The state of the offi ce - The politics and geography of working space Max Nathan with Judith Doyle

 
The state of the offi ce - The politics and geography of working space Max Nathan with Judith Doyle
The state of the office
The politics and geography of working space

Max Nathan
with Judith Doyle
a futures publication
               by Max Nathan
             with Judith Doyle

 the state of the
 office
the politics and geography of working space
First published in 2002 by
The Industrial Society
Robert Hyde House
48 Bryanston Square
London W1H 2EA

© The Industrial Society 2002

ISBN 1 85835 942 2

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a
retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic,
mechanical, photocopying, recording and/or otherwise without the prior written
permission of the publishers.This book may not be lent, resold, hired out or
otherwise disposed of by way of trade in any form, binding or cover other than
that in which it is published without the prior written consent of the publishers.

Designed and typeset by: Sign
Printed by: CW Press, Loughton, Essex

The Industrial Society is a Registered Charity No. 290003
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Contents
List of tables and figures

Introduction                                                                                               1

1: Now and then                                                                                            3
A short history of the office                                                                              3
A new decade                                                                                               5
What’s space got to do with it?                                                                            8

2: Unsolved problems                                                                                     11
The reality gap                                                                                          11
Uncharted territory                                                                                      13

3: The space we’re in                                                                                    16
Why we work where we work                                                                                16
The invisible firm                                                                                       18

4: What we want (and what we do to get it)                                                               19
Favourite places                                                                                         19
What goes on there                                                                                       22
Not what, how                                                                                            30

5: Do as I say, not as I do                                                                              31
How in control are we?                                                                                   31
Don’t I just love being in control?                                                                      33
Long shadows                                                                                             36
It’s like a jungle out there                                                                             38

6: Space sovereignty                                                                                     42
Handing over the reins                                                                                   43
Ways to do it                                                                                            46

Conclusion                                                                                               49

Glossar y                                                                                                50

References                                                                                               51
List of tables and figures
Table 1: The workspace we want: office workers’ overall scores      20
Table 2: The workspace we want: first choices                       20
Table 3: The workspace we want: office workers’ first choices       21
Table 4: Control of working space: all workers and office workers   32
Table 5: Day to day control of space: results for office workers    32
Table 6: Control of working space: results by gender                33
Figure 1: The state of the office: four scenarios                   40
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                                                                                                                   Introduction
Introduction
  ‘Space is the place.’ Sun Ra

The average desk is occupied for only 45 per cent of office hours. But the office is far from dead:
we still spend most of our lives at work, and most of that time in one place. For most companies,
solid working space is still vital to business success.

In fact, the years since the early 1990s have seen something of a golden age in office design. On the
back of economic expansion, the ICT revolution and the dotcom boom, designers and architects
have constructed a wave of exciting, innovative spaces.The workplace has been reinvented as an
arena for ideas exchange, drop-in point for mobile workers and a forum for professional and social
interaction. Moving into a new HQ, or facelifting the old one, is now a recognised technique for
changing corporate image and energising organisational culture.

With leaner times ahead, this is a good point to take stock. What has been learnt, and how could
things be done better next time?

Looking closer, the shine starts to come off.There has been innovation without dissemination. With
their plug-in points and intelligent wallpaper, their ponds, swings, lawns and High Streets, their Zen
Zones and touchdown areas, the cathedrals of the cutting-edge remain the preserve of a select few.
Flexible working patterns and spaces might be widely discussed, but they are not widely available.

Most people work in very average spaces, where the workplace is simply where work happens and
where managers keep an eye on us. It’s dumb space: at best, bland, neat and cheap. Space
management is about control, autocracy and enforcement.The evolution of space is under-
resourced, chaotic and unplanned – particularly in the small firms that dominate the UK economy.

Worse, research shows that new forms of working space can save money and increase profitability.
But in practice, new ways of working don’t always deliver the promised benefits.

All of which leaves three urgent issues. First, there is often a mismatch between the types of
workspace employees need, and what employers give them. Second, even sophisticated ways of
organising working space don’t always work in practice.Third, the message of good workplace
design and management hasn’t reached most employers – and more importantly, hasn’t touched
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Introduction
               most employees.There’s a disconnection between the workspace sector and business at large.

               So how do we, the workers, respond to all this? Most of us appear satisfied with our working space.
               But that happiness doesn’t come easy.To get it, we are forced to reclaim the office to get control of
               it. Employees, users of space, are constantly modifying, adapting, tinkering with space, bending the
               rules to make it fit. We all do this, in good spaces or bad. Sometimes this is fairly innocuous –
               75 per cent of office workers admit to marking company stationery with their own names – at
               other times it spills over into open hostility and resistance to company rules.

               All of this take place within a much larger nexus of political, economic and social forces.To fully
               understand how space is managed and controlled, we need to look at the dynamics of the firm.
               Working space is the site of tensions between the formal, visible elements and informal, invisible
               elements at play within company walls.

               Not enough is known about these issues.This paper – which focuses on the office – tries to fill in
               some of these gaps. It presents major new survey and qualitative data commissioned for this
               research. It explores what we don’t know, sets out a framework for looking at the physical working
               environment, and outlines new space strategies.

               This paper also aims to disseminate. We want to spread the gospel of good practice and bridge the
               communication gap between workspace experts and the business community at large.This has to
               come through user involvement and more democratic management. We dub this ‘space sovereignty’.

               Space matters. Badly-designed or managed workplaces damage staff physical and mental wellbeing.
               Without well-grounded strategies for the workplace, companies can lose money while relationships
               with employees decay. Others run economy-class outfits with little concern for worker welfare. For
               more and more firms, properly designed and managed workspace works best in the long run.

               This will not be straightforward to achieve. It means legacy-busting: overturning decades of
               conventional thinking about working space, and persuading those at the top of the company to
               share power over space with the workforce at large. For reformers, there is a long road ahead.

