people

Have we reached a turning point for office technology?

Over the past 20 years, we've seen an incredible change in how technology is implemented and deployed in the office environment. We now stand at a turning point where new technology is fundamentally changing the way people communicate and collaborate in the workplace, raising new considerations for office design.

Brands2Life Project

Brands2Life Project

For many of us, it doesn't seem that long ago when we were anchored to a specific desk, tied to a desktop phone and tethered to a PC. Moving away from this safe harbour meant leaving all our technology behind.

But technology has moved forward at a rapid pace and, alongside this, people have not only changed the way they use technology, but also the way they communicate and collaborate with others via technology.

Take video conferencing, for example. In the early days of VC in the nineties, companies required expensive hardware to video conference, installed in selected meeting rooms. These early systems were not the most user-friendly so, to be on the safe side, you also needed a member of IT on standby in case it didn’t work. As a result, these systems were costly, complicated and intimidating for the lay user.

In the past five years, there has been a massive change in the way video conferencing is implemented, and the way people use it within organisations. There has been a significant move away from proprietary hardware to internet-based VC solutions such as Zoom, Blue Jeans and Skype for Business. Speed and quality have taken a massive leap forward, costs have fallen, and these new systems are now much more intuitive and easier to use.    

Ensono Project

Ensono Project

Telephony has massively changed as well. Offices no longer need to set up an onsite telephone exchange system containing a limited number of phone lines available - all this has now moved to the cloud. In tandem with this, VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) has improved significantly from the early days of Skype, where poor sound quality, echoing calls and hit and miss reliability hampered widespread business adoption. Today, these systems are now cheap, clear and reliable to use.

In the past 18 months, we’ve been seeing more companies dispensing with the desk phone altogether and moving to mobiles, further eroding people’s ties to a certain desk. In the future, it may only be those using high graphics software such as desktop publishing or CAD who require a dedicated workstation, or those where it is a regulatory requirement to record calls such as financial traders.

The rise of smartphones, tablets and laptops has led the move from just a voice connection to the office, to become fully aligned with office software and applications to deliver truly mobile working and allowing multi user group meetings with remote workers.

So, what are the implications for communication, collaboration and office design?

Well, firstly, technology has greatly facilitated a revolutionary change in working practices and acted as a catalyst for the rise of hot-desking, Activity Based Working and more flexibility in where and when people can work through remote working.

With staff now able to use any device from any location, the way people communicate and collaborate has fundamentally shifted from the traditional meeting room environment to technology platforms. People can now gather from remote locations, collaborate on Zoom and organise workflow on platforms such as Slack or Monday.com.

This, in turn, has reduced the number of employees who need to travel in and use the office space, while at the same time increasing the numbers of those who can collaborate in the same place, at the same time, via technology. With the increasing costs of office rents, this is now driving a fundamental rethink in the role of the office as a hub, rather than just a destination for employees.

Less formal peer to peer conferencing has also increased significantly, moving away from the requirement for meeting rooms for conference calls to internet-based calls from peoples' desks or from more informal spaces. This has led to an increasing need to consider office acoustics in open-plan environments and collaboration spaces, and the subsequent need to create zones for quiet concentration.

Ensono Project

Ensono Project

Ensono Project

Ensono Project

As technology continues to move forward in leaps and bounds, a key challenge for CEOs and Finance Directors is to get the optimal configuration of office, technology, communication and collaboration that is right for them. Often the technologies themselves are difficult to understand, let alone finding the best way to apply them to an organisation.

The solution will never be a one size fits all approach and while it is true that technology has significantly changed the face of office communication and collaboration, one thing has remained the same - offices are still all about people. So, combining the right technology with the right workspaces that help people collaborate, share knowledge, and maximise their productivity and growth remains vital.

Your three most important office decisions for 2019

It’s the beginning of the year, and a time to think ahead on the office decisions you may need to make in 2019. To help you better plan how to make your office an efficient, happy and productive environment, we’ve compiled a list of the three most essential office decisions management teams should be thinking about in the coming year.

#1 Can I fit more people into my existing office space?

The short answer is yes. You can always squeeze more people in, subject of course to any restrictions on occupational density imposed by your fire officer or landlord, or limitations on building infrastructure. However, if you want to increase your headcount without your staff starting to feel like sardines, you need to do it in the right way.

The best way to successfully increase headcount in an office is not by looking for specific gaps in your existing space where you could fit additional people in, but by thinking about the whole office space and how to use it more effectively.

This involves considering the way individuals and teams work and collaborate, or by making more intelligent use of meeting areas. For example, formal meeting rooms which are used infrequently take up a lot of floor area, space that could be used much more effectively by moving to smaller, informal meeting sites, and freeing up space for extra desks.

Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

The key to success is, therefore, to think about your office holistically, and make sure that the practical way you’re using the space is keeping pace with your growing headcount. If you need to increase your headcount, the team at Cityspace is here to help. All we need is your existing office floor plan, and we’re happy to meet and come up with the most practical and cost-efficient solutions for your particular circumstances.

#2 Can I change my office layout?

At the heart of every successful office is a productive workforce, in a motivational environment, designed in a way that fits the culture of the company. So a critical factor in driving this success is an office layout that brings the best out of your teams and makes the most efficient use of your office space.

