January 19, 2017
Every physical setting sends distinct signals to meeting participants – signals that set the tone and provide a context for the conversation, even when they are subtle or not in anyone’s conscious awareness. You understand instinctively that the place where a meeting occurs has an impact on the nature of the conversation. Just imagine the difference between a conversation around a large formal conference table with expensive executive chairs and one that takes place in an informal employee lounge, with the participants seated in a circle on soft bean-bag chairs. Or consider the classic image of a boss seated behind a large desk, in front of a large window framing her silhouette as she delivers a performance review to a “lowly” subordinate sitting across the desk in a low, hard-back chair. Now think about that same performance review being conducted on two softer wing chairs of equal height, with a low coffee table between them. Or in a nearby restaurant or coffee shop. Or on a trail in the woods adjacent to the corporate office. Which of those conversations do you think will evolve in a more caring, respectful, and supportive mode?
January 10, 2017
It’s drummed into us from an early age that we can’t have it all, as a result we consider choices as being a binary either/or situation. The workplace design brief (where it’s actually undertaken, an entirely separate discussion) positions choices similarly – open or closed, focussed or collaborative, modern or traditional – the decision point existing along a sliding scale from one natural extreme to the other. Yet there is a way to consider workplace design as an attempt to achieve the “unity of opposites”, an idea proposed by the pre-Socratic aphoristic philosopher, Heraclitus, the original thinker on change. This holds that the existence of an idea is entirely dependent on the existence of its opposite, that one cannot exist without the other. The framework is considered here in its application to the recently completed Sky Central in Osterley (West London), a newly constructed 38,000m2 NIA activity-based workplace over three floors that is home to 3,500 of the total 7,500 people on the Campus. It may be considered as tool for aiding workplace brief development, or for understanding how a workplace has been conceived and functions.
December 28, 2016
The science of the workplace has gained a lot of interest over the last few years, highlighting recurring patterns of human behaviour as well as how organisational behaviour relates to office design. In theory, knowledge from this growing body of research could be used to inform design. In practice, this is rarely the case. A survey of 420 architects and designers highlighted a large gap between research and practice: while 80 percent of respondents agreed that more evidence was needed on the impact of design, 68 percent admitted they never reviewed literature and 71 percent said they never engaged in any sort of post-occupancy evaluation. Only 5 percent undertake a formal POE and just 1 percent do so in a rigorous fashion. Not a single practitioner reported a report on the occupied scheme, despite its importance in understanding the impact of a design.
December 2, 2016
However much we know about the forces we expect to come into play in our time and however much we understand the various social, commercial, legislative, cultural and economic parameters we expect to direct them, most predictions of the future tend to come out as refractions or extrapolations of the present. This is a fact tacitly acknowledged by George Orwell’s title for 1984, written in 1948, and is always the pinch of salt we can apply to science fiction and most of the predictions we come across. This is the fundamental reason why a typical report or feature looking to explore the future of work and workplaces invariably produces a hyped-up office of the present. This has sufficed to some degree up till now because the major driving force of change – technology – has developed in linear ways. Its major driver since Gordon Moore produced his eponymous law in 1965 has been miniaturisation. If we can expect computing power to double every 18 months, as Moore predicted, we at least have a degree of certainty about technological disruption. Of course, this has already had a profound effect on the way we work and the way we use buildings. So too has the secondary prime technological driver of the early 21st Century, the digitisation of the past and present.
November 11, 2016
Any survey that sets out to establish what people believe cuts their productivity and annoys them most about their workplace almost invariably throws up the same result; the noise and distractions generated by other people. So it will come as no surprise to learn that the same surveys usually find that employees believe that peace and quiet and freedom from distractions is the most important factor when it comes to getting some decent work done. A survey of 90,000 people by architects Gensler carried out in 2013 found that ‘the most significant factor in workplace effectiveness is not collaboration, it’s individual focus work.’ So, it’s little wonder that how to provide peace and privacy has been one that occupies the thoughts of many workplace and product designers. Some of the solutions they have come up with have been great, some a little less so. Here is our pick of just ten of them.
