Our workplaces must inevitably reflect what we do and the tools we use. When these change, so must our workplaces. Existing offices are becoming both inefficient and unsustainable as todays communication technologies becoming more pervasive, whilst social contacts becoming more important and more diverse. The workplace is evolving into a distributed form, rather than the static model many businesses have become accustomed to.
New economy is characterised by an increasing virtualisation of products, processes, organisations and relationships. The ‘virtualised office’ relies heavily on highly motivated individual who are enabled by technology to have high degree of autonomy and who use face-to-face interaction to increase the richness of their business transactions. Alternative models for offices must include greater flexibility in use of space and time; location of office being far less constrained; meeting rooms becoming more significant. The office is however not an obsolete factor to the workplace, but a place for stimulating intellect and creativity. The prevailing workplace paradigm is office workers are employed within dedicated office buildings, often remote from other urban and social functions. The questions raised are where should work environments be located? Should we house office workers in dedicated buildings or elsewhere?
Alternative way of thinking of the office:
‘Rather than thinking of the office as a place primarily for solitary activity, from which one breaks out in time and space to settings intended for social activity, the office is designed primarily as a social setting where one occasionally seeks escapism and solidarity’ (Harrison, A. 2003, p.19)
The current workplace environment has introduced challenges of the individual using time effectively and for the organisation controlling a dispersed workforce whilst maintaining a collaborative team that generates new ideas and pushing the company forward. Social settings promote collaborative workspace, providing high yielding productivity for an organisation, whilst supporting a nomadic work style. Here you begin to see blurring boundaries of places used for work purposes and private life. For this to succeed, hybrid structures of physical and virtual spaces must be designed.
Evaluating the workplace, flexibility of location of work and of employment will have to be matched by a range of intelligent building offering that are equally mobile, responsive and varied. A complete reliance on electronic communication is insufficient in the pursuit of establishment and maintenance of trust; establishment of a common system of values and norms; establishment of team awareness and group cohesion; communication of visions and motivation. Here we must develop a model that acknowledges, and is applicable to, the increasingly complex and disaggregated nature of the modern workplace.
When investigating the space environment, the office provides and reinforces the identity of the organisation. Providing a unified framework of space, human environment and processes and tools, modelling for the creation of sustainable, collaborative workplace that encompasses both virtual and physical space. It is suggested that the workspace of the future will be broken down into smaller units distributed across the city, including both suburban and urban space. These spaces should embrace the reuse of existing buildings to provide a sustainable evolution of the office environment. This dispersal of office space allows for a potential reduction in commuting and allow for a suitable matching of work environment to the task required. The three divisions of workspace; work environment; work arena (collection of work settings); work settings (desk and chair etc) need no longer be constrained by traditional office buildings. It is important to state that ‘place’ is still important, encouraging formal interactions and team building. This place of work should be based on a consideration not just of the immediate activity plus individual personal preference, but also the wider organisational context.
For the effective sustainable accommodation of the distributed workplace to work, intensification of the use of space and time needs to be implemented. This intensification of space will reduce the large amount of waste associated with working and living in cities. Along with this, a reduction of waste, ensuring energy efficiency and a business organisation that acts more responsibly towards the employees. The need is for a broadened functional space, increasing flexibility and accessibility and thus providing a mixed realm of public and private. Sustainability needs to be looked at in a more holistic view, such as the commute to work and the adaptability of a building recycled decades over a number of uses. The global outlook suggests extending the traditional 9-5, to a 24/7 business work; emphasising blurring boundaries of places used for work and private life. This increase in employee mobility and autonomy result in the development of a ‘spongy space’, space ostensibly supporting one type of function while actually acting as support space for work. The holistic evaluation must provide a sustainable social life of the individual, working community and wider community.
The distributed workplace. By Andrew Harrison, Paul Wheeler, Carolyn Whitehead