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

In this article we show how employers are facing up to the new demands for flexible facilities and putting in place solutions based on sharing, paper-free working and working away from the office.





Planning for the future

Space planning:

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.

Support services:

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 technology.

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 organisations.

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 offices.

Anywhere, anytime:

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 common.

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.

Next article: Specifying the office

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