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1: Now and then
  ‘Quiet bell-sounds punctured the rubbery office air as typing and duplicating machines chattered to and
  fro; and underneath and away, like the pounding of engine room pistons, a muffled thumping of deep
  motor traffic blotted up any edges of silence. A light smell arose from paper, ribbon-ink, pencils,
  lubricating oil and from the extraordinary metal presence, like the slow thick taste of tin on tongue, of
  the filing cabinets.’ William Sansom1

There are two main traditions of office space.The dominant view sees office space as ‘dumb space’.
It’s a shell; it’s where work happens. Space should be neat, cheap and bland. It should also help
managers keep an eye on workers. Control should stay at the top: space oppresses.

Until very recently, the dissenting minority has struggled to be heard.This group sees the office as
‘smart space’. It argues that the workplace can help us work harder, faster and better. Space should
be leveraged to change company culture and working methods. Most of all, working space should
be for the many, not the few. Employees should help decide the layout and management of the
workplace. It is these progressive views that are now gaining ground.

A short history of the office
The office has been around for longer than you’d think.The earliest recorded instances of offices
appear in the Middle Ages – monks used the word ‘bureau’ to describe the workplace. Other early
offices developed over time in farmhouses, stores, private houses and palaces alike.2 Renaissance
scholars’ studies have many recognisable features of the private office, for example.3

The office as we know it today evolved in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the product of
both the Industrial Revolution and the emergence of the firm. As with all evolutions of office space,
a number of technological, organisational, economic and cultural factors are responsible.

Industrialisation moved the focus of economic production from the land towards towns and cities.The
scale of production allowed by steam technology and mechanisation created whole new divisions of
labour and new types of capitalist workers. Upton Sinclair termed them ‘white collar’: middle management
and professionals co-ordinated sourcing and distribution, tracked sales and drew-up strategy. Under
them, salespeople, clerks and administrators processed orders and dealt with correspondence.

Offices were required to house, monitor and organise these workers. Early design layouts still
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                  reflected home environments – the 1849 Sun Life Assurance Company building is a typical instance
                  of this – but these soon changed towards more industrial forms.

                  Early 20th-century office design took place in a work climate dominated by rationalisation and
                  standardisation.Taylorian efficiency theories, the assembly line and time-and-motion studies helped
                  spawn the modern desk in 1915 (known as the ‘Modern Efficiency Desk’), banishing earlier models
                  and helping paper move more quickly through the office.4

                  The classic office space of this time involved highly standardised interior and furniture design, rows
                  of identical desks, large, plain office spaces (‘bullpens’) for the mass of workers and a small number
                  of private offices for senior staff, guarded by secretaries. After World War II the office experience
                  rigidified still further, as demobbed soldiers took military manners into the workplace.The
                  standardised office probably reached its apogee in the early 1960s, with SOM’s Union Carbide
                  Building in New York.The office design embodied a totally rational approach to the corporation,
                  with a rigid planning clearly expressing status through: ‘size and location of offices, number of
                  windows in that office, and the refinement of its furnishings ... individuality was subordinate to an
                  overall exquisitely detailed expression of utility, efficiency and modernity’.5

                  Most office design of the 1960s and 1970s involved variations on the SOM-style ‘international style’
                  offices. With few exceptions, the overall focus was on warehousing people, ignoring the individual
                  and applying standardised space and furniture styles. Firms with the budget for design ordered highly
                  detailed, homogenous, hierarchical spaces, put into practice at minimal cost.

                  By the late 1960s an office counter-culture had emerged.The concept of Burolandschaft, pioneered
                  by the German Quickbourner Group placed great emphasis on interlocking, fluid and organic
                  working spaces with minimal divisions and area markers.The office as site for input/output efficiency
                  was replaced with the concept of working space as nurturing environment.The model did not gain
                  widespread acceptance, fading after numerous complaints about privacy, noise and lack of individual
                  control over space. Its long-term influence has been rather greater: today’s open offices and flexible
                  furniture systems began here.

                  Some Burolandschaft ideas were incorporated into mainstream design, with dire consequences. In 1968,
                  designer Robert Propst invented the cubicle as part of a panel-based office system, which aimed to
                  replace the bullpens of the previous decade. While well-intentioned, in practice using the cubicle soon
                  deteriorated into the classic Dilbert experience – extreme standardisation, anonymity and isolation.
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By the late 1980s the computer had become standard issue in large numbers of offices, and office
furniture systems became increasingly advanced.The result was a proliferation of highly modular office
systems, with staff working in semi-enclosed, cellular spaces. Many of these systems were extremely
expensive however, so companies continued to apply highly standardised solutions with little user choice.

This is the autocratic office: the dominant themes are standardisation, efficiency, group solutions and
corporate control of staff. It has a long history. Managers have seen keeping control as good business
practice since the earliest days of the office.The earliest factories and mills sprang up to take
advantage of new economies of scale, and to make monitoring production simple, controlling labour
through concentrating it in one space.6

Throughout the last century, however, there have been important exceptions to this. For Budd,
progressive offices have, until very recently, been ‘blips ... a quiet, constant protest’ against the
overwhelming mood of standardisation, cost reduction and worker control.7

The first progressive office appeared, not in the last few years, but in 1906. Frank Lloyd Wright’s design
for the Larkin Soap Company integrated new architecture with forward-looking management, mechanical
production systems and a range of leisure facilities – including a YWCA, library and music lounge.

