There’s no place like work(place).

There’s no place like work(place).

Over the last 5-10 years, office environment trends have gone from linear and regimented to informal, eclectic and often homely. This was heavily influenced by companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter. When the hash-tagging, redbull-drinking, hack-partying Palo Alto mob unveiled their new HQ (designed by Studio O&A) in 2009, what was initially a ‘wow that’s cool, but we could never work like that’ reaction from many, swooshed through the digital, marketing and creative industries, eventually trickling down to become staple diet for blue chips in many sectors.

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Naughtone at LinkedIn

Students pour out of University each summer, many having spent years in increasingly slick (should I say ‘sick bruv’) library facilities lounging on modern upholstery with MacBooks instead of sitting at studydesks with PC’s going clickety clack. The savvy ‘next gen’ see good workplace design as a key factor in choosing their employer – and rightly so. We’re all going to live to be 137* so office spaces and how they make us feel are becoming increasingly important.

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Sheppard Robson: Alan Gilbert Learning Commons building

“When people feel good, they work better.”

The purpose of the office has changed. People can work from anywhere, so the value in today’s workplace is in collaboration, discussion, problem solving and idea sharing – with ample provision for quiet focus work. Providing people with a range of spaces and a mix of formal and informal settings to suit different tasks. Dropping formalities, encouraging interaction and nurturing creativity is key. When people feel good, they work better.

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BDP: Exchange Station

Workplace designers saw it coming and a number furniture manufacturers jumped on it early. When first launched twenty years ago, bench desks were both groundbreaking and premium products. Today, mass production by the wider market means that more often than not, desks are now low cost commodities. There is far more emphasis on exciting (and more profitable) soft seating and upholstery in the workplace. There was a time that the ‘ancillary package’ on a project meant reception sofas, a couple of dull meeting rooms and four beech ply barstools in the staff kitchen. Now soft seating and breakout furniture packages on large commercial office projects compete with the desk and task chair spend.

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There’s been a generation change…did you notice?

We’ve seen a rise in office furniture manufacturers diversifying; launching cool soft seating and wacky lighting – equally at home in new wave offices as it is in bars, hotels or clubs. In addition we’ve seen the rise of a generation of new designers and edgy young manufacturers. It’s these guys that epitomise the ‘modern way’. Many of the larger old school office furniture producers responded to the change in landscape by strategically buying soft seating factories to inject flair into their portfolio, so they aren’t left behind in the power shift.

In other words – raw creativity Vs cash money.

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Corporate HQ? Or club?

But the lowly desk has upped its game. Many quality desk systems now integrate copious amounts of network cables, sockets, USB charging devices, monitor stands, task lighting -and eat power cables for breakfast. These are still the places to go for serious work. And at long last, the UK is getting behind the sit-stand desk (can I get an ‘Amen’?) that its continental cousins have enjoyed for 15-20 years.

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USM Kitos sit-stand desk

Until technology invents the next big thing to radicalise our places of work, providing people with a balanced choice of varied spaces for formal and informal work, connectivity, quiet focus and comfort will remain key to creating a successful workplace – and vital factors in attracting and retaining a skilled workforce.

Along with Jammie Dodgers and a decent cuppa.

 

*142 by the time you have finished this article.

 

 

 

 

 

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Smart @rse

Smart @rse

by Ben Capper

Terminator 2 fans have long pondered the moment technology gains ‘self awareness’. In such an event, our trusted smartphones alone could cause massive damage – Tweet dodgy photos of you, send racy texts to Aunt Maud and proclaim to your Facebook friends that you’re now a City fan. It doesn’t even bear thinking about.

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As the workplace gets ever smarter, increasing levels of information is gathered on employees, productivity and working patterns. The simple fact is: as ‘likes’ and routines are established, tech gets to know you and “improves user experience” to coin an Apple phrase.

Bloomberg recently published an article on The World’s most intelligent building – an outstanding project. With it’s own app, the building gets to know your schedule, how you like your coffee, your light and temperature preferences. It tells you where to park, which desk to use and it cleans and hoovers itself at night…

Coming over here with their smart hoovers, taking our jobs…

Piecemeal information gathering is one thing, but it’s the joining up of the dots that intimidates our squishy, outdated human brains. At what point does smart tech become smart arse? Or am I sounding like my mum who still refuses to use internet banking? We are being immersed further into technology… and now even your trusted office chair is in on it.

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BMA Smart chair

Your ‘personal posture coach’; BMA’s Smart chair has pressure pads imbedded in the seat and back cushions to monitor users’ sitting posture. Data on user posture (yes really) and chair occupancy periods are sent to a nominated computer. If you’re slouching, the chair gently buzzes as a prompt to sit up straight. As an occasional sloucher, I found this slightly nagging at times, but others who shall remain nameless claimed to enjoy the chair’s gentle vibrations. Hmm. No doubt this ergonomically advanced chair is a big help to health focused employers battling against staff back complaints. Healthy body equals happy productive office worker.

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Table Air Smart desk

Meanwhile for the Star Wars fans out there, Table Air have launched a height adjustable desk with an LED illuminated edge that changes colour. You can pretend you’re in Minority Report and raise the desk height with a wave of the hand. Snazzy eh? They are developing the Table Air App to memorise individual height and light preferences too. I reckon Darth Vader would have specified a few of these for Death Star HQ (wonder what BREEAM rating that got?).

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Bene Nice Wall

Our friends in Austria (and their friends ‘we-inspire’) have developed a room module for meetings, brainstorming sessions and visual presentations: the Nice Wall; a continuous, frameless and interactive wall that can be scaled up to 30 metres in length. Allowing multiple users at once and integrating Skype and other software, this impressive presentation tool allows users at multiple locations to collaborate and sketch together in real time. With all that going for it you’d think they would come up with a better name… Pleasant Wall for example.

