A new egalitarianism is starting to permeate
many forward-thinking organisations. The idea is that the
facilities to get the job done, rather than status, should be
the main determinant of size, type and quality of workspace.
This approach also slashes the costs of moving
people around or promoting them. For many companies gone are the
days when a promotion automatically meant a plusher office,
thicker carpet, bigger desk and personal secretary (or two!).
Almost as emotive as the open-plan office is the
"hot-desk", the idea being that, in an ICT-based
working environment, all desks are equal. The number of desks
required is equal to the maximum number of staff likely to be in
at one time, which is usually far less than the total number.
"Hot-desking" often goes hand-in-hand
with telecommuting and mobile working, enabling people to work
in a wide range of locations.
Good schemes involve staff at all levels and
invest some of the space benefits of "hot-desking" in
improving shared facilities - cafes, meeting rooms, resource
centres, etc. Hot desks, although normally associated with open
plan working, can also be located in small, cellular offices.
Demarcation has been traditionally associated
with factories, and is now considered a thing of the past.
Ironically it is only just being addressed in offices. The days
of separate reception, booking, telephone, porter, post,
security, and maintenance staff are fast disappearing in favour
of a multi-skilled group covering for each other and providing a
single point of contact for all administration and support
services. This is important as the proportion of space changes
from owned to shared.
Individual secretaries are becoming team
supporters, and are themselves working in teams to cover
multiple groups. The differences between the role of secretary
and administrator are blurring. Increasingly they are able to
cover for each other, thus providing a better service for more
people with fewer staff.
There was a time when large offices enjoyed
economies of scale, especially around the deployment of
Centralisation and collocation of facilities are
no longer determined by technology. Whilst there may be other
operational and communications reasons to have all staff working
in the same building, there are also several disadvantages:
transport disruption and power failure, access to an adequate
labour pool and environmental impact.
Few organisations can predict with any certainty
how big their operations will be in the coming years: a building
that may be optimum when specified will inevitably be the wrong
size when occupied.
By definition, technology-supported
location-independent working can be carried out anywhere there
is connection to voice and data networks. Locating work in or
near residential communities reduces travel and property costs
and increases workforce flexibility. It can also help to
regenerate local services such as shops, pubs and post-offices.
Local, community-based offices, serving one or
several "clients", can house customer service call
centres, business administration departments and information
processing staff. They can also provide facilities for mobile
workers and telecommuting executives either instead of or to
complement facilities at home.
C. Northcote Parkinson's famous law (work
expands to fill the time available) is also true for paper in
Filing cabinets will always be full.
Photocopiers and printers will always operate to capacity.
Facility managers are often under pressure to provide more
storage and faster copiers. Unwittingly they can compound the
problem by negotiating contracts that minimise the direct costs
of paper generation and storage.
Yet paper plays a diminishing role in most
operations. Some offices, such as call-centres, are already
largely paper-free. As groupware and knowledge management
technologies are introduced, business processes re-engineered
and staff trained, paper will at last start to disappear from
A feature of the reduced-paper, ICT-based
working environment is that, through telecommunications, the
office can be anywhere there is access to a network and a
growing proportion of work can be done at any time.
This also has an impact on offices and support
services, which are increasingly expected to function outside
"normal" working hours.
Third party facilities:
Extending the concepts of flexible work-space
and shared facilities, a new trend is emerging: the use of
third-party owned and run space. Serviced offices have been
available for some time, offering flexible access to desks,
offices, meeting rooms and support services. Telecentres take
this idea one stage further and provide a technology-rich
environment with access to the public telephone network,
internet and corporate systems.
Other third-party working environments include
client offices, cybercafés, roadside services, hotels and
trains. Mobile technology - portable phones, laptop computers
and digital mobile networks - has greatly enhanced the
effectiveness of some of these work locations.
Working away from the office:
The networked corporate working environment can
be extended into the home and mobile environments through the
use of remote access technologies for voice and data. This form
of flexibility works best as an option within a flexible
location-independent working policy, justified by reduced
travel, better balance between work and home and lower corporate
office costs. Few staff are happy to forgo social contact and
work full-time in this way, but part-time work and/or having the
option of locational flexibility are becoming increasingly
An attractive way to envisage the "office
away from the office" is that the corporate desk is simply
"stretched" to the remote location, with all services
working as they would in the office. In practice, of course,
this concept usually has to be compromised in some way.
Specifying the office