Phd student, Stephen Ajadi, worked with BT on a project entitled “Keeping up with the changing workspaces – how to keep BT’s Adastral Park fresh and on the forefront of innovation?”

BT is the oldest telecommunications company in the world. It is also the largest provider of consumer fixed-line voice and broadband services in the UK. BT’s Adastral Park is based outside Ipswich, Suffolk and contributes around £750m to the region’s economy. It is BT’s global research and development HQ in Ipswich, Suffolk- opened in November 1975 and is also home to an established and growing cluster of tech companies. Currently, 151 tech companies reside on the 100-acre site with at least 4000 regular staff and over 50,000 visitors and 1,100 VIPs visiting each year.

My role was to lead a project aimed at recalibrating the work experience of all the companies at the park. Improving them moving forward from the initial shocks of the pandemic and creating a more resilient social and physical working experience. The work had social development and architectural interventions at the large scale of the entire park. Strategies of regulating and optimizing on-site and hybrid work plans were devised.

I decided to work with BT because the project involved managing collaboration at a very large scale (151 companies). It also required the intersection of skills deeply rooted in social development, development economics and architecture. I have expertise in these 3 areas, but I have rarely had the opportunity to bring all 3 skills in play at the same time on a single project.

It was not my first consultancy experience in the UK. However, it was the one with the highest level of responsibility allocated to me. Settling in was very easy as my BT supervisor was very helpful and understanding. The work started in at the end of the lockdown phase, so there was a fair bit of disruption. I was maybe lucky the disruption itself was one of the aspects to be studied so it was a topic rather than a distraction. Ipswich is a beautiful quiet town. I did not have the time to explore it extensively but the bit of scenery I was exposed to added to positively to the experience.

Everyone was very friendly. I interviewed and engaged people across race, gender and sexual orientations. The only understandable set back was that everyone was very busy so it was difficult arranging numerous appointments. The executive staff offered a lot of time for interviews, profiling and feedback. I was treated very well to the best of my knowledge.

The following were the target aims of my fellowship:

  1. Developing the best working environment for the people of BT with a follow-up strategy of implementing it.                     
  2. Creating a social framework of staff inclusivity throughout the recalibration process of the work experience at BT.
  3. Developing strategies and policies for transitioning people back into the physical workspaces

The following findings were made after months of research and field study:

  1. BT and the group of companies had initial strategies, projects and policies that focused on the physical outlook of work. There was no plan towards the social outlook of work across the 151 companies due to the pandemic and most teams working from home. I developed a framework and defined a policy for a social outlook on work across the companies. I also defined immediate, near and long-term strategies to implement the social outlook plan
  2. BT and the group of companies have not taken advantage of the 100-acre site. Satisfaction for indoor work was low. Research conducted suggested that outdoor work was not only sustainable but favourable and demanded by the staff. There was also evidence to show that it will optimise work productivity and comfort. I designed three new outdoor pod typologies to extend work outdoors. I founded and planned out the BT OEP (Outdoor Experience Project).
  3. I also was able to propose talks of partnership between BT and the NHS that may lead to a circular economy partnership for circular finance


Some strategies are long term in terms of implementation so measurement of impact and (or) development cannot be immediate. However, surveys and interviews with executive staff across the companies show satisfaction for the BT OEP (Outdoor Experience Project). There was an unprecedented 100% full support feedback across all executive staff interviewed about the idea. During the project review session there was interest indicated to build some of the pods I designed in the current year 2022.

My period at BT has enabled me to apply the knowledge of social development in my PhD research in real life situations, more interestingly, at a massive scale. I have also fine-tuned my skills of qualitative research. I also now understand how telecommunication companies work and how large clusters of companies collaborate at very complex levels. Probably one of the most interesting new experiences is the process of influencing social activity at the level of space and policy.

The transferrable skills and experiences I gained from working with the partner organization include:


  1. Advanced focus group ethnography
  2. Policy development for the labour economy
  3. Teamwork at a large scale
  4. Qualitative survey analysis
  5. Reading research feedback
  6. Policy implementation strategy


  1. Development meetings and ethnographic survey with executive staff
  2. Workflow of a world class cluster of tech companies
  3. Insight into the labour framework of one of the largest telecommunication platforms in the world.

My knowledge of ethnography was also called into fore. In addition, I am a licenced architect and my professional design skills were useful in designing new physical infrastructure for the park.

As a licenced project manager, the skill came in helpful in planning out a solo-led project with a high level of complexity and scope.

The Grand Challenges Scheme is scary fun! The CGC is an excellent way to test what you have been developing and learning at Cambridge. It pushes you to a new unknown, it is a dive into the complex real world where problems are no longer in textbooks but in actual reality. I put forward a number of strategies and policies during my time at BT, all of which were considered. You will also see things differently when you come back to Cambridge. You will understand just how pragmatic and feasible certain theories are in the real world. More importantly, you will learn how to close the gap between ideation and implementation.

It is a wonderful opportunity for your career. If you can, I suggest you jump and grab one with both hands!

Stephen completed his fellowship from 1 July 2021 – 31 December 2021

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