Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Will demonising “open plan” lead to its demise?

There is a witch hunt on in the world of workplace. “Open plan” has become a dirty word (okay phrase) and the national press are leading the mob in vilifying this so-called scorn on workplace society. The Guardian, The Independent, The Telegraph, The Daily Mail and Business Week have all recently reported that “we can’t get anything done in an open-plan office” as it affects our concentration, our performance and our health.

These news items are all pretty damning but not as damming as the Wikipedia entry on open plan which states:

“A systematic survey of research upon the effects of open plan offices found frequent negative effects in some traditional workplaces: high levels of noise, stress, conflict, high blood pressure and a high staff turnover… Most people prefer closed offices… there is a dearth of studies confirming positive impacts on productivity from open plan office designs”.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Planning for Productivity

The Holy Grail

For many years leading lights in the property and construction industry, such as Paul Morrell, have referred to the connection between office design and business performance (or productivity) as the Holy Grail. There is a view that the relationship is elusive and intangible, a myth even. That in itself is not a problem, but one consequence of believing that the impact of office design on productivity is not easily demonstrated, is that it is generally ignored. From a business perspective, ignoring the effect of your workplace facilities on your workforce’s performance is not just naïve but also irresponsible.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Future of Corporate Workspace: Property is a People Business

To me, the majority of office floor space looks and feels the same, well it certainly does in the UK (take a look at any interior design magazine if you don’t believe me). There are a few exceptions but most offices are fully open plan with rows of homogenous desks built around a core of so-called collaboration space and other supporting areas.

The more adventurous organisations may have quirkier breakout spaces, themed meetings rooms and a funkier colour palette, but the layout of the space, with the ubiquitous bench-desking, repeatedly follows a familiar pattern. The even more adventurous organisations may be experimenting with new ways of working, reinvented as flexible or agile or activity based working, but nevertheless a concept that has been around for at least 25 years.

The design and use of space is fundamentally driven by cost. The office is considered (by many) a cost burden, an overhead, rather than a means of improving business performance, an investment with potentially lucrative returns. So currently office design is all about space, it is about efficiency, high density, and reducing property costs.

Le Corbusier famously claimed “the home is a machine for living in”, so logically it follows that the “office is a machine for working in”. The primary objective of the office is, and has always been, to facilitate the business of the occupying organisation. And the key asset of any organisation is its people.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Corroborating Collaboration

I am carrying out some new and original research into the Psychology of Collaboration Spaces. The main approach is an on-line survey which explores our personality types and our preferences for spaces and other media to facilitate different types of interaction and collaboration. The research builds on a literature review I carried out for Herman Miller last year. The survey and subject of collaboration have generated so much interest on LinkedIn that I thought I would reiterate my earlier initial findings.

Firstly, I was surprised at the lack of studies on the psychology of collaboration spaces. The existing research on collaboration mostly focuses on how the make-up of teams affects their motivation and performance. What is made clear from these studies is that teams are ultimately more effective (i.e. more creative, innovative and productive) if they are comprised of a mixture of personality types. I have previously blogged on Personality & Communication discussing how different personality types prefer to communicate and interact through different media. So providing a range of tools and spaces to allow heterogeneous teams to interact is fundamental to the collaborative process.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Pursuing the Perfect Office

Last Friday Claudia Hammond presented her Radio 4 programme on The Search for the Perfect Office. It’s such a big subject and I was surprised to not find any on-line discussion on the programme. So I will attempt to start a debate here.

Like my previous blog on lawyer’s offices the programme soon focussed in on the open plan versus private office debate. On first listening I went away thinking that the programme was heavily biased against the open plan office. It started by suggesting that whilst open plan offices are cheaper they are a false economy as they do not support our work activities. I went away with the impression that only half of the research (that against open plan) was presented. The architects received a severe bashing for ignoring the research on noise distraction and designing buildings with their favourite materials, steel and glass, that reflect rather than absorb sounds. But a second listening revealed some well-balanced points hidden amongst the upbeat fluff typical of presenters following Radio 4s Woman’s Hour.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

You’re a what? A workplace consultant? WTF is that?

Last Tuesday was the summer social of the Workplace Consulting Organisation (WCO). As the night progressed, fuelled by free ale, we succumbed to alcoholic existentialism: "what is workplace consulting ... what do we actually do ... how do we differ from management consultants ... are we needed" basically "why am I here?” and much later “who am I?”. My thoughts here are born out of a hazy conversation with WCO members Conrad Wildsmith, Farrol Goldblatt and Sonny Hasan – who can either claim credit or distance themselves from my ramblings as they see fit.
I have blogged previously on how I became a workplace consultant, but the £64M+VAT question remains "what actually is workplace consulting?". When I co-founded the WCO several years ago we spent much time discussing how to define workplace consulting:
"Workplace Consulting is the professional activity that supports and enables the optimal design and implementation of working environments, ensuring that they are as efficient, effective, expressive and flexible as they need to be”

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Lawyers Like it Large

I recently presented on workplace trends in law firms at the Legal Services Property Forum, and this blog represents my thoughts on the subject. The forum was held at the city offices of Allen & Overy. Whilst Allen & Overy’s office is a fine example of the modern workplace of a legal practice, and a great setting for the event, it is nonetheless quite traditional.

