When people talk about the pace of change in the modern world, they often refer to the speed at which technology develops. In fact, almost every aspect of the world in which we live is subject to near continuous change. In the case of workplace design, the world is shifting very quickly indeed, often as a direct response to changing technological and cultural needs. The past ten years have seen a steady and profound revolution in every aspect of the way that we design and occupy spaces. The forces that are driving this revolution are wide ranging and complex and include the products, technologies and services offered by suppliers as well as the attitudes, demands and behaviour of buyers and their own customers.
The idea that for every action there is an equivalent reaction applies just as much in culture as it does in physics. So just as life speeds up to the point where Twitter is taken seriously as a way of communicating serious ideas, a growing number of people are looking at ways of putting the brakes. Most famously a few years ago, a Canadian called Carl Honoré established something called the Slow Movement. The popular science writer James Gleick was banging the same drum with his book Faster and we all hoped that things would slow down just a little now our attention had been drawn to the problem.
When it comes to the world’s most fast-moving industries, information technology firms tend to grab most of the headlines. Yet some of the world’s most advanced and innovative companies don’t work in the information technology sector. One of the world’s leading life sciences firms is also one of its most successful. Sigma-Aldrich as part of its collaboration with Merck employs 19,000 people worldwide as part of its operations in 66 countries, providing chemical and biochemical products to organisations working in the research, health manufacturing and academic sectors.
Greenwash is one of those terms that has gone from needing an explanation to common usage in the space of a few years. It’s a term that reflects a certain cynicism about the claims of vendors based on a few examples of bad practice. Sometimes this can be doubly unfair on sectors in which manufacturers and suppliers don’t merely comply with the legislation that is asked of them, but go beyond it by innovating and setting their own standards of ethical business practice. These issues are common to both consumer and commercial markets, but the latter has some complexities of its own. For a start, it can be very difficult to keep track of research, initiatives, opinion and new legislation. Continue reading
Because a vast show like Clerkenwell Design Week is about as easy to digest as a whale omelette, visitors often find themselves discussing with other people what is worth seeing and, perhaps more importantly, what they think its themes are. At this year’s show, the fine weather meant it was possible for people to occupy the pavements with a drink and share a general feeling that in terms of workplace design, there were few, if any, standout products and that most of the themes were now pretty well understood. There was a great deal of talk about the need for privacy, the creation of a choice of settings in which to work, the influence of the coworking movement, wellbeing, agile working, Millennials, the intersection of design idioms from the domestic and commercial worlds and planned serendipity. These are now familiar subjects and, with the exception of a largely false narrative about Millennials, all in tune with the main concerns of occupiers and employees. They may be familiar but we should celebrate the fact that this in itself signifies not only growing sophistication in the demands of buyers but also the way we address workplace issues as a sector. Most tellingly, there is one common factor at the heart of each of the concerns addressed in the designs on show; people.
As successive BCO Specification Guides and the research of organisations like CoreNet Global have proved, the spatial dynamics of offices have changed dramatically in recent years. Put simply, the modern office serves significantly more people per square foot than ever before. Originally this tightening was largely down to the growing ubiquity of flat screen and the mobile devices, but more recently the major driver of change appears to be the gradual disappearance of personal workstations in favour of more shared space. The upshot is that the amount of space allocated to each individual in a building has fallen by over a fifth in a few years and the very idea of using the number of employees to determine and their individual space requirements without other considerations seems less relevant. The typical space allocated to an individual in a building has shrunk dramatically in the last few years, while the provision of public and meeting space has increased.
We’ve long argued that the link between the places and the ways we work have a direct link to productivity. It’s a bit of a no-brainer, really. And now a new report from the world’s largest economic organisation shows that it’s common to all countries across the globe. The OECD has published a new report which uses data from firms in eight countries (Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, United Kingdom) to assess the link between ‘business dynamics’ and productivity. The study, Business Dynamics and Productivity, claims that a dynamic business environment plays ‘an important role not only as a key driver of job creation but also as an engine of productivity growth. A growing body of research highlights significant differences in business dynamics across countries and over time, in particular over the different phases of the business cycle.’
Open-plan offices are meant to encourage collaboration and contribute to a collective workplace experience, but they also come with serious drawbacks. New research claims that more than half of employees said poor office acoustic design reduces their satisfaction at work. Many feel compelled to solve the problem on their own, blocking out distraction through visits to break out spaces, taking walks outside, or listening to white noise and music on headsets or headphones. The survey of more than 600 executives and 600 employees by Oxford Economics and Plantronics set out to understand what works for employees—and what doesn’t—about open-plan layouts, and to test for disconnects between workers and their managers. The results show that threats to productivity and worker peace of mind are bigger issues than most executives realise, and most do not have the technology or strategies in place to deal with the problems. The survey found that one of the biggest issues is that employers don’t always appreciate the problems. Workers want to work, and their ability to focus without interruptions is a top priority and when it comes to office design; access to amenities like free food is far less important. However, nearly two-thirds of executives say employees are equipped with the tools they need to deal with distractions at work; but less than half of employees agree.
Inaccessible workplaces are too common a problem that people face in accessing buildings and public spaces, and the Government must lead a charge in improving access and inclusion in the built environment, according to a report by an influential cross party committee published last week. The Women and Equalities Committee’s Disability and the Built Environment inquiry has been examining the extent to which those with accessibility issues are considered and accommodated in our built environment, and whether more could be done to increase the accessibility and inclusivity of both new and existing properties and spaces. The report recommends public procurement, fiscal initiatives and transparently modelling best practice, while bringing the full range of work on improving access and inclusion in the built environment into a coherent and transparent strategy, with the Department for Communities and Local Government held responsible for making this happen.
Fresh Workspace Director Paul Goodchild and his wife Rachel have completed their six day trek along the 102 miles of the Cotswold Way to raise money for a South West based homeless charity. As of today, the walk has raised more than £3,600 for the charity, smashing the target by more than 20 percent and contributions continue to roll in. Although blessed with great weather throughout the walk, it was not without its challenges as Paul’s daily blog would attest.