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How office design can help elephants and smaller beasts to dance

Posted on December 3, 2014 by Charles Marks

office design

The challenge for most large organisations nowadays is often likened to being something akin to making an elephant dance. This metaphor has become a bit of a cliché in its own right since the American businessman Louis Gerstner used it as the title of his memoir describing how he had turned round the fortunes of IBM in the 1990s. It all boils down to how organisations can stay ahead of the curve in a world in which innovation is not only relentless but which can spring from unexpected and external sources such as changes in the economy and government policy. And, of course there’s nothing quite like a harsh economic climate to drive innovation. The pressure on budgets across the economy in general and the public sector in particular is driving a revolution in the way property is procured, designed and managed in the UK.

What is fascinating is to see how this is manifesting itself, especially in terms of office design and management. The public sector for example is looking at revolutionary new ways of sharing property across departments and functions. At Central Government level this has led to the Department for Communities and Local Government moving in with the Home Office while across the UK local authorities are signing up to the One Public Sector Estate scheme which will see many departments share buildings while councils sell off the buildings and land freed up.

In some ways such new approaches will lead the public sector to catch up with what has been happening in the private sector for some time. The past few years have seen many changes in the way firms design and manage their workplace, which have meant that each person typically has significantly less space allocated to them personally but with a greater choice of spaces from which to work depending on what they are doing and with whom they are working.

This approach not only helps the organisation to cut down on its property costs it also helps to ensure that what is a comparatively fixed asset – the building – to create a flexible working environment that can serve more and more people without feeling cramped and, in the case of the public sector, even absorb whole departments.

It is at this level that the elephant (or smaller beast) becomes most nimble. Office design is the best way of ensuring that the building is able to meet the constantly changing needs of the people who work there as well as facilitating change and growth for the business itself.