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What makes a modern workplace?

Tim Oldman, of the Leesman Index, sets out his view

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 shared.” 

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 tool.

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 performing.


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.


 Consistent measurement is important

July 2012


About Tim Oldman

The workplace is changing fast - but how do we know where we should be taking it to?

According to Tim Oldman in our guest article, innovation needs to be supported by careful measurement based on the activities and perceptions of the people who use the workplace.

Tim is a specialist in aligning business strategies and working practices with new working environments.  He is founder with Annie Leeson of the Leesman Index.

More details at the end of the article.














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