Places, Spaces and Value

In this post I’d like to explore some thinking from early 2014 around the places that we work.  Why to we travel to them?  What value do they bring?  What considerations should be made by each of us before making the journey to a place?  Within the place what spaces are used and how are they used?  There are no real conclusions here, those are for your interpretation and that’s also the value that our clients gain in their work with us.

The Physical Workplace

Ultimately the workplace that is provided comes down to the value derived against the cost. Studies show that the cost for global 1000 organizations to provide technology and workplace is between $19,000 and $22,000 per person in a capital city (Mark Dixon, 2010) ; the target for many organizations today being under $7,000. One of our biggest challenges is to support organizations move to the $7,000 model. Dixon et-al describe 6 key elements to consider for workplace to deal with 55%+ unused desks, “the six pack”:

  • Real estate
  • Culture
  • People
  • Technology
  • Transport
  • Sustainability

Considering each element of the six pack will allow organizations to build a future workplace strategy. It is at that point of considering the strategy that those responsible for workplace services should be engaged. If decisions are made on physical design before the workplace technology experts have interacted then the result is often aesthetically pleasing places with limited practical value. Value is key and the balance of cost versus business value will differ depending upon the importance of the activity or the work style.

“Mobile people need somewhere to touch down.” Chris Hood, Hewlett Packard

The office, the home, the hotel, travel and the third space (coffee shops, co-working zones) form the blend of locations that workers perform activities. But within those places there needs to be consideration of the activities that will be performed and what spaces need to be configured to meet the needs of that activity. There will be specialist workspaces for specific roles (call centers, retail, and manufacturing facilities). There will be spaces in work places suitable for more general knowledge work. Knowledge work requires a range of spaces to be successful from areas where teams can work, areas where meetings can be performed, areas where people can sit in isolation and silence. One size does not fit all. At this point I’m sat in a café writing this element but the research prior to writing was a 2-screen activity done in combination of office and home.

The value of travel for work is something that offers differing opinions. More-so the value of commuting to the workplace. For workers engaged at facilities there is little option but to commute as their work requires they input to that facility (retail, factory, hotel, college, school etc.). For many a choice is emerging. Hansen et al postulate that due to rising population and rising numbers of vehicles on the roads people will travel less to a physical workplace (Hansen, 2012). Now some of that congestion will ease as automation assists in road utilisation but to some extent it is likely that the trend for working less in the office will continue for knowledge workers. What that will do is put more pressure on office locations to offer an excellent user experience and be designed with collaboration in mind. With the changing workforce in mind we can anticipate international travel will also increase with the use of specialist contract labour sourced from the global pool of talent.

The place becomes an interesting consideration. Offices become a place where a number of people need to be accommodated for various activities.   Planning for work-space flexibility is as important as planning for the number of people. How do you enable people to work on any desk? How do you support the business reconfiguring the office perhaps even day by day to give projects the flexibility they need to perform scrums of intense activity?

“Work is not a place” Mark Templeton, Citrix

The knowledge workplace becomes important for meeting, for collaborating. Within the place spaces would be configured for meetings, group collaboration, concentration, creativity and conferencing including video. Aesthetics and ergonomic design will enable productivity in each space plus allow organizations to express their brand, their vision and their ethos through the way those offices are designed. When considering workplace technology consideration must also be given to what the customer wants to achieve in that location.

The Work Space

Within the workplace we need to consider how the design of each space enables work and how workplace technology, and other technology will be integrated into each space to make that are most productive for the target activities. Each location will have specific requirements and will be optimally used for particular activities. The collaboration focused spaces must be designed to support remote participation, removing the barriers faced by the disadvantaged remote participant. IT must be to help customers understand the value of our services in the context of the activities they need to perform, the work-spaces where those activities are best performed and the range of work-spaces required within various locations.

Work space Considerations
Fixed Workspaces Which work styles and work types really benefit from a fixed desk? What equipment is needed on the desk and what work will be performed? Is telephony required or will mobile telephones/soft phones suffice?

Are two monitors required?

Even if a worker is fixed to a desk they need to be mobile in the office.   How will you support workforce mobility and avoid the “print and meet” model.

Flexible Workspaces If a location needs to deal with activities where staffing levels change over time then flexible work-spaces should be considered. Making workers “desk-less” and allowing the activities to define the allocation of space. How will zoning be performed to allow a sense of belonging?

