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Facilities for work 

Flexibility has commissioned a series of articles aimed at facility managers, architects, designers and others responsible for providing buildings, interiors and other facilities for work.

The series looks not only at the central corporate office, but also at the "extended office".  The boundaries of the office have shifted and facilities development has to take account of this.





Why do we have offices?

Paper factories:

For many centuries the main technology of the office, as a place for administration of organisations, has been, and largely remains in many organisations, paper and ink. Paper provides an information medium that is easy to write to, store on, replicate and read from.

Paper is used to communicate internally - between colleagues and departments - and externally - with suppliers, customers, shareholders and authorities. Traditionally offices are located in convenient locations for physical communications - paper and face-to-face meetings. The business areas of cities have developed around this need.

Office design:

Today businesses can use many information and communications technologies that were not available to their predecessors. Paper, packages and people can be delivered to the other end of the county, country or even the world easily within a day. Paper can be faxed instantly. Information can be exchanged immediately by electronic means. Documents can be copied in seconds. The telephone has reduced the need for face-to-face contact.

In spite of these developments, the design of offices as places to concentrate workers is still very much the same as it was centuries ago, with Florence's Uffizzi municipal administration building (completed in 1571) bearing a remarkable similarity to many corporate offices of today! Apart from the aesthetic quality, that is!

The halfway house:

Since the invention of the telegraph, communications has included the possibility of the "dematerialisation" of information for at least part of the process. The process can be represented like this:

origination dematerialisation regeneration

Originally the telegraph, and later telephone and wireless communications replaced the long distance courier. But at either end of the process, physical communication on paper remained a necessity.

This model of communication still largely persists in the Information Age. Computers act as terminals for sending information and receiving it, but at either end they pump out piles of paper, which is then shared between workers and filed for storage. The effect of this on office design is crucial. But it need not be so. Most of the information at either end of the process need never be printed, but can be shared far more efficiently and effectively on electronic networks. Once this principle is accepted and organisations move out of the communications "halfway house", exciting possibilities open up for innovative office redesign.

The cost of offices:

There are over 10 million office workers in the UK. They work in over 200 million square metres of office space representing a capital investment of more than 120 billion. The basic occupancy costs of this space is about 10 billion per annum, with rates, furniture, service charges, security and facilities management increasing this figure to around 30 billion per annum.

The average occupancy of an office desk is often less than 30% of the working day - and less than 10%, if you take non-working hours into account. Typically most (and the best) space is usually allocated to senior staff who are often absent, while the least (and worst) space is given to junior and support staff who are always there.

At between 1,500 and 15,000 per annum for each staff member, premises costs are the largest item in many organisations' budgets after employment costs.

Next article: Today's office environment

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