Hertzberger’s Central Beheer Building in the Netherlands, constructed in the 1970s, is another
important example of flexible, democratic space.The space banned markers of status, with simple
furniture the staff could rearrange according to taste; the culture of the space was empowering, and
both individual and group control of work and space were actively encouraged. Many of these
themes were echoed by Stone and Luchetti in 1985.Their seminal article ‘Your Office is Where You
Are’ blasted cubicles and single-space solutions, arguing for flexible, multi-functional spaces and a
working culture of trust and mutual responsibility.8

A new decade
These ideas found their champions in the 1990s. Work by the pioneers of the ‘Alternative Officing’
school – notably Francis Duffy, Fritz Steele and Franz Becker – mixes architecture, research and
environmental psychology. It develops rich new concepts for working space based on the interaction
between people, space and working culture. At the same time, wireless technology and the internet
have allowed the workplace to be physically transformed, and staff to move much more freely, in the
office and away from it. Around 25 per cent of the workforce, mostly in higher occupational groups,
now carry out some of their work at home and use ICT to keep in touch with clients and
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                  colleagues.9 The average office desk is occupied for only 45 per cent of office hours – the rest of
                  the time the worker will be in meetings, visiting clients, on holiday, training or sick.10

                  Other pressures have added to the mix. As employers recognise the importance of intangible assets,
                  designers have been looking for ways to spark ideas exchange and spontaneous communication
                  through space. Perhaps more importantly, in an age of rising property prices, especially in large
                  urban areas, many firms have been looking for ways to cut down on office space costs.

                  There are three key dynamics at work here. First, some workers now have multiple workplaces and
                  nomadic workstyles outside the office; second, there is a move towards flexible workstyles within
                  the office; and third, for many workers the office is being reconfigured as a forum for ideas
                  exchange, community space, team space, drop-in point for mobile workers – or catalyst for wider
                  cultural and organisational change.

                  Many designers and architects have developed new models of working space that aim to empower
                  workers, creating interaction and cross-fertilisation of ideas.These models are often based around
                  traditional communities: neighbourhoods, streets or villages.11 Social connection, professional
                  interaction and multi-tasking are prioritised: rather than comprising conventional ‘cells’ and ‘hives’, the
                  office becomes a forum or ‘club’, with extra ‘den’ spaces for quiet working alone.12 Working space is
                  designed to increase flow of staff, ‘magnet facilities’ like photocopiers and drinks machines are set up
                  in public areas and accessways to stimulate chance interaction.13 These spaces are usually combined
                  with hotdesking and other hotelling solutions – flexible space systems where staff use workspace as
                  and when needed, allowing employers to provide less of it in the first place.14

                  Other firms have taken the idea of office as hotel to heart, renting space on a short-term basis.
                  The ‘instant office’ sector has grown rapidly in recent years, particularly in south-east England
                  through companies like Regus and Business Exchange. Providers lay on serviced offices, which can
                  be set up in a matter of hours to meet clients’ requirements.

                  If people, work, culture and space are all interconnected, as Alternative Officing advocates suggest,
                  then the workplace can be used as a tool for organisational development and change.This idea has
                  been enthusiastically adopted by a number of firms using new working space to kickstart new ways
                  of working and cement new corporate cultures.15 Companies are trying out new systems, and many
                  are working well (see box).

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  Thirteen top spaces16
  ● Another.com has a lawn as part of its ‘New York Cityscape’ in its Kentish Town offices
  ● Arthur Andersen’s offices in the Strand feature ‘Zen Zones’ and meeting rooms in different
    colours to reflect the different modes of thought required at the time
  ● Using lifts is discouraged in Leo Burnett’s Sydney offices; instead, a nine-metre slide connects
    the first and third floors
  ● Thomas Cook’s call centre in Falkirk has a stream running through the office with real palm
    trees, plus a ‘sensorama’ with tropical sounds and smells
  ● Staff at Deckchair.com work in deckchairs during the day
  ● Digital Corporation’s Helsinki HQ includes water fountains, a sauna, and a four-person garden
    swing for small meetings
  ● Electronic Arts’ lakeside European HQ in Surrey features a gym, library, general store, sports
    court and barbecue area slung around a fully-glazed central street
  ● Business development agency The Fourth Room has offices designed like a house. Staff have
    breakfast together and a family lunch is held weekly
  ● Frank PR in Kentish Town has a bright red reconditioned ambulance (christened ‘Britney’ by
    staff) as the centrepiece of its new offices
  ● The KI Building in Tokyo has an air-conditioning system designed to simulate light breezes.
    Perfume is pumped into the atmosphere at different times of day – citrus for mornings and
    after lunch, floral notes for mid-afternoons. Specially-composed music is played during the day
    to stimulate alpha and beta brainwaves
  ● Housing 210 MPs and their staff, Portcullis House is the UK’s most expensive office building.
    It features a network of ‘collegiate’ spaces – cloisters, courtyards and alleys – plus £150,000 of
    specially imported fig trees
  ● To spark creativity, Oregon ad agency Wieden and Kennedy shares its Portland office space
    with a contemporary arts collective
  ● Squirrel Design Associates produce the Ardis, a fully wired-up garden shed (or ‘office pod’)
    for home-working entrepreneurs. A similar ‘Work Yurt’ self-assembly kit is also available.

At the same time, if the process takes place in public, or if the resulting space is unusual or
eccentric, all kinds of useful exposure is generated for the firm. Companies have not been shy about
this either.

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                  Even think-tanks are getting in on the act.The Mezzanine on London’s South Bank houses around a
                  dozen units in an open-plan setting designed specifically to spark new thinking across ideological
                  lines. In practice this may not always happen – insiders note that the most right-wing outfits are
                  carefully located across a sealed corridor where ‘we never hear or see them’.17

                  What’s space got to do with it?
                  Why has it taken so long for progressive workplaces to get accepted? Early studies on the workplace
                  suggested workspace had little or no effect on individual performance, group efficiency or organisational
                  effectiveness.The benefits of progressive, smart spaces have only recently become apparent.