The best way to increase productivity is to look at both the layout and the way that people work. For design planning, it’s looking at things like the suitability of the workstation environment, whether this workstation layout is conducive to collaboration with others, and whether both formal and informal meeting spaces are laid out and utilised most efficiently.

Regarding the way people work, more and more of our clients have been looking to increase the flexibility and productivity of their workplace through Activity Based Working (ABW). This approach explores office design in line with work culture and practices and suggests ways to improve your workspace to increase efficiency and staff wellbeing.

#3 Should I consider a new office space?

For any businesses approaching a lease expiry in 2019, a fundamental decision is whether to stay put and remodel or consider a new office space elsewhere. Before you commit to the significant expense of relocation, it may be worthwhile reviewing how your existing office space is being used.

Photo by  Fred Mouniguet  on  Unsplash

It’s worth remembering that most businesses will have occupied their current space for 5 or 10 years. While the original office design may have been perfect when you first moved in, there have been considerable advances in technology - such as smartphones, follow me printing and cloud-based file storage - all of which have impacted the way that people now work. This, in turn, creates an opportunity to rethink how you could re-use your existing space more effectively.

To help you make the right decision on how best to remodel your existing space, we can provide you with three occupational scenarios:

  1. A short-term plan offering a simple layout with minimum changes and expenditure;

  2. A maximum efficiency plan that uses space more efficiently without changing working practices and culture, and;

  3. A blue-sky thinking solution of how you could work in your current space, applying the latest thinking in office design and without any budget constraints.

If you’ve decided to move, it’s essential when evaluating potential new premises to assess whether the space suits your company’s organisational structure and working style, has flexibility for the future, and allows for any envisaged expansion. Crucially, it would be best if you also took into account the financial aspects of the building, to gauge any long-term costs associated with premises under consideration, to avoid any unpleasant (and costly) surprises down the track.

At Cityspace, we’re getting an increasing number of inquiries from clients asking us to research potential sites and costs. Using our database of over 10,000 property records, we can identify upstream opportunities of people who may be moving but have not yet told their landlord or agent. In addition to these off-market opportunities, we also have close relationships with property surveyors, who can provide details of current properties available for let or sale. To find out more, please get in touch with the Cityspace team at info@cityspacemanagement.co.uk.

How Activity Based Working can work for you

Activity Based Working (ABW) is a transformational business strategy, that takes into account where, when and how people work. First introduced in the 1970s, the concept of ABW was further developed in the Netherlands in the 1990s. Today, more and more companies are now looking at ABW as a means of getting greater productivity out of both their offices and their teams.

While the underlying concept of ABW is simple, there are implementation challenges that need to be considered. Rather than operating from the assumption that an individual will undertake all their work in one setting like a fixed desk, you create an environment which offers a variety of configurations depending on the task, such as workstations, collaboration areas, meeting spaces, or areas for quiet concentration. ABW also extends to outside the office, giving staff the flexibility to work from home or another remote location.

ATPI Group Project

ATPI Group Project

Rising rents have put pressure on companies like never before. For a business, your office expenses are likely only to be exceeded by the cost of salaries. And nowadays with the floor space taken up by a litter bin in Central London costing up to £200 per square foot each month, ABW provides the opportunity to use your office asset better and to work smarter in your existing space.

Times have changed, and so have the ways that we now work, with technology completely changing the need for everyone to come into the same workplace, at the same time. Businesses today are increasingly realising that technology has created an opportunity to rethink the relationship between the office environment and how to increase workplace productivity and effectiveness. This is why ABW offers much more to office design than merely providing a solution to space saving.

Photo by LYCS LYCS on Unsplash

A one size approach does not fit all

The starting point for effective ABW is to examine everything from a people perspective. It’s an evidence-based approach, which first of all analyses and understands factors such as your organisation’s size, culture, objectives, ways of working, and leadership and management style.

What’s important to recognise at the outset, is that ABW is both a workplace and a business strategy, and is best suited to an environment where decision making is inclusive at all levels of the organisation. It requires a degree of freedom and autonomy that is not typical in  organisations that practice more traditional management techniques. ABW can therefore only be truly successful when it has the full backing of the management team, and all the people aspects have been fully considered to win the hearts and minds of staff.

At its best, ABW should bring people together and enhance work activity. However, not every business may be ready for all aspects of ABW. For instance, the flexibility offered by desk sharing may or may not be the best solution in every case, and there may be a lack of flexible access to technology across all parts of the organisation.

In many instances, the optimum solution is achieved through a combination of traditional working methods and ABW, looking at the most productive way individuals work, creating an office layout that encourages collaboration and makes the best use of both formal and informal meeting spaces.

How we can help

Successful ABW begins with finding the solution that is best for you, and at Cityspace we’ve worked with many businesses, both big and small, to create the optimum ABW environment.

We know all about offices, and we also know that offices are all about people, and can, therefore, guide you through the research, planning, and implementation required to create an ABW workspace that helps your people collaborate, share knowledge, and maximise your productivity and growth.

To find out more about how to make ABW work for you, please email us  at info@cityspacemanagement.co.uk.