Real aesthetics: how OVH designs a great place to work

Life at OVH
26 September 2017
Hugo Bonnaffé
Real aesthetics: how OVH designs a great place to work
Real aesthetics: how OVH designs a great place to work

OVH’s global workforce recently exceeded 2,000 – and the company plans to recruit another 1,000 employees by the end of summer 2018. New OVH offices in the French cities of Paris, Nantes and Bordeaux are set to open shortly to provide employees with the best possible working conditions, as close as possible to where they live. We take this opportunity to give you an insight into the OVH Real Estate team, how it thinks outside the box (or cubicle!) and strives to create a working environment that suits the company’s many different types of job.




Fanny Villez joined OVH a couple of years ago. Her background spans plastic arts, landscaping and interior design, and she has worked as a set designer for scientific and cultural exhibitions. Her job here? Supported by a team of 12, which is due to expand further, she transforms the workplaces of OVH employees into new and better spaces to work and collaborate. The scope is huge, from interior design and signage to ergonomic workstations. It also includes finding ways to help people stay healthy by getting up from their desks and moving about.

Adapt the workplace to employees – not the other way around

“Our task is to analyse how teams work. That is, the way employees naturally organise themselves and use the space. Then we create work environments that facilitate these spontaneous forms of working and collaborating.” The team strives to create innovative solutions that meet the different needs of all the various job types at OVH, as well as its “liberated” or “freedom-form” company ethos.

“Mutual adjustment is a popular form of cooperation at OVH, so we have created, for example, spaces designed for two or three people to meet. We also noticed the need for buffer spaces near larger meeting rooms. It’s often when waiting for a meeting room to become available that participants start discussing a topic. Informal debriefs regularly take place right after important meetings. These are important discussions and at the moment they take place in the corridor. This gets in the way and can distract people working nearby. We took this into account when planning renovations and furnishing our new offices: they now have spaces equipped for these types of discussion.”

Another thing Fanny and her team noticed is that those standard whiteboards and movable flip charts you find in every office just aren’t good enough. What did they do? They covered meeting room walls and glass partitions in open spaces with a special coating on which you can write and draw. From now on, it’s impossible to lose the thread of your idea: there will always be a space nearby to scribble down a few notes or a sketch. It’s not uncommon for some walls to become like palimpsests – and no wonder, considering the complexity of some of our projects.

In OVH offices, it’s not forbidden to write on the walls. Quite the opposite! (Here, in Rennes, France)

OVH – a furniture designer?

The Real Estate team didn’t only undertake a massive project to harmonise the visual identity of existing offices. At the same time, they were busy considering the office furniture. “The old furniture just wasn’t very suitable: bean-shaped desks that weren’t particularly comfortable and wasted lots of space because they didn’t fit well together. We searched and searched for a more suitable desk, and we didn’t find one. So in the end, we designed it ourselves.” The result is a large desk angled at the edges to prevent circulation being cut off in your forearms when you type. It stands on a metal frame with sturdy wheels and a special place for stowing cables to make it easier to move around open spaces. Each and every element has been optimised. “We have also replaced the armchairs with ergonomic seats that can be adjusted to suit your body shape.” Among the growing catalogue of furniture created by the Real Estate team is a movable storage box topped with a seat. “It’s really useful to perch on when you just want a quick chat with a colleague – without the height difference you have if you stand by their desk. It avoids the sense of a hierarchical power relationship that height difference can create.”

You can work standing up at OVH (here, in Lyon, France).

Experimenting in batches

In line with the company ethos, the office design projects follow a process of continuous improvement with an emphasis on experimentation. “Since we made this office furniture ourselves with the help of a laser cutter, it wasn’t hard for us to come up with a second version of the “Made in OVH” desk. In this version, the desk can be raised thanks to a motorized system, allowing the user to work standing up. Along the same lines, we are experimenting with various types of seating. The Swiss ball, for example, an inflatable ball that forces you to keep your balance and thereby makes your leg and back muscles work harder. A stationary bike that can be used with a standing desk. And how about a treadmill so you can get your legs moving while making a call?” Fun initiatives, for sure, but there is also a serious side: we want to help employees stay fit and reduce the risks of sitting down and not moving for long periods of time. (If you speak French, check out the France 3 TV report filmed at OVH, from 11’46.)

Ergonomics is not the only aspect of the workstation that the team are looking at. Light and sound are just as important. As are creating areas that encourage concentration and spaces in which to nap. Two “activities” that, perhaps unexpectedly, help boost creativity.

Art enters the office

Austere and soulless, the traditional office is a product of the 1960s explosion in the service sector. It’s simply not suited to today’s work environment. That’s putting it mildly – it can actually be counterproductive. “We wish to transform offices into living spaces where people feel good. And why not, where they feel proud to work.”

It’s in this spirit that collaborations with artists are increasing. For example, LEM helped to shape the visual identity of Campus 1 in OVH’s Roubaix headquarters, with several monumental frescoes mixing his distinctive graphic style with his vision of the internet. Another local artist, Dr Colors, has been invited to put his own mark on the walls of Campus 2, set to open shortly.

It has been known for some time that work spaces are management tools – i.e. that they reflect the managerial culture or help to develop it. They are increasingly a showcase for the brand, deliberately exhibiting the most striking aspects of the company. Fanny is convinced that the attention a company pays to office design sends a strong signal to employees about how much they are valued. That goes above and beyond the question of pure performance, which naturally improves when the working environment is adapted to the needs of employees. It might be too strong to say that office design alone creates a happy working environment. But it certainly contributes to it.

OVH offices in France and worldwide:

Right now, OVH has 24 offices in 18 countries.

In France, the company has its headquarters in Roubaix and offices in Lille, Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, Brest and Rennes. Two new offices are set to open soon: Nantes (November 2017) and Bordeaux (January 2018). Each will welcome 100 employees from all departments.

At the Roubaix site, Campus 2 will officially be opened on November 1, 2017. The offices in Brest and Paris will both be extended by summer 2018.

In Europe, the offices in London (UK), Milan (Italy) and Wroclaw (Poland) will be expanded before the end of the year. Between February and June 2018, a second office will open in Cork (Ireland), as well as in Germany, to complement OVH’s existing site in Saarbrücken.

This will allow the company to welcome 1,000 new employees – of which 600 are in France – by September 2018.

OVH is hiring near you!


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