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Tag: office design

The government’s decision to release 20 empty buildings for start-up businesses at affordable rents has been met with wide debate.

Many praise it for creating more favorable conditions for start-ups in otherwise under-resourced areas[1].  Coupled with the lack of Grade A office space putting increased demand on secondary and tertiary space, and it is a very effective way to create new, cost effective space that gives entrepreneurs a leg-up.

Others consider it a token gesture, an initiative designed to garner column inches rather than improve the climate for small businesses or reduce public spending. The real issue here is that the government’s un-used building portfolio is vast – 20 really is a fraction of its 550 empty buildings.  That’s somewhere in the region of 450,000 sq. ft. of space, costing the taxpayer £70m in empty rates taxes alone.

Although the government intends to increase the number to 300, it has actually missed an early win. Why not start with a more confident target that shows real commitment to small businesses and reassures the taxpayer that one of the many holes in the public purse is being sewn up quickly?

With such demands on the availability of office space, many of these buildings could, with effective office design, fit-out and proper ongoing management, be the answer to established businesses as well as those starting out.  That’s not forgetting other potential uses such as homes for community projects, arts and theatre groups, youth clubs and day centres.  The list goes on.  In resource hungry areas these buildings should be community assets, not reminders of what once was.

Whether or not the government has realised the real potential of its un-used buildings, we’ll just have to wait and see.

It’s not often the New York Times is interested in office design, so when it does it probably means something important. In a recently published article, it would be reasonable to conclude not only that we increasingly share common working cultures with our friends over the pond but also that we are distracted and annoyed by the same things. Not least by the background din and disturbing sounds made by our colleagues.

Of course we’ve reached this point by different routes. Workers in the UK were never often holed up in the cubicles we associate with offices in the US, but we did have the even more substantial walls of cellular offices to shield us from the racket made by our co-workers. In both countries the problems of poor acoustics and lack of privacy have been exacerbated by the shrinking of workstations as firms take advantage of smaller technology to fit more people into open plan. We can’t help but agree with the people in the article that the solutions are broad ranging. Office design, culture, management and plain old courtesy all have a role to play in dealing with the situation. It’s essential that we do this if we are not to undermine the gains associated with open plan working.

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There has always been a pretty close link between the labour market and office design.

So, as the unemployment statistics continue to hover just under the 2.5 million mark but at a time when the recession seems finally to be coming to an end, you have to wonder what impact the changing jobs market and the possible economic revival will have on the way we manage and design our workplaces. How will we be affected by the shift from a knowledge economy in which employers had to compete for talent to one in which there may be an oversupply in some areas? There is no doubt that the downturn is having an effect on demand for commercial property, but will there be any change in the way we work?

The conundrum that has dominated management thinking over the last two decades is this:

if your main asset is knowledge and that knowledge is largely locked up in people’s heads, how do you attract those heads to your organisation? Then, once they are safely in your employ, how do you make them stay there or at the very least empty some of the contents into computers and other people’s heads before they go?

It is this riddle that has led to the dominance of ‘soft’ issues in management thinking and why workplace design has focussed increasingly on softer business issues such as corporate culture, the environment and knowledge management. It has driven the growth of flexible work practices as organisations have tried to give people a better work-life balance. It has driven the softening of the workplace itself, the growth of break-out space and the focus on the team.

The economy is still founded on knowledge, and as we emerge from the current crisis the same soft principles that have shaped workplace design over the last few years are sure to be important factors in business recovery and success.

Posted by Ann Clarke 29th April