With advanced BIM technology reshaping the design and planning process, it’s clear computer advances are positively impacting our working lives. But with recent news of a Ukrainian Power Station suffering power outage due to hackers, my ‘Jerry Springer final thought’ is this: As our reliance on office tech increases, is the potential impact of a cyber attack more damaging than ever? Is our reliance on technology becoming a dangerous habit?

You’ll have to ask Arnie for the answers I’m afraid. I’m logging off for now… but I’ll be back.

 

 

Big brother’s efficient workplace

Big brother’s efficient workplace

by Ben Capper

I am fascinated by the developing story featured in the Independent concerning desk monitoring at The Telegraph Newspaper ( Union criticises Telegraph for monitoring journalists and Telegraph to withdraw monitoring devices ).  At the same time I can’t say I’m surprised at the events unfolding.

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The story broke via Buzzfeed.com and gathered momentum with national press, fellow journo pals and The National Union of Journalists following suit.

In brief, Telegraph bosses claimed to be gathering efficiency information in order to measure desk usage throughout their facilities, using a little sensor box produced by a clever company called ‘OccupEye’, which is fitted on the underside of each desk.

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Journalists at the Telegraph were informed that monitoring  equipment had been installed underneath their workstations, the purpose of which was to monitor desk occupancy. Information is gathered to be viewed and discussed by facilities management and the workplace consultancy team in the battle to improve efficiency and maximise space. Are you with me so far?

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Workplace storm in a Telegraph tea-cup?

Having attended multiple lectures on this subject and discussed this with many clients, I see both sides. In my view this represents a battle between positive workplace design strategy Vs negative workplace scaremongers. This weeks’ events have no doubt badly damaged the Telegraph’s relationship with its staff, generated negative PR and got the privacy law rabble rousers into full swing.

The Journalists are up in arms as they feel their privacy has been invaded (ooh the irony). I feel it is my duty to explain the story from a workplace planning perspective…

In today’s ever changing workplace, efficiency (cost) is king. Sensors automatically turn off lights in unoccupied areas, whilst modern technology and building materials allow huge savings on running costs. But for large companies operating in expensive cities like London or New York, big buildings are bloody expensive, so where to next for the FD eager to demonstrate efficiency savings to his dividend-hungry board?

“Workplaces aren’t what they were a decade ago…”

Enter your local workplace interiors team. They stroll through the office in their tweed jackets and pocket squares with the FD, pointing out empty desks, making the (valid) point that in today’s workplace many desks are unoccupied for large parts of each day. People are at meetings, off sick, on holiday (are you at your desk now whilst you read this?). The point is we don’t need desks all the time, so why have one sitting there like a malnourished pet that we’ve forgotten about? Workplaces aren’t what they were a decade ago – they are important but we don’t need them as often as we did. In addition, many employers and new generation companies understand you don’t have to be at your desk (or even in your office) to work. iPads, MacBooks, Starbucks and Google changed all that. Just because you’re lounging on a sofa in a trendy cafe with a client sipping nonfat caramel macchiatos whilst discussing a project, does that mean you’re not working? Of course not. Staff want offices that are comfortable, trendy and cool – not boring beech L shaped desks and stuffy meeting rooms.

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working or skiving?

Many offices have moved forwards – begrudgingly. They’ve chucked out the L shaped desks and gone to open plan offices with bench desks. Great. Bit noisier though. So for meetings or for peace and quiet whilst cramming for that deadline, some staff nip down the road to the Organic Squirrel Frozen Yoghurt Co.

Company management can no longer easily see the working patterns of their teams. Yes they see the headlines and quarterly results, but I’m talking day to day movement. If you don’t know where your staff are spending their time, but you notice empty desks, how can you re-plan and improve their place of work? How can you, Mr Financial Director – pin striped king of the urban jungle – reduce costs, whilst improving feel good factor, morale and profitability? You need to get amongst your targets like David Attenborough in the wild. Tranquilize and tag your staff like an endangered species. Then study them whilst they go about their daily business.

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Ok. Maybe I’m going overboard slightly.

My (serious) point is that if you as an employer are not 100% familiar with your team’s working habits – and you are planning a refurbishment of some sort – you need to get to know how they work and what they need before you set out on this journey. In these situations, experiments such as this can be crucial for workplace consultants to gain an accurate understanding of what makes the office tick. The flip side is that they bring the whole ‘privacy’ debate into the fray and there may be some less scrupulous employers out there that would use information gathered in these workplace experiments for the dark side of the force.

I have noticed a number of what I would call ‘typical negative employee reactions’ throughout the Telegraph newsroom saga that will be all too familiar to workplace designers and consultants:

  1. Suspicion of people (or in this case boxes) studying their working habits, which quickly turns into concerns about being penalised by management for excessive toilet breaks or long lunches with Janice from Marketing- ultimately culminating with the perceived threat of redundancies.
  2. Common negative focus on ‘workplace efficiency’ and ‘reducing office size’ by scaremongers – ultimately culminating with perceived threat of redundancies.

If information about working habits can be harvested accurately, offices can be redesigned to be smaller and more efficient, yet still feel more spacious, relaxed and luxurious – ultimately places you would want to spend time in.

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Smaller can be beautiful (er). And reducing office size doesn’t mean staff cuts. In fact, if it reduces costs and improves health and wellbeing (and in turn performance) of staff, it could actually be a form of workforce preservation.

Maybe the culture in the Telegraph newsroom is all wrong and they all need to go on a nice team building weekend to Abersoch.

Thanks for reading. It’s 13.07 now and I’m leaving my desk to get a soy mocha chocca latte (but I’ll still be working).

As this is my brand new blog, I welcome any shares, retweets or forwards. Look out for my next blog edition.