                  The seminal Hawthorne Experiments in the 1920s were almost entirely responsible for this.18 The
                  tests aimed to establish whether or not the physical environment had any effect on worker task
                  performance.They appeared to show that changes in the physical environment made no difference
                  to performance apart from an initial novelty effect.The implication was that psychological needs and
                  a sense of belonging were more important than space alone. Some time after this, Hertzberg’s 1966
                  study on job satisfaction placed the workplace as a ‘hygiene factor’, which might cause dissatisfaction
                  but had no positive impact on productivity once basic needs were met.19

                  The first of these studies is now widely questioned: for a start, many of the Hawthorne tests found
                  no Hawthorne effect.20 The second has been superseded by new evidence, suggesting physical
                  aspects of the environment do affect task performance. Air quality and extremes of temperature
                  pose particular problems, as does noise, both through the distraction it causes and through
                  ‘masking’, where important sounds are obscured by the unimportant.21

                  This means that poorly-designed workplaces can affect how well people do their jobs, and in some
                  cases actually make people ill.There are obvious risks from handling or coming into contact with
                  toxic substances at work, or from breathing poor air – all aspects of Building Related Illness.
                  Furthermore, researchers estimate that between a third and a half of all new and reconditioned
                  buildings are afflicted with Sick Building Syndrome (SBS).22 SBS manifests itself as physical and mental
                  discomfort – symptoms include rashes, allergic reactions, tiredness and flu-like symptoms – but
                  there is no clear sign of a disease. Symptoms disappear when not at work, suggesting psychological
                  factors play a strong part.23

                  Space can also affect the balance sheet in a good way. Leaman and Bordass estimate that design,
                  management and use of space can account for up to 15 per cent of an organisation’s turnover.The
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killer variables are physical and psychological.They include first, personal control of heating, cooling,
light, noise and ventilation; second, responsiveness of facilities management to problems with
workspace; third, building depth or distance from window to wall; and fourth, size of work group, or
whether too many workers are clustered together.24

Much of the 1990s literature focuses on the soft benefits of new ways of working, showing, for
example, that working space also affects productivity through levels of communication and
interaction. Research by Space Syntax indicates that around 80 per cent of all work-related
conversations are sparked by one person passing another’s desk:

  ‘When you are working in a concentrated way you are unavailable. As soon as you get up to go to a
  meeting, or the photocopier or whatever, you become available.’ 25

It follows that the more staff can be made accessible to each other through space design, the more
useful they could find each other, and the faster, smarter and more cohesively they could work
together.26 A study of IBM mobile employees – working at home, on customer sites and in flexible
office space – found that nearly 52 per cent felt this helped them to work more effectively. Around
66 per cent felt more satisfied with their jobs.27 Employees in Scottish Enterprise’s ‘Workplace of the
Future’ project report up to 50 per cent higher productivity.28 In professional knowledge sectors, a
workplace that can bring people together in this way should be worth its weight in desks. Firms in
these sectors are losing out if their space is not working as hard as they are.

New ways of working also create significant hard benefits by reducing total space used and recycling
older building stock.29 Getting rid of conventional office space can save a great deal of money. A
company like AT&T, which occupies around ten million square foot of space at £17-21 per square
foot, can reduce its total space by 20-30 per cent through flexible working practices – a saving of
£28-73m per year.30 British Airways’ flagship Waterside project aims to save £15m a year in
property costs.

Working space cannot be considered as simply the place where work takes place. Rather, it is linked
to other aspects of the firm, particularly people, work type and company culture.The benefits of
new space, therefore, come about when new ways of working are introduced – in other words, the
company reorganises itself around new space, rather than simply installing it and continuing as usual.
Overall, innovative working space:

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                  ● can help staff work faster, harder smarter – and be happier in their work
                  ● enables greater flexibility in how the organisation works
                  ● is an asset to be leveraged in recruiting and retaining talent
                  ● displays the public face of the firm and reinforces brand value
                  ● is cheaper than the status quo in the long term. Doing nothing has costs too, as later chapters show.31

                  Much of the key research on how to put space change into practice has been done by Becker and
                  colleagues at Cornell University.32 They argue that the following are key when implementing new,
                  flexible working spaces:

                  ● developing an ‘integrated workplace strategy’, where all employees have access to a range of
                    work settings for their various tasks
                  ● properly worked-out, long-term programmes of change management, focusing on corporate and
                    organisational culture
                  ● senior-level champions to motivate and set an example
                  ● two-way conversations with employees, with scope for involvement in determining the detail of
                    change
                  ● tracking the rumour mill and correcting misinformation
                  ● ensuring change management is well-resourced, not considered secondary to change itself.

                  The case for new types of working space seems overwhelming.There’s only one problem: why do
                  so few of us actually work this way?

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2: Unsolved problems

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  ‘I looked into the reception room ... The same stuff I had had the year before, and the year before that.
  Not beautiful, not gay, but better than a tent on the beach.’ Raymond Chandler33

Office space has changed radically – for a few people. For most of us, new ideas haven’t filtered through to
our workplaces and to the minds of our managers.There’s been innovation without dissemination.Why?

The reality gap
Physical work space is changing far more slowly than work itself – particularly in professional and
knowledge work sectors, where radical time flexibility and non-linear work design is becoming the
norm. Design professionals understand this. DEGW’s Tony Thompson points out that:

  ‘A comparison of the vanguard Lloyd Wright Building with the basic configuration, layout and use of an office
  building of the late 1980s shows surprising levels of similarity ... the office premises of the 1990s are all too
  often responding to needs of the early part of the century: the need to centralise, secure and discipline
  on a full-time daily basis a clerical labour force given limited means of communicating and managing.’ .34

There is a gulf between what designers and architects recommend, and what employers do. For a start,
only a few office spaces are custom-built. Over 75 per cent of office moves are simply to larger offices;
around 60 per cent of change consists of modification or adaptation to suit organisational needs.35

Tanis and Duffy, in a survey of over 5,000 workers in leading-edge UK and US companies, find that
over 58 per cent of respondents use high interaction or high autonomy models of working (or both)
during the same working day. Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) predicted they would be working this
way in the near future (between 2001-2003). In other words, most knowledge professionals require
the ‘den’ and ‘club’ -type spaces outlined previously. Around 63 per cent of current global office space
is not fit for purpose – it is or soon will be redundant.36

