Don’t look to the skies for your inspiration

By Mark Eltringham

Edition 4 – September 2014 Pages 36

Tags: workplace design • collaborative working

The idea that extraterrestrial organisms have throughout time seeded the surface of the Earth is not the sole preserve of loonies, mystics, conspiracy theorists, the stoned and wishful thinkers. It has some high profile and serious adherents. One of the most surprising was the astrophysicist Sir Fred Hoyle; pillar of the scientific community, atheist, Darwinist and the man who coined the term Big Bang.

Yet also a man who believed that the 1918 flu pandemic, polio and HIV were the result of micro-organisms that fell from the skies rather than evolved on Earth.The broader scientific community dismisses such thinking because it derives in part from either an incredulity at the processes involved or an ignorance of them.

The same mindset is evident whenever some supposed trend is latched on to in other aspects of our lives. It is the underlying notion behind the generalisations about Generation Y and is there in the much talked about issue of how the technology, media and telecoms sector (TMT) is not only gobbling up all the available office space in the world’s tech hotspots but also transforming how everybody else sees their workplaces and redefining what is ‘cool’ about them.

So far as much of the media is concerned, this seems to mean slides, graffiti, juvenilia, quirky meeting rooms, those battered old armchairs that haven’t already been bought by Starbucks, pool tables and anything else that lets people think they’re not really in an office at all.

More soberly, the general characteristics of TMT offices are listed in the British Council for Offices’ (BCO) recent report on the sector.They are:

  • More floorplate given over to collaborative work areas.
  • More amenities – cafes, restaurants, relaxation and play areas, and ‘outside space’.
  • Office density levels counterbalanced by increased amenity space and the needs of core business ‘creatives’.
  • Flexible accommodation – versatile spaces that can adapt quickly to changing demands.
  • User control – increased preference for efficient lighting and heating and sustainable features that contribute to a company’s green credentials.
  • New lighting, smaller power – increased use of portable technology may reduce the need to power IT servers and ‘hard- standing’ desk computers,with lighting for the person rather than the tool.
  • Shift of spend – less emphasis on Category A and growing focus on Category B and C interior fittings with potential for quick refreshes and restyling to stay ‘on trend’.
  • Technology: more cloud and thin client systems, and increased use of personal digital devices means that superfast connectivity for all communication tools is a top priority.
  • The popularity of cycling to work means more bike storage, lockers and showering facilities.
  • Aesthetics: less concern about exterior appearance,with the focus shifting to interiors, and a preference for a ‘stripped back’ industrial warehouse style to emulate the ‘San-Fran’ look rather than corporate steel and glass

Yet these are not only desirable features for a wide range of offices, some have been around for a long time. For example, the idea of a shift in emphasis from the personal workstation towards more collaborative and recreational space and mobile working can be comfortably mapped back some 20 years. In Frank Becker and Fritz Steele’s 1995 book Workplace by Design you will find: ‘an effective organization is best managed as a total integrated system that includes the physical facility, information technology, organizational policies and practices and management style’ The TMT sector no more fell from the heavens than did the members of Generation Y, albeit that they may push boundaries.To the authors’ credit that is also the conclusion of the BCO report.W&P

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