Following the referendum result, we have seen a spike in enquiries for flexible workspace solutions. A lot has been said about uncertainty making it more difficult for businesses to plan ahead and the companies we are speaking to have told us that they want the flexibility to change at a later date. Instead of building walls and altering building services to suit, new free-standing furniture based solutions and modular office pods can future-proof a workspace. A flexible fit out solution makes the need to plan ahead less of a headache by allowing the office landscape to be rearranged, or installations to be moved from one office to another or dissembled and stored.
We are currently talking to an international recruitment firm who have taken up space in the Shard at London Bridge. With a number of big companies announcing in the media that they intend to put their recruitment plans on hold, they have asked us to design a scheme that can adapt to their future requirements. As with many consultancy based businesses, work patterns have changed and staff no longer need or want to be tied to a desk. With the future moving towards Activity Based Working (ABW) as technology creates new possibilities, they appreciate the need to have a choice of settings that enable staff to work from a phone, tablet or laptop – or maybe to have that impromptu chat without occupying an expensive meeting room. With others it can be harder to break tradition until it’s borne out of necessity so Brexit could be the catalyst for change.
With innovation in modular construction, there are now more options than ever. Suppliers are creating standalone meeting pods, essentially a room within a room where panels are erected to create a fully equipped pod with walls, a ceiling, ventilation, lighting, power and even audio-visual equipment. Office furniture and room systems manufacturer König + Neurath AG are creating exactly this sort of thing. The rooms are built out of prefabricated components that can be disassembled and relocated. If you build a room out of glass and plasterboard, it’s stuck in that place forever. Modular pods are designed to be demountable so you can move them quickly and inexpensively to meet operational change, or take them with you when you move office.
Flexible solutions can offer a huge cost benefit. If you can’t plan ahead with any certainty or you have a short lease, you won’t want to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds building something that’s fixed. Not only will you waste money building it, but there are also the removal and reinstatement costs. For the law firm RHW Solicitors, we compared the cost of constructing individual offices to the cost of partitioning them off with high performance acoustic separation screens and the saving was around 40 percent. With some of that saving we also installed an electronic sound masking system to further improve the acoustic privacy.
Flexible is multi-functional
We were recently asked by a PR company called Big Mouth Media to create an adaptable space that could be used for entertaining clients. We used demountable folding walls which meant that the space could be opened up for an event or divided back into smaller meeting rooms. Another solution is to use specialist furniture. You can create meeting settings using high backed sofas that provide privacy, cocoon chairs that shield you from background noise, or you could have a high table collaboration point station. Most furniture is completely mobile and can be relocated quickly. This, like hot desking, is great for maximising efficiency, but the space has to be able to cater for the odd occasions when everyone’s in the office. With these solutions, it means some people can sit at desks while others sit on a sofa in a breakout area with their tablet or laptop.
Boost to productivity
A flexible approach can increase social interactions and the sharing of knowledge, expertise and ideas that goes with it. Being tied to a single workstation often means you only interact with those around you, particularly in larger companies. Research shows that having more face-to-face interactions can increase sales or new-product launches – and companies such as Facebook and Samsung have redesigned their offices specifically to increase ‘people collisions’.
Flexible is the future and means that the office landscape can be adapted to suit ABW. Brexit may mean more enquiries for flexible accommodation because of the cost benefits and ability to adapt in uncertain times, but anything that enables people to work more easily, in greater comfort, quicker and at lower cost is bound to happen regardless. Brexit could fast-forward the future of the workplace.
Guy Crabb is the managing director at workplace design and build contractor ODB Group.