Employees bear the brunt of this. One of the first studies to ask office workers their views on
working space has uncovered a large, unhappy minority. More office workers seem dissatisfied with
their working space than with their jobs as a whole: 23 per cent to 12 per cent respectively. Around
a fifth of UK offices fail to provide an adequate work environment. In around a quarter, employees
‘have serious complaints about various environmental factors’, and in about a third of spaces,
employers face at least 13 obstacles to effective working.37 Bad space is a serious problem.
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                       Why has this happened? First, money. Most office design and facilities management is based on cost-
                       minimisation, not on what work is going to be done in the building.38 Second, perceived simplicity.
                       Underlying the cost-control impulse is an instinctive preference for simple, measurable notions of
                       efficiency. New models of working space suggest complex, expensive-sounding and intangible
                       synergies.Third, size. Small firms with limited resources dominate the UK economy.Their owners are
                       likely to have neither the time nor the resources to change space from scratch.The typical pattern
                       of evolution tends to be chaotic, adaptive and mostly unplanned.

                       Much of the ‘workplace sector’39 itself has some way to go. Price notes that ‘the link [of working
                       space] to organisational culture, widely made in the knowledge management arena, is only beginning
                       to be appreciated in the workplace design arena ... the property professions as a whole still
                       struggle’.40 More importantly, the simple approach to space is probably shared by a majority of
                       employers in the UK. Myerson suggests that while most firms accept ideas of good practice in
                       theory, they are far less willing or able to adopt such ideas in practice.41 Other commentators are
                       less optimistic. Wilson argues that organisations tend to view working space in one of five ways, as:

                       ● the place where work occurs: there is minimal effect on organisational performance
                       ● a symbol of prestige: the outside matters most
                       ● an expression of concern for the workforce
                       ● an efficiency tool: money is spent where there’s a tangible return
                       ● an inspirational force, with functional and symbolic roles: the workplace reflects the wider culture
                         of the organisation.42

                       Only companies in the last category come close to seeing the potential of working space. Firms get
                       the message – up to a point. Many in other categories might appear to embrace change, but for the
                       wrong reasons.

                       This suggests a fourth factor.The widespread failure of firms to adopt new models of working space
                       and new models of working also reflects the persistence of conventional models of work organisation.
                       People, culture and space connect, but not always in the right way.Traditional models of managerial
                       command and control tend to imply traditional modes of organising working space – or in some
                       cases, new models of working space managed along conventional command and control lines.This
                       explains the company with the prestigious lobby hiding shabby offices for staff; or the firm with cutting-
                       edge spaces for senior employees and a subterranean post-room.These models of working life, with
                       their obsessions with control, status and hierarchy are depressingly prevalent in UK workplaces.
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The result: innovative working space doesn’t always deliver the expected benefits. Companies with

                                                                                                                      2: Unsolved problems
new spatial arrangements sometimes report higher costs and staff turnover, decreased morale,
slower product development, lower productivity and profitability.43 Space, staff and organisational
culture are out of alignment. As Price notes:

  ‘the point is made that the rhetoric ... frequently obscures an intention that is much more focussed on cost’.

There may also be a fifth factor. We all seem happy enough to buy conventional models of working
space. One commentator suggests that:

  ‘the work environment model of the 1960s is still with us, and it remains potent today ... the dream of
  a corner office, of achieving status and the rest is as pervasive as it was forty years ago’ .44

This is a puzzle. If two-thirds of global offices are unfit for purpose, why do only a fifth of office
workers feel their space is inadequate? And why do more of them feel dissatisfied with their space
than their jobs? The great majority of office workers appear satisfied with their physical working
environment, but we know that much of this space is below par or poor. In other words, it seems
very likely we’re adapting, modifying, tweaking and subverting our working space on a grand scale, to
make that space fit our needs.

Uncharted territory
We need a much richer understanding of people, space and organisation.There are three places in
particular where we need to dig deeper.

(1) The futures of work. Different types of work are evolving at different speeds, as are the spaces in
which they take place. However, much of the best research and key ideas in Alternative Officing
involves a narrow understanding of work that focuses on professional knowledge sectors.This is
useful economic shorthand for the working space sector, but it says very little to many employers
outside current markets. For example, Holtham distinguishes what he calls ‘three types of work’
taking place in the office of the future: (i) information work: processing of information in teams
(ii) knowledge work: sharing (iii) knowledge work: creation.45

This typology is valuable, but misses out a great deal: particularly, administration, customer service
and sales work. All of these are growth sectors and can take place in office environments, such as
call centres (and all of which require gathering and manipulating ‘knowledge’).The real driver of the
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2: Unsolved problems
                       new economy is routine service employment. Much of the UK workforce will continue to be
                       employed in essentially hive-like spaces, which tend to be ignored by the design profession.The
                       occasional cutting-edge call centre, such as Egg’s space in Derby is the exception that proves the rule.

                       (2) The user perspective. There’s a wealth of work on working space, but a serious lack of
                       understanding of the user’s point of view.There is very little research on what users of space want
                       from space and how they tend to behave in it. It is critical to know. Focusing on space without
                       focusing on users and their moods is not enough: the most productive workers are not necessarily
                       the happiest in their space, but those who find the greatest satisfaction in their work as a whole.46

                       By ignoring the user, space becomes dumb space. Space and facilities design and management can
                       be almost simple-minded. Myerson points out that:

                         ‘although IT and human resource management programmes have commanded board-level time and
                         resources, the third element in the holy trinity of organisational change – the physical work setting –
                         has often been delegated ... or overlooked altogether’.47

                       Or as one of our interviewees remarked:

                         ‘they put in wavy desks and imagine everyone will start working in amazing new ways’.48

                       And that’s not all. Anjum notes that while the working space sector has started to develop an
                       understanding of employees as ‘consumers’:

                         ‘their needs are often dictated by the client (the manager or the employer of the organisation) rather
                         than the employees themselves’.

