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Facilities for work 

This is the second of our series of articles aimed at facility managers, architects, designers and others responsible for providing buildings, interiors and other facilities for work.

Here we examine some of the issues they face in specifying, providing and supporting offices in a rapidly changing business and technology environment.





Today's office environment

New demands:

The changing need for office property is being influenced heavily by the universal adoption of information and communications technology:

  • the vast array of mains and signal cables needs to be managed

  • extra heat from the equipment needs to be controlled or removed

  • new health and safety risks include electrical hazards, sitting positions, eyestrain, lack of breaks and RSI (repetitive strain injury)

  • information security needs to be considered amongst other security needs

  • constantly changing businesses and processes demand flexible accommodation.

Older buildings (and older furniture) are increasingly difficult to use effectively, and costs of adaptation are being driven higher and higher. Organisations are seeking to escape from long leases on older buildings, either moving into newly built offices or entering into agreements to strip and refurbish, or in the extreme demolish and rebuild.

How big?

The combination of continuous change in technology, processes, working methods and the competitive environment make it virtually impossible for organisations to forecast their property needs a few years ahead, let alone over the 25 years of a typical business lease.

As a consequence there has been an increase in demand for modern, flexible space on short-term leases, fuelling the success of the business centre sector.


The need to route power, telephone, and data cabling to every workstation puts a severe strain on the hidden ducting in buildings. Pressures to move people in response to change increases that strain. Various techniques have been adopted to ease the burden, such as structured or flood wiring, cordless telephones, and wireless data networks.

The way in which workstations are placed, and the consequent capacity (efficiency) of the building, is also determined by the structure. Various techniques are employed to minimise rigidity and space loss, such as peripheral, ceiling or floor fed wiring, with wiring cabinets on each floor.


Technology also has an impact on the furniture. It is unlikely that a building will be able to support wiring for technology at any random point where a desk is to be placed. The furniture therefore has a role in distributing the wiring from the nearest point to the desks in the cluster.

Furniture also provides noise attenuation and visual barriers and supports the safe working environment demanded by health and safety regulations.

Cellular or open plan:

Debating the merits and disadvantages of cellular and open plan offices is guaranteed to inflame passions in many organisations. Cellular offices allow for a high level of concentration and privacy. Open plan environments are more flexible in coping with changing demand, supporting better communications and team working, but can be more distracting to work in.

Many organisations operate a mixed environment, with large, smart cellular offices for executives (who may rarely be there) and open plan offices for everyone else.

Heat, light and sound:

The very best modern buildings incorporate zoned temperature and air quality control, natural lighting and good sound insulation. Unfortunately this all comes at a price that many employers are not prepared to pay. Most people end up working in office environments that are sub-standard in some way.


There is a difference between the highly structured working environment of the telephone call centre or forms processing unit and the less structured approach of the more general office. In the former work processes and flow are clearly defined as are all jobs. In the latter there is usually the need for support in the form of administrative assistants, secretaries, personal assistants, etc.

In spite of the technology-enabled de-skilling of many office functions - e.g. document preparation, communications, information filing and retrieval, etc. - many office practices and roles remain much as they were before the advent of information and communications technologies.

Next article: Planning for the future

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