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spaces where we can meet and exchange tacit knowledge. Rows of desks and stacks of paper will not provide the flexibility today’s knowledge workers need. Some of the world’s leading companies like the BBC, Macquarie Group, Cisco and Eversheds LLP are taking the opportunity to apply a deeper understanding of how to best use the assets they have and to create the kind of environment that will either reveal the intrinsic culture of their business, or enable a more appropriate one to develop.

Full circle

By 2020 it’s claimed that five billion people will be able to connect with each other via the Internet and have access to the same information. This means it will become increasingly important for those engaged in some kind of knowledge work to become supremely good at one or at least a very few things, to demonstrate mastery in the same way that people did before the Industrial Revolution. That’s quite an irony.

The technology that enables this has reached a point where we no longer have to fit ourselves around its needs; it has become so much more mobile and universal. Increasingly, how we leverage our own personal networks and what we do with the information we have will drive the shape of the workplace. What matters is human contact and the creation of spaces for us to engage. So, to be effective, new activity- based workplaces need to balance the needs of the worker and employer, but essentially allow the worker to work when, where and how they choose.

But the definition of ‘agile’ or activity based workplaces goes far deeper than a token lounge area or a scattering of beanbags. It is about understanding the organisation, its activities and its workforce. These workplaces require an

// Different settings created to promote social interaction


ability to peel away the assumptions about an office and need an appreciation from everyone involved that change is beneficial. Some aspects of change management therefore must overcome entrenched traditional values and habits.

Shifting time

So why should any of us embrace new ways of working? The driving imperative should be how to express the value of the social capital unique to your company, and not decisions about property costs. The pattern of work today is more nomadic and less defined by location, so conventional offices are inappropriate and will be increasingly underused.

A study by Woods Bagot called ‘The Fourteen Hour City’ looked at the limitations of the 9 to 5 day and the burden placed on urban infrastructure by creating rush hours and peak times. It also considered the sustainability of this model, given that buildings contribute more than 30% of greenhouse emissions. By moving to a pattern of two shifts across fourteen hours, the rush hour would be alleviated and the utilisation of the building would increase.

But the study then revealed that desk space is only utilised 9% of the time anyway, suggesting plenty of scope to find better ways to match activity with space. The report goes on to say that increasing the utilisation of the office building through activity centred design is the quickest way to achieve sustainability goals as well as showing financial savings. Therefore, when designing our workplaces, we need to question the wisdom of allocating space to rows of filing cabinets, each cabinet estimated in London to cost an average of £700.00 pa in floor rent, or providing desks for people who work everywhere else but in the office.

BBC Media City Salford Quays Manchester Designers Woods Bagot Photographer Richard Townsend

14 // JULY/AUGUST 2011

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