                       This is a critical point. We have to be thinking about the processes and politics of space management
                       and change. In particular, we need to discover just how, and how much employees are adapting
                       space to fit their needs.

                       (3) The political economy of the firm. Working space and its effects on people, teams and organisation
                       rests on a wider set of relationships with the firm.This is a point well taken but rarely understood:
                       Alternative Officing models, with their focus on linking people, culture and space barely register the
                       complex realities of the organisation.The workplace is intimately connected with the social and
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economic dynamics of the firm and the labour market.49 For example, working space should be set

                                                                                                                   2: Unsolved problems
within the informal tone of the company, not just its formal culture. Budd points out that most
conventional workspaces involve a ‘universal, bland sameness ... forms of paternalism, groupthink and
group control become a tacit objective of the built environment ... workplace tools underscore rank
and privilege’.50

Similarly, using the workplace to foster interaction between employees will have little effect if they’re
not interested in their jobs. People will simply gripe around the watercooler. Space can help, but
only so much. Engagement with working life does the rest.

To properly understand these connections, we have to develop a much better model of workspace.
Space is a key part of the ‘active firm’. Separation of ownership and control, economies of scale and
production methods create different, often competing groups – each with their own agendas. Profit-
focused shareholders, professional managers and salaried staff will all want different things at
different times.

To understand the politics and geography of working space, we have to know the politics and
geography of working life: the political economy of the firm.

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3: The space we’re in

                        3:The space we’re in
                          ‘An unreasonable world, sacrificing bird-song and tranquil dusk and high golden noons to selling junk – yet
                          it rules us. And life is there.The office is filled with thrills of love and distrust and ambition.’ Sinclair Lewis51

                        Many forces are in play in the modern company. Here, we shine some light on the informal or
                        ‘invisible’ aspects of the firm; individual motivations and behaviours, customs, rituals and codes.
                        Realising the existence and persistence of this invisible firm alongside visible systems of organisation is
                        crucial to understanding what goes on inside company walls.

                        Why we work where we work
                        Much of what firms do could, in theory, be carried out by classic market transactions between
                        individuals. However, the costs of doing business in the marketplace – discovering prices, negotiating,
                        monitoring and enforcing contracts – can be expensive, particularly if information is imperfect or
                        hard to come by.52 For modern firms, the process of buying complex inputs often represents an
                        investment only worth making once. Moreover, if firms downstream in the production process make
                        mistakes, firms making the goods or services they distribute risk damaging brand value. It makes
                        sense for companies to control the whole process of production from concept to sale, as many do.53

                        The things that make firms work can also work against them. If companies get too large, however,
                        they can suffer control loss, as information flows poorly through the organisation and errors are
                        made. Since most firms have elements of hierarchy, some poor decisions will be made and not
                        countermanded or questioned elsewhere.The division of labour is also double edged.The
                        specialisation it implies can generate rigidity and inefficiency, commitment to group, not company
                        objectives and hence, conflict between expert groups in the firm.54

                        Surely this has all vanished in the age of networks and flat hierarchies? Actually, no. Sure, firms are
                        slowly becoming flatter, shorter, more connected and wired-up. Many firms have developed caring,
                        sharing corporate cultures and seek to nurture their employees. Some actually manage to do this.
                        Others, however, remain resolutely economy class enterprises: repetitive work processes, low-quality
                        product, high labour turnover, low morale and no corporate conscience.55

                        Why so slow to change? The same factors remain in the frame because they concern people, not
                        machines. Human wants, capabilities and behaviours explain much about why firms are the way they are.
                        Because they have imperfect information and are hired to do just part of the firm’s work, individuals in
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organisations often have to make decisions with less than all of the facts. Confronted with this, they tend to

                                                                                                                      3: The space we’re in
‘satisfice’: choosing to do the thing that does some good, rather than the most.56 A good example of this
are standard operating procedures – simple and efficient in the short run, maybe less so in the long run.

Similarly, specialisation creates potential conflicts of interest between different departments and teams
in the firm.These will slow change down. Behavioural theories of the firm convincingly depict
companies as coalitions of much smaller groups and individuals: managers, union members and
various worker collectives, all jostling for position and bargaining with each other to support various
formal and informal policies.57 As Hay and Morris put it:

  ‘Firms as such cannot have objectives: only individuals can ...’ .58

Systems analysis produces a very similar conclusion.The firm is a complex social and economic
organisation, with dense linkages between agents and teams.The firm itself arises: ‘as many agents
achieve a critical density of interconnection and operate to common sets of rules’.59 Again, people are
critical to the whole process. If social environments change faster than people in them, the
organisation as a whole ceases to function.

Individual and group objectives can be crude or encouragingly complex. Many of us will simply crave
money, position and power at work. Some, though, will simply be passing the time. In one survey of
UK directors, over 75 per cent of respondents said that their main ambition was to retire. Over 65
per cent felt their time at work was wasted, most of whom would rather be playing golf.60

Others work for very different reasons again.Their job is their vocation; their work is a source of
value to them, fulfils social needs and acts as a form of community – or even surrogate home, in
some cases.61 Informal codes, rituals, friendships and networks develop into informal organisational
culture, which, as Cummings and Cooper point out:

  ‘... like social culture more generally, functions to create cohesiveness and maintain order and regularity in
  the lives of its members’ .62

Routines reassure – and retard change. Many people like what they have and seek to perserve it.
Networks develop organically between employees.They are ‘communications channels ... that
honeycomb organisations. Messages and judgements course silently in networks ... We have all been
part of one and surprised by a few’.63
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3: The space we’re in
                        These factors and forces are played out in physical workspace. Working space is an arena for
                        resolving the complexities of information and economic organisation, a place of conflict, control and
                        exploitation. It is also a place to settle old scores and make new friends, to pursue power and glory,
                        earn your keep and live your life. It is far more than just people, culture and space.

