Workplace Anachronisms: No. 1 – the BCO Specification Guide

Boy Wearing Men's Dress Shoes and Suit --- Image by © Royalty-Free/CorbisThe British Council for Offices claims that it is ‘Britain’s leading forum for the discussion and debate of issues affecting the office sector. Its members are organisations involved in creating, acquiring or occupying office space, whether architects, lawyers, surveyors, financial institutions or public agencies.’ If true, this makes its Specification Guide all the more remarkable for not only being wide of the mark about at least one key issue when it was published back in 2009, but about which it is growing increasingly redundant by the day.

My particular hang-up has long been the hoo-ha with which the BCO launched its updated guide in 2009 with what it seemed to think was the groundbreaking idea that office space standards had fallen to 11.8 square metres per person in the four years since the previous edition in 2005.

Even three or four years ago, this was still a high number according to all I was told about how space was used, the BCO hasn’t updated the guide since and it’s still for sale on the BCO website so is presumably still informing the way in which buildings are developed. This is not a good thing because before we even begin to fit out these buildings and work in them, they may already belong to a past both structurally and culturally.

You could also argue that there is a problem with the very idea of ‘space standards’ in the first place given that so much space within offices is now not merely shared but socialised. Creating buildings using linear equations about the number of people that work in them is increasingly irrelevant when work and workplaces are so complex that some other form of maths would be a better way of calculating their size and shape.

I don’t doubt the Specification Guide has plenty of other useful advice and information, but on the subject of space standards it is misguided and misguiding on several levels.