When discussing workplace trends, whether the offices of law firms or other organisations, we first need to understand the past and the current situation. The painting shown above depicts a 17th century local law practice. It shows that the two lawyers are either sharing an office or are even perhaps in an open plan working environment. What is unusual is that the lawyers have allowed clients into their personal workspace rather than meeting them in a client suite. But, as expected, they have lots of paperwork (case notes) on their desks, shelves and the floor.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Going Dutch

I was recently tweeted a link to How Culture Shapes the Office, a paper by Christine Congdon and Catherine Gall published in the Harvard Business Review. I saw Catherine present the paper at last year’s WorkplaceTrends. I was impressed with the content and found it a sensible model with practical applications in workplace design. However, other conference participants unjustly criticised Catherine of cultural stereotyping.

The presentation and paper got me thinking about my own experiences of cultural differences. There are too many to mention in one blog. I touched on my experiences in japan in a previous blog on Vernacular Design,Climate, Culture and Teapots. In this blog I will focus on my views on the Dutch culture.  Rather than just state my findings, with the holiday season coming up, I have phrased them as travel tips for visiting the Netherlands.

So to begin with, did you notice that I wrote Netherlands rather than Holland? Tip #1 is to never say you are going to Holland to a Dutch person. They will think you are ignorant or stupid or both ignorant and stupid. Saying you are going to Holland rather than the Netherlands is like saying you are going to the Norfolk Broads rather than the UK. As a child I thought that the Netherlands was where Peter Pan and Tinkerbell lived, but apparently not.

Utilisation Studies: Science or Sorcery?

I have recenty l guest blogged on the i-FM site. Here is a transcritpion if you do not want to log on to their site. 

We have all sat through a workplace consultant’s presentation in which they report that the benchmark workstation utilisation is around 50%. Most organisations that conduct utilisation, or occupancy, studies and benchmark their data report such a figure. This means that typically only half of the office workstations are in use at any one time during the working week, which is wasteful of resources. But what is interesting about this finding is that no two utilisation studies appear to be conducted, analysed or reported in exactly the same way. Are we falling into the trap of comparing apples with bananas?

The WCO Guide to:Utilisation and Occupancy Studies, the most recent publication of the Workplace Consulting Organisation, intends to demystify utilisation studies. The guide helps companies to understand when and how to use such studies, plus how to interpret the results to determine the number of workstations actually required in the office and thus reduce wasted space.

Friday, 10 May 2013

I'm a workplace consultant ... Get me out of here!

I have been meaning to blog for some time on what we can learn in the workplace arena from reality TV. The post by @NickWAllen on “What crazy chef – Gordon Ramsay – has taught me about online marketing” finally persuaded me to put pen to paper (or more accurately put fingers to keypad).

So we might as well start with the ineffable (or is it f’in-able) Gordon Ramsay. His Kitchen Nightmares programme has been relegated from UK restaurants to those struggling in the USA. Regular viewers will spot the tried and tested formula of these shows. Chef Ramsay visits a dysfunctional restaurant run by a dysfunctional family, he dislikes the food and the décor regardless, he gets the owners to admit blame, and then he rewards them with a restaurant makeover, new menu and free publicity.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Toastmasters - Red Coat or Red Herring

I was recently invited to guest blog on why I like Toastmasters. So here it is.

When I was first asked if I was interested in joining Toastmasters I instantly imagined formidable and pompous gentlemen in red tuxedos toasting the queen and her realms and territories. But my vision was far from reality, the red coat is a red herring.

My inaugural visit to Berkhamsted Toastmasters was to the “humorous speaking contest” – an evening of pre-prepared, often amusing and often just weird, presentations on a wide variety of subjects. One of the speeches that I still clearly recall detailed what happens after the coffin goes beyond the curtains at a crematorium. The speaker regaled us with how the coffin is re-used and the poor departed repays society as the latest bio-fuel. This is black humour by any standards, and I’m an avid fan of “the league of gentlemen”.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Offices of the Future – Green or (Depressingly) Blue

I have been asked to present on Offices of the Future at the Sustainable Futures event hosted by Carbon Smart. This blog represents what I intend to say.

First of all I am not a futurologist, I am a psychologist. I can no more predict the future than I can read your mind. But I can give you my views on the future of offices based on current workplace trends. You might even accuse me of wishful thinking as my views represent the way I hope offices evolve.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Soc Med 4 Biz Innit

I recently chaired the Social Media for Business conference, aka Soc Med 4 Biz if you want to get down with the kids. As well as chairing I joined in with the live tweeting (#sm4bconf) and captured the tweets and presentations in Storify; I donned my “googles” and spent the day fully immersed in social media. The conference was well received by the audience of wide-eyed (rabbit in the headlights) construction industry professionals, all wondering what this soc med stuff is all about and if it is of any use in business or just another bandwagon. So much so that the organisers are planning a second conference this autumn.