                        The invisible firm
                        All of these factors create outcomes: formal efficiency, equity and effectiveness, informal need and
                        job satisfaction. In thinking about the firm, we need to be considering:

                        ● physical space
                        ● job design
                        ● work: process and sector
                        ● people: workers and managers’ motivation
                        ● organisational culture: codes, rituals and symbols
                        ● corporate culture: organisational structure and objectives, rules, regulations and official tone
                        ● economic resources: capacity, size, financial position, knowledge
                        ● external factors: technology, state of expert knowledge, state of the world.

                        Literature on organisational behaviour makes a critical distinction between formal and informal parts
                        of the firm. When thinking about space, it’s useful to cut things another way: to distinguish between
                        the visible and the invisible firm.

                        ●   Visible: physical space, corporate culture and stated objectives, job description, economic capacity.
                        ●   Invisible: organisational culture and processes: satisficing, hierarchies and power relations, status,
                            knowledge, effective/actual objectives.

                        It’s worth spelling this out more clearly.The visible firm is what you can see and what’s written
                        down: the space around you, company policies, balance sheets.The invisible firm is everything else:
                        individual territory, institutional culture, team loyalties.There are two key points to note here. First,
                        the invisible firm has tendencies to resistance and drag. Networks, codes and customs tend to evolve
                        slowly and organically. Second, the invisible firm reveals itself through communication and behaviour
                        patterns in the workplace – and crucially, through the use and abuse of working space. Employers
                        and designers may know little about what goes on out there – but they ignore the invisible firm at
                        their peril.This is the focus of the next chapter.

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4: What we want (and what we do to get it)

                                                                                                                 4: What we want (and what we do
                                                                                                                    to get it)
  ‘Deep down, we’re all still cave dwellers.’   Chiat/Day copywriter64

What do people want from their working space? And how do they behave in it? Here’s the
evidence. It draws on three national surveys of office workers, including new Futures data specially
commissioned for this paper. 65 The Futures team also conducted new qualitative research, which
involved asking people to photograph their working spaces using disposable cameras. A selection of
images – and interviewees’ comments – can be seen at the back of the report. All unreferenced
quotes are taken from Futures’ primary research.

Three main findings emerge. First, workers, especially office workers, value many different kinds of
spaces. Community space matters – but people also want their own, individual areas. Unfortunately,
trends towards hotdesking and flexible workspace are taking this away.

Second, habits and behaviour are critical. We want what we need for the job. But more importantly,
we also want what we have. We like what we’re used to and don’t want anything too different.

Third, we want control. Users of working space want control of that space – to help them do their
jobs, and because for their own psychological needs. We want to control the environment and the
things that might change it. We want stability, to avoid stress. We change the space and bend the
rules to suit the job and suit ourselves.

Favourite places
Our survey asked people to rank different kinds of working space. Placing the average rankings for
all space types side by side, office workers edge shared space into the lead, but only just (Table 1).

In other words, when giving a fully reasoned assessment, office workers can see the value in most
types of space.The one consistent finding is the unpopularity of having one’s own office, working
alone and having relaxation areas. People want privacy and territory, but they also want company.

However, taking first alone, they prefer to have their own desk, workstation or office (all varieties of
‘own space’) than shared or flexible space (Table 2).

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4: What we want (and what we do
                                  Table 1:The workspace we want: office workers’ overall scores.

                                                                                           Average importance (1 = most important,
   to get it)

                                                            Space type
                                                                                                     7 = least important)

                                    Shared space for me and colleagues                                       2.50

                                    My own individual space                                                  2.74

                                    Flexible space that can be reserved as required                          2.97

                                    Space for clients or customers                                           3.15

                                    Space for working alone                                                  3.46

                                    Space for relaxation                                                     3.63

                                    My own private space                                                     3.78

                                  Source: ICM / Industrial Society.

                                  Table 2:The workspace we want: first choices.

                                                                                                  % rating as most important
                                    Space type
                                                                                              All workers            Office workers
                                    My own individual space: e.g. desk/workstation                19                      22

                                    Shared space for me and colleagues                            22                      21

                                    Flexible space that can be reserved as required               14                      14

                                    Space for clients or customers                                14                      16

                                    My own private space: e.g. office                             6                        8

                                    Space for working alone                                       6                        6

                                    Space for relaxation                                          6                        5

                                    Don’t know                                                    19                      10

                                  Source: ICM / Industrial Society.
                                  Note: figures are rounded to the nearest whole number.
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A closer look at the data reveals exactly what we like about having our own space. People prefer to

                                                                                                                     4: What we want (and what we do
have their own desk than their own office – 30 per cent rate the latter as the least important type

                                                                                                                        to get it)
of working space. And it’s having the space, rather than being able to work alone that seems to
matter – only six per cent of respondents thought having space for working alone was most
important to them.

This has implications for hotdesking and flexible working. It might be all the rage, but not with
employees.Taking the group as a whole, having one’s own desk or office is almost twice as popular:
25 per cent rate own space as most important, against 14 per cent for flexible space. For office
workers, the gap is even starker: 30 to 14 per cent.That is, having one’s own space is more than
twice as popular as having flexible space.

Particular professions show differing preferences (Table 3). Associate professionals (nurses and
policemen, for example), technicians and those in frontline services are most keen on shared space.
Senior staff and professionals show strong preferences for their own desks and for private space
(having one’s own office is most popular among the latter).The starkest findings are for clerical and
administrative workers, almost 40 per cent of whom rate having their own desk as the most
important type of space.

Table 3:The workspace we want: office workers’ first choices.

                                                         % rating as most important
  Space type/
                       Manager         Professional          Associate      Clerical and   Personal and   Selling
  Job type             or senior                          professional or    secretarial    protective
                                                             technical                       services

  My own
                          14               23                   17              39              6           24
  individual space

  Private space           14               13                   2                8              –           –

  Shared space
  for me and              16               16                   35              25             26           13
  colleagues

  Flexible space
  that can be
                          19               14                   10               6             14           8
  reserved as
  required

Source: ICM / Industrial Society.
Note: figures are rounded to the nearest whole number.

