What defines a modern, dynamic workplace needs to
be a key issue for every boardroom right now.
What makes a dynamic and modern workspace is not the
design or layout of an office. It is more
about how the space itself influences the behaviours
of the people who use the workplace.
Workplace design teams add value, expertise and
experience, for sure. But they are too often
distanced from the consumers of their efforts (the
occupiers of those spaces) by cautious clients or
constrained fee scales. But that is exactly where I
believe they need to be engaging – at the coal face.
They should be talking to those who can report
directly on the impact of the environment on their
daily professional lives.
The nature of the workplace is changing. The
technology we use, the attitudes of the different
generations in the work environment, the costs of
commuting – all are pushing at the boundaries of
corporate traditions. And as everything is so much
more blurred and less defined than it was, employees
are increasingly looking for ever more flexible ways
of working. To find solutions, we must also be more
adaptable in our thinking.
We know that mobile technology is fast eroding
the idea of a permanent location for individual
office workers, but increasing location flexibility
and freedom have impacts on the work environment and
this needs to be closely monitored. Employees
working within a dispersed team still need a place
to come back to. Flexibility hasn’t removed the
“space” issue; it’s just changed it to a tidal one.
That means the idea of a shared space is important.
Shared space is the future
There are numerous debates about shared space, or
a ‘third way’ of working. Leesman bases its London
and Amsterdam teams in shared co-worker spaces. We
have a membership rather than an allocated desk. It
is flexibility personified, but most larger
corporate organisations would struggle even with the
concept. However, there are shared spaces or
co-worker hubs appearing all over the capital cities
of Europe. And the modern office has to adapt to the
idea that people want to have the option of a desk
and to work in a shared space, or be at home or
perhaps work from a client’s facility.
Some argue for a ‘cloud’ space. In an interview
recently, Neil Usher, general manager group property
for Rio Tinto, asked: “Why not have a cloud space
that sits all around us? Why not relax the strict
security around corporate spaces and open them up as
co-worker spaces? Areas of buildings where strategic
or commercially sensitive work isn’t happening
could, Usher argues, be opened up to different
people and groups so that ideas and influences are
Usher sees no reason why this should not happen.
Indeed, he makes the comparison with the Borg from
Star Trek; he makes the case that although corporate
space will remain essential, how it is used will
change. He suggests that employees will treat it as
a hive – leaving to go out into other work places,
co-worker hubs etc but return to the hive and the
collective for certain core tasks and duties.
Perhaps this is an opportunity for corporate
bodies to experiment and watch third place working
happening in a space where they can exercise a
greater modicum of control, allowing their own
employees to flirt with “outsiders” more experienced
in nomadic working. So perhaps as banks further
constrain their lending, these same corporates could
start lending pockets of space instead, stepping in
to a new membership based landlord model?
These community / corporate workplaces typically
disregard traditional cookie–cutter space planning
solutions and create more engaging, rewarding spaces
that aim to attract their fleeting customers. These
employees are not contracted to be based here so
these hives have to work considerably harder to
attract their custom.
The importance of team space
Our data suggests within corporate bodies that
what is really more in demand is the idea of a space
to work in as a team; this might be a shared area or
a quieter place away from the main desk space zone.
The important factor here is that the modern
office has a mixed use feel – desks to work at for
individuals that like to work in that set up, but
space that is more open and fluid for team working.
Space that gives the choice back to employees to
match their activity with the environment best
suited to it.
The notion of a hive is the kind of radical
thinking that will shape the modern, dynamic and
flexible workspace. There is a sense in the market
place that a different approach is needed.
Facilities managers are beaten up by executive
boards obsessed with minimising the costs of the
built asset. But the space costs 80% less than the
employees and the vast majority of those space costs
are contractually bound in rent, rates and service
charges. So designers and facility managers need to
gets their heads around the precise manner in which
their often brilliant ideas have the potential to
release the productivity of employees.
Staying ahead of the curve
There is a challenge here for property and
workplace specialists. There is a need to innovate,
but property has a huge time lag. So we must do as
much as we can to stay ahead of the curve and be
ready for when change can be implemented. For me,
the futurologists should look less at their
tealeaves and more at the now. There is a greater
opportunity to impact tomorrow if we understand how
today is performing.
At Leesman we believe the best way to see what is
coming next is to ask the users of workspace how
things are today. These customers of today’s
workplace are the people who set the pace now – or
at least aspire to. Understand their requirements
and you can stay ahead of the curve. Then you can
create and manage workplaces that are flexible,
responsive and agile – but more importantly, they
will be effective workplaces.
Founded by Tim Oldman and Annie Leeson, Leesman
is a leader in measuring workplace effectiveness. It
does this via the Leesman Index - a unified and
independent workplace effectiveness benchmarking
The Index e-survey captures employee’s feedback
about how well workplace environments support the
productive work activities of the people actually
using them. It asks questions covering themes such
as meeting places, temperature controls and desk
arrangements to sound and air quality in the
workplace. The results provide businesses with a
critical insight into how their buildings are
With over 10,000 respondents the database is one
of Europe’s largest resources of consistent
workplace effectiveness data, benefiting workplace
occupiers, managers and designers worldwide with a
rich source of comparative data. The information can
then be analysed to provide a range of qualitative
and quantitative audit services that provide
executive boards, project managers, workplace
designers, corporate real estate teams and change
management consultants, clear line of sight to
timely and accurate, benchmark performance data.
Leesman provide a suite of data capture and audit
tools specifically for workplace management and
design professions. The majority of its products are
delivered electronically via web-interfaces,
web-applications and handheld devices, designed to
offer rapid deployment and speedy results analysis.