The aim here is for me to blog, what our American cousins call, the takeaways. What were the practical and most useful outcomes of the conference that I can just get on with. I do not profess to being a social media expert, rather an enthusiastic user, so what I spout here is simple regurgitation of things that the speakers said that made good sense to me and that I can remember.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

My Short Stay at Stormont

I spent Tuesday morning at Stormont in Belfast, a formidable parliamentary building with a chequered history. I note that most tweets about Stormont use the hash tag #onthehill and you can see why from my photograph. I was acting as a “witness” and giving “evidence” to the Northern Ireland Assembly Committee for Finance and Personnel as part of their Inquiry into Flexible Working in the Public Sector in Northern Ireland. The briefing sounded so official and the setting so formal that I wasn’t sure what to expect and a tad apprehensive.
But I have to say that my hosts greeted me warmly and even the panel made attempts to be friendly and put me at ease. In my introduction I mentioned that I used to be a researcher within the Civil Service to which the Chair replied “we will not hold that against you”. Later, when discussing new workplaces, one of the committee members mentioned “there is the one from Morgan Stanley where one of its employees said that she enjoyed being in the office so much, she did not want to go home” to which another member replied “that says more about her home” and another “you wonder what kind of home she comes from” until they were told “you cannot go there”. It seems Civil Servants are human and humane.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Seven Cs of Change

If you dont have the energy to read this blog then listen to it on YouTube.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent ... It is the one that is the most adaptable to change”.

This is one of my favourite quotes on change, from the legendry Charles Darwin of course. The literature is littered with quotes on change such that Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, in circa 500 BC postulated that:
“The only thing that is constant is change”.

The aim of this blog is to briefly introduce you to change management. I will start with a little theory and then move onto my own change management process. A process I developed a few years ago when with AMA, derived from Kotter and others. I call it The Seven Cs of Change.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Why is there resistance to agile working?

Tomorrow I have been asked to make a five minute introductory speech on: "Why is there resistance to agile working? Trends during recession and the issue of productivity”. This is what I intend to say.
I remember the days before the recession. I had been implementing new ways of working, that’s what we called agile working then, for around 12 years. I had become despondent that agile working had been hijacked by the property and FM industry as a more devious means of reducing the cost base. I’ve always maintained that if you simply want to save money on property costs then there are easier ways to do it than go through the heartache and mental strain required to implement agile working - for example cram all your people into a cattle shed in the north.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Is there Space for Standards?

I recently drafted some space standards for a new client of mine.  I realised I hadn’t created space standards for a while and wondered if they had gone out of vogue or are just not required anymore in the modern office. Whenever I mention space standards to my workplace peers there is much scoffing and dismissal. But, I have to confess that I do like a good space standard.

We tend to think of space standards in term of the amount (number and size) of spaces provided. But standards refer to:
  • a level of quality or attainment; 
  • something used as a measure or model in comparative evaluations;  
  • the accepted normal or average.
I like space standards because they provide end-users (individuals and business) with an idea of the amount and quality of space they are entitled to and will be working in.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Personality & Communication

I recently read an interesting article in the Toastmasters Magazine on the Power of Introverts by Susan Cain. The article prompted me to share some of my own thoughts on personality theory and communication. These ideas informed my research into The Psychology of Collaboration, carried out on behalf of Herman Miller, which I hope to be published soon. Hopefully you will find my review useful in you day-to-day lives and at work.
Eysenck's super-trait personality model

So what is personality? Well“Persona” is Latin for "mask", so it suggests personality is the mask we present to the world. But interestingly there does not appear to be any agreed definition of personality amongst psychologists. My own mash-up of definitions is: “Personality is an individual’s unique set of traits and consistent pattern of thinking and behaviour that persists over time and across situations”. Personality is stable but not absolutely fixed. It is a proclivity for certain traits (or characteristics) that in turn affect our behaviour.

Friday, 11 January 2013

My Path to Workplace Consulting

Workplace Consulting is a relatively new and specialist profession. Based on the description provided by the Workplace Consulting Organisation (WCO), it appears to be:
“using a range of techniques, including engagement with the business and end user, to gather data that will determine an organisation’s requirements for their current or future working environments”.
There is no formal training in Workplace Consulting, no Masters courses nor accreditation. Even determining the basic criteria for who qualifies to call themselves a Workplace Consultant proved difficult for the Workplace Consulting Organisation, see their website for more details. I am therefore fascinated by how people came to work in Workplace Consulting. I know fellow consultants who have entered the profession via architecture, design, HR, FM and IT. Below is the story of my journey into the Wonderful World of Workplace Consulting.