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4: What we want (and what we do
                                  Note also that many don’t have strong views on the matter – overall, around 20 per cent of all
                                  workers and office workers don’t know what types of space they prefer.
   to get it)

                                  These results clearly reflect the types of work different people do – and thus, what they’re used to.
                                  Associate professional and technical workers show the strongest preferences for shared space;
                                  administrative workers show the strongest attachment to desks; senior and managerial staff are
                                  most in favour of private offices.

                                  The problem for the workplace sector is that many of these preferences go against most current
                                  trends. Hotdesking and other forms of flexible working are taking away the individual and private
                                  space most office workers seem so attached to. Certainly, employees in cellular offices are more
                                  satisfied with their work environment than those working in shared or open plan spaces. Anjum
                                  concludes that ‘most people would rather have a cellular office’ than any other type of space.66

                                  This may reflect other factors as well. Senior and managerial staff tend to have most say over working
                                  space – they can give themselves exactly what they’d most like. If that is so, their preferences are
                                  fairly clear – 48 per cent of clerical/secretarial staff are placed in open plan offices, while 28 per cent
                                  work in shared offices. And 54 per cent of professional/managerial staff have cellular offices.67

                                  So how are office workers dealing with new-fangled spaces? And what else do they do at work to
                                  get themselves the spaces they want?

                                  What goes on there
                                  Our psychological needs and subsequent behaviours at work are highly complex and often subjective.
                                  Drawing the literature and the fieldwork together we can group them into six main behaviour types.

                                  Colonising

                                    ‘My in-trays are always full and I have since abandoned them to simply hold desktop detritus. I have
                                    different degrees of ‘in’, depending on how many things I need to get through. There’s stuff in them I
                                    have meant to read months ago. For really urgent work I just put in a pile right in front of me. Stuff
                                    that doesn’t fit into the in-tray goes on a shelf next to me. Other stuff is put elsewhere. I try to operate
                                    a hierarchy of surface areas ...’

                                  Office workers colonise their space. Identifying, marking and maintaining territory are key human
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behaviours. Susan Cave defines territory as ‘an area that is visibly bounded ... habitually used and

                                                                                                                 4: What we want (and what we do
defended, and relatively stationary’.68

                                                                                                                    to get it)
Territory matters because it is a human organiser:

    ‘Having control over our environments means that life is more predictable and we therefore know how
    to behave ...’ 69

Some studies suggest that more intelligent individuals mark-off larger areas for themselves.70 Altman
makes important distinctions between types of territory.

● Primary: eg an armchair. Primary territory has clear markers, is owned or used by one person and
  is considered under the control of the owner.
● Secondary: eg a classroom seat.This territory is used regularly but shared with others, using norms
  and informal rules, and is generally not defended.
● Public: eg a park bench. Accessible to everyone and used on a temporary basis. However, markers
  used to try and reserve it are usually respected by others.71

At work people often treat what’s officially public as primary:

    ‘This is one of the company meeting rooms. It’s been colonised by someone for an internal project. This
    tends to happen, though it’s not company policy as such. Rooms can be reserved, but people tend to
    just take them over.’

There are clear parallels here with Newman’s work on ‘defensible space’, which he describes as ‘the
range of mechanisms – real and symbolic barriers, strongly defined areas of influence, and improved
opportunities for surveillance – that combine to bring an environment under the control of its
residents’.72

Traditional examples at work include building towers of books or files, or using human gatekeepers,
such as secretaries.73 Many of the workers we talked to were developing their own physical and
non-physical defensible space systems in the office:

    ‘The best spots allow you to face the door, see who’s coming in. People descend on you when you’re
    working – you need to be prepared.’
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4: What we want (and what we do
                                  Warmdesking
   to get it)

                                    ‘This is the hotdesk area ... and this is my favourite hotdesk.’

                                  At work, treating public territory as secondary or primary takes particular forms. Personalisation of
                                  space is probably the most important aspect of these. It seems to matter to people on several
                                  levels, as a symbolic means of self-expression and as something that helps them get the job done.74
                                  A fifth of respondents in one survey thought workplaces should reflect ‘the personality of the
                                  person working there’.75 Sundström finds that having a designated workspace – especially one that
                                  can be personalised – encourages ‘responsibility’.76

                                  This has always chafed with tidy-minded office managers and minimalist architects.The 1965
                                  Business Etiquette Handbook states clearly that employees should:

                                    ‘Avoid over-decorating your desk or area. When your desk, shelves and wall space are covered with
                                    momentos, photographs, trophies, humorous mottoes and other decorative effects, you are probably not
                                    beautifying the office; rather you may be giving it a jumbled, untidy look.You may also be violating
                                    regulations against using nails in the walls ...’.

                                  Rampant personalisation goes on nevertheless. In a recent survey by Office Angels, 75 per cent of
                                  office workers admitted to marking company stationery and other items with their own names. Just
                                  under half (49 per cent) always used the same mug. Some had even personalised the bathroom –
                                  around 49 per cent had a favourite cubicle, which they’d wait to use if necessary. It all helps people
                                  stay in control of working life: over 50 per cent thought that dropping their habits would cause
                                  ‘depression’ and ‘make their productivity suffer’.77

                                  This strongly suggests that flexible workspaces may be making some employees unhappy by denying
                                  them territory. One US study found that over a quarter of companies introducing flexible
                                  workspace reported a loss of morale.78 In many others, it is likely that employees are bending the
                                  rules and are developing their own rituals that grab territory back, such as ‘warmdesking’. We found
                                  numerous instances of this:

                                    ‘This is officially a hotdesk area, but is permanently inhabited by one person who leaves it in a total mess.’

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