November 10, 2016
Many of us have ways of framing our ideas about the workplace with reference to the things we love. Because I am a Harry Potter fan that means developing notions of Hogwarts and what it says about how the school building influences teaching and learning practices. J K Rowling’s universe offers rich pickings for this sort of thing and in the case of this feature provides us with an example of how we might consider the current state of thinking about the flexible workspace. One of Rowling’s brilliant ideas is the Room of Requirements. For the uninitiated, this is a room that presents itself to someone in need in exactly the shape and form required at the time including all furniture and fittings. Most often it appeared at Hogwarts for students in need to hide stuff, but Harry and his friends also used it for their secret society meetings to practice defence against the dark arts, for example.
November 10, 2016
Features such as baristas, sky terraces and fine dining will continue a process of transformation at the workplaces of Australia’s leading law firms over the next few years, claims a study by Melbourne based architecture practice Bates Smart. The report claims that the legal workplaces of today are are already unrecognisable compared to what was considered typical yesterday, having more in common with a five star hotel than a traditional office. Bates Smart predicts an even greater shift towards flexibility, collaboration and hospitality from legal firms in the future with the publication of four key findings in its new whitepaper, The Legal Workplace 2020, The report analyses trends in over 135,000 sq. m. of legal practice workplaces and draws conclusions that are indicative of key trends for law firms and the wider market alike.
November 4, 2016
Because collaboration, creativity and innovation are increasingly perceived as key objectives and differentiators of performance, the genesis and mechanisms behind ideation and creativity are an an integral part of both business and personal development. As a consequence, there is growing interest in the way the physical attributes of work settings may influence or even trigger creative behaviour. The cliché of the shower as one of these favourite places comes to mind and yet experience does show that the idea of seeking a setting, a “zone” if you will, for a specific purpose is intuitively right. This needn’t be a retreat or cocoon, as is often assumed, but can also be a crowded, busy, noisy place, which might explain why so often the most animated work conversations move out of the office shop into the coffee shop. Equally, highlight events or special meetings tend to be held in a “venue’, often dressed for the occasion.
October 28, 2016
October 25, 2016
This summer’s headlines have been full of discord, a cacophony of angry voices either directed at continental Europe, or at the Brexiters who voted for Britain to leave the European Union. But EMC, a global leader in information technology-as-a-service which has recently been acquired by Dell, is a leading light of European integration through its One Team approach to workplace management and design across Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA). Over the past three years, the EMC Global Real Estate and Facilities Team (GREF), which supports more than 12,000 people in around 130 office locations across 50 countries in EMEA, has transformed from a group operating independently, to a fully-aligned team which provides a uniform and standardised approach to workplace delivery and management to enable greater business success.
October 18, 2016
Technology doesn’t just transform the world, it reshapes our language. So, we all need to get used to the word uberification as well as the idea of it. Based on the success of the on demand taxi service Uber, the word refers to the way a product or service becomes available to customers on demand via the Internet. Customers book a service only at the point of consumption. This represents an entirely new commercial model and is the defining characteristic of the new 21st Century economy. Uber may have provided the tipping point, going from start up to market valuation of $66 billion in just 7 years, but its success has given us a name for a process that is reshaping businesses and customer experiences across the entire economy, including in the commercial property sector.
October 10, 2016
A great deal of current research and anecdotal evidence suggests that engaged employees are much less likely to leave their current organisation, are more productive and take less sick days that their disengaged colleagues. But according to a recent survey by Deloitte while 87 percent of organisations cite culture and engagement as one of their top challenges, almost two-thirds of executives do not feel they are effectively driving this desired culture within their business. A global study by my own firm Steelcase found that one-third of workers across 17 of the world’s most important economies are actually disengaged. The findings make worrying reading for employers around the world, as engagement is so demonstrably linked to business critical outcomes such as employee retention, productivity and even profits. It certainly raises the question of what more can be done, including in terms of workplace design, to boost engagement levels amongst these employees.