Workplace Trends conference justifies the workplace in a virtual world

In his lightning summary of five decades of the office at Workplace Trends 2013: Making it Work, which took place last week, architect Frank Duffy remarked on the challenge of justifying place in an increasingly virtual world. It’s never been easy to gauge the productivity of offices and knowledge workers – a conundrum the conference returned to throughout the day. Tim Oldman from the Leeman Index, which has gone some way to measure workplace effectiveness, revealed that only 53 per cent of 42,677 workers questioned had agreed their workplace enables them to work productively. Yet despite this, as most of the sessions of the day confirmed, the office is far from obsolete, and as a place for workers to congregate and collaborate, it remains king.

The way the workplace is used was another important theme and all the FMs in the room must have been pleased when Duffy said that architects think their work is done when the tape is cut, and the clients move in, but that’s in fact where the real work begins. However, he added that he’d like to see facilities managers being more aggressive about retooling buildings to meet users’ demands.

Occupiers could always use the computer-based mathematical simulation and yield management techniques, as applied by the airline and hotel industries, to workspace forecasting, was the theory expounded by speakers from Cambridge Architectural Research. They argued that simulation has advantages over observed occupancy studies and can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of workplace planning.

Going back to the question though of why have a workplace in the first place? Was the entertaining afternoon debate on the proposition: “Offices don’t work: They’re a waste of space.” Although Paul Morrell gave a brilliant and in some ways convincing argument, including the observation that given many workplaces’ inclusion of shops, gyms and coffee shops, there’s a thin line between staff care and a hostage situation, his proposition was beaten by Paul Finch of the Architects Journal.

The conference was also interspersed with some useful examples of office and mixed use buildings, including a presentation on the conference venue, 30 Euston Square, which now hosts the Royal College of General Practitioners; and a review of the ways in which office design in Australia is in many ways ahead of the curve in the UK.

Coming back to the theme of workplace productivity, Workplace Trends’ own Nigel Oseland argued that measuring the impact of design on business performance may be difficult – but it doesn’t mean it should be ignored – and he certainly wasn’t the only speaker of the day to point out that the key asset of any workplace is of course, its people.

To read Nigel’s blog based on his presentation click here.

For more information on Workplace Trends click here.