Will flexible movable furniture be allowed?

How will mobility be supported?

How will the need for periods working at multiple displays be supported?

Concentration Space We all need time to think without distraction or time to write without distraction. How will people be able to work in silence?

How will disruption caused by noise be blocked from quiet zones?

In many concentration areas people need larger screens to produce material, how will this be achieved?

Collaboration Space Collaboration spaces could be open or restricted in order to support several forms of collaboration:·       Ad-hoc small meetings

·       Formal meetings

·       Serendipitous connections


What collaboration styles do you need to support? [Co-development, Coordination, Co-decision, Commitment or Community] (Neal, 2010)

How will your space support remote participants?

What surfaces will be interactive and which interactive surfaces support remote interaction?

Meeting Room A more formal collaboration space where isolation is offered from other spaces.   Typically rooms today have poor lighting, poor acoustics and generally awful audio and video capability. Most have limited though process around surfaces to interact with, remote participants or even the simplest thing like how do different people present data on shared displays. Yet these are the places where the future acts of business are presented to decision makers, these are the places where most expense is spent at bringing people together.

How will the room support remote participants (audio, video, surface interaction)?

How will the room support integration with document and team collaboration sites?

How will network connectivity and charging be provided?

How will temperature and sunlight glare be regulated?

How will switching presenters be achieved?

How will people view content from devices?

Presentation Space Within meetings, in locations where larger audiences can participate a presentation space is the domain of the presenter.

What tools are utilised to ensure the can be heard?

How does the presenter display content?

How does that translate to in person or remote participants?

Operations floor Today the spaces for specialist workers are those which receive either most investment or ar ignored and value lost! For example we all recognize the investment in technology for trading floors and enterprises now need to consider other specialist work areas for similar treatment including call centers, research labs, production line locations and customer service points.

Even the traditional office is becoming a touch point for people to meet and a place to support increased levels of collaboration. The modern office needs to be fully designed to support all the activities that need to be supported. All too often we see aesthetically pleasing designs which tick the “wow” box but use uncovers their functional efficiency for activities is very poor. A good example of work space design comes from GlaxoSmithKline (Allen, 2012) :

GlaxoSmithKline’s new office design enables multiple work-spaces and activities Credit: Drawing, GlaxoSmithKline and Arquitectura e Interiores; photos, Armanda del Vecchio

The Third Space

The other consideration is that beyond the home and office the “third space” is opening up as a place to work. Frank Duffy’s descriptions of the third space are used here and are now accepted by the industry:

  • Private space
    • Private membership establishments designed for doing work
  • Privileged space
    • Spaces that anyone can rent, again designed for doing work
  • Public Space
    • In some cases these areas are designed to sell merchandise (Starbucks etc.) but in other cases these are additions to public buildings where work can be performed (libraries etc.)

When designing our workplace offerings consideration must be given to the needs of the third space. The best aspects of the third space should also be considered as potential features for our offerings and perhaps even leveraging those spaces.

All the elements of the new workplace and the work-spaces within them point to increased needs to support mobility of people within and beyond the office. When considering a client’s workplace technology requirement we need to truly understand how they want to work and not simply engaged to run cables and power on PCs.

High value work spaces

When we began to discuss workplaces in this document we discussed a return on investment. Many workspaces are cost focused but there are many, even today, and likely to grow in future that are value focused – how do we make the people performing an activity as productive and effective as possible while providing a motivational and happy experience. Thinking more of the business – what results do they need to achieve? Is it a value based location or a cost focused location? Contrary to normal investment patterns critical back office locations attract significant investment, and we see good examples of this.


Example: Emergency Service Control Room, St. Gallen Switzerland. For a good example of workplace design for back office functions look below. The image shows a workplace designed to support thinking, decision making, and rapid access to information from various sources as well as communications. The back office function in question is an emergency service control room (St. Gallen, Switzerland, 2007) and the investment per square foot in both workplace technology and physical workplace design is we estimate 50 times that of a standard knowledge worker in a traditional office location:

Emergency Call Center
The Emergency Service Control Room, St Gallen, Switzerland

Image Attribution: (kecko, 2007)

Other high value work spaces include those attributed to critical business processes or revenue. Special consideration needs to be given to user experience design, productivity and continuity of these work spaces as these spaces have significant revenue or delivery impact on the organization .



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