would have involved partially demolishing the building, giving it a new core and extending it by two floors.
Architects AHMM in February 2021 put out revised plans for public consultation, reducing the proposed changes to the South Bank landmark in what it said would be a “respectful adaptation to the existing building” designed to “significantly enhance its setting within the conservation area” and see the retention of more than 80% of the existing building’s structure.