Flexible work spaces…. and sheep

Offices are changing, the way we work is changing and it’s happening very fast. Gone are the days of sitting in the same desk every day, large corner workstations – one per person, a couple of storage cabinets each, the MD in his private office, the PA as the gate-keeper… Things have moved on. The office now is about communication, collaboration and adaptability. Offices now are fun; inspirational and exciting places to be – well at least they can be. Changes in technology mean we no longer need paper copies of everything; I can’t even remember the last time I hand wrote something. We don’t need massive desks, in fact the desk could even be a bar counter, treadmill, or bike (I kid you not – these are reality now)…  treadmill-desk


They might seem extremely silly, but they’re not really designed to be sat at by one person all day, in the same way that standard workstations are no longer really designed to be sat at all day. Modern office design includes soft seating for informal meetings, touchdown areas for staff that are just looking for a space to check their emails prior to “the big meeting”, private skype booths, brainstorm rooms with walls you write on, in fact different working environments for different activities, which when you think about it makes perfect sense.

You can even get “meeting sheep”……


The use of soft seating in an office.

These days with rising office rentals the main request we get is for an office maximisation exercise, in other words we are asked to produce space plans that show the maximum number of workstations above all else. However, when designing an office layout it is also important to include soft seating and breakout areas too. This is not just as it is nice to have comfy seating; they act an as important tool in encouraging communication.

In an office design where there are just desks the staff would tend to have casual conversations only with the staff that they sit opposite or adjacent to, meaning that the sales staff chat with the sales staff and the marketing staff chat with the marketing staff. However by introducing breakout areas with comfy seating and perhaps a coffee machine you are encouraging staff to remain in the office during their breaks and are much more likely to sit and chat with someone from another department. This could mean that that important sales lead could be picked up from a chat between someone from sales and marketing.

Soft seating also helps you to put more desking into an office design without it looking like a chicken run. It visually breaks up the space and that in turn allows you to make the desk areas denser. They also help with keeping noise levels down both by breaking up the runs of desks, and also by giving staff a space to chat (rather than shouting over desks). They can be used for informal meetings, which can free up a meeting room, and can make meetings feel less formal (it’s a lot less threatening to be called for a chat on a sofa, than to be called into a meeting room).

Finally soft seating is often the one point that you can make a design statement in a modern rented office. Often the majority of walls are glazed or covered with full height storage cabinets, meaning that you only have the flooring (which you may not want to change), the columns (if there are any) and the furniture to play with design-wise. Most desks tend to be fairly functional  and although you can choose a funky fabric for the chairs, most offices would again choose functionality over form. However a piece of soft seating can be like a sculpture in a large open plan office, and a statement piece such as the Egg Chair (see below) can make an ordinary office look like a funky modern office.


A few simple pieces of furniture can transform you office design – don’t overlook breakout areas and soft seating!

So you’ve been asked to sort out your office – part 4

Here is part 4 in our guide to improving your office accommodation

Efficiency of your furniture.

The first thing to decide when looking at your office furniture is are you looking to keep all, some, or none of it? If you are looking to re-use your existing furniture is it used in the most efficient layout, or do you have pockets of wasted space? Is it possible to re-use old furniture in a new way; for example , the big old corner (L-shaped) desks that were the standard 20 years ago often used a desk high pedestal drawer unit to make up the return.  This gave the desk a very large, and very deep footprint, but with some pedestals you can remove the wheels to re-use as under desk pedestals. This then gives you a reduced footprint allowing you to fit in more desks at no extra expense.

The latest trend in office design is for bench desking, where you have a run of straight desks together that can be used by more people when required (as no-one has a fixed amount of that bench space). On a quiet day the bench could be used by 6 staff (3 down each side), but then on a busy day it could be used by 10 (5 each side).  The key to getting bench desking that works is ensuring that there aren’t desk legs or fixed pedestals that  limit where people can sit. If you have old straight desks that are all at the same height and have recessed legs then you may be able to put together as a cut price bench system.

Office storage is another area where you can look to improve your efficiency. You will tend to find that staff will expand to fill whatever storage is available and often will store paper for years without accessing it. Wherever possible we advise scanning and remote storage; this maximises the amount of space in the office for staff. If you do have a lot of storage cabinets see if you can use them instead of screening, they make excellent sound barriers due to the density of the paper within.

The first step however should always be an audit of what you have and where it is; we would recommend producing an “as existing” CAD plan so you know exactly what you have and then you can determine how efficient your layout and furniture is.

So you’ve been asked to sort out your office – part 3

Here is part 3 in our guide to improving your office accommodation

Assessing current requirements and future proofing.

In order to produce an effective and efficient office layout it is first important to understand what your requirements for the space actually are. As discussed last week, getting a grasp of your head count figures is a vital start point, but equally it is important to know how the staff need to use the space. A typical call centre will often have a density of about 4-5 square metres per person, whereas a standard office is usually closer to 8-9 square metres per person. This is due to differences in the requirements of the staff; generally most call centres have relatively little paper storage (the majority of stored information being on the computer rather than in a filing cabinet). As everything that they need tends to be stored on the computer this allows for smaller desks, and a higher overall density. Equally a solicitors’ office that relies heavily on paper filing, tends to have much larger desks and often even individual cellular offices. Office design and space planning is clearly linked to job role, and staff requirements. It is worth analysing your current storage – staff tend to expand to fill whatever space is available, whether they need it or not, so a storage audit can be a good idea, this can identify what quantity of storage you have, how much of it is free, and who it belongs to.


Future proofing can be much more tricky, it can be hard to predict if your business is going to expand or contract and yet you need to build in some contingency without being wasteful when designing your office. We would always recommend building in some flexible space when designing an office. This could be a training room, that could become a hot desk room, or a call centre office and adapt to changes in your working requirements, or an open plan area with breakout seating that could be converted into standard desking should you require it. It is important to look at head count figures for the last couple of years and estimated growth figures to factor in possible changes, but also it is worth looking at trends in workplace ergonomics; the introduction of the flat screen monitor had a huge impact on office design as it allowed for desks without the deep corner required by CRT monitors. Moving forward expect to see more and more paperless offices as more tasks are done electronically, and an increase in sharing information, where several users can collaborate on one document at the same time. This can mean smaller desks, but a greater need for collaboration spaces, such as breakout chairs, meeting tables and coffee areas.

Next week we’ll look at office furniture and how it can impact on your office design

So you’ve been asked to sort out your office – part 2

Here is part 2 in our guide to improving your office.

Headcount – establishing your how many staff actually work in your office may seem a quick and easy task of just counting how many employees you have, however with so many different ways of working in the modern workplace it is worth investing a little time. First, do you have any job sharers, or part time workers? Do you have staff that work from home some or all of the time? Do you have staff that could hotdesk, or that are on the road / out on site a lot of the time? It may be worth investing in a time and motion study; this is an exercise whereby your office is monitored over a typical day or week, and at set times every day each desk is checked to see if it is being used. The results of these are often surprising – with absences, meetings, training, holidays, lunches etc desks are often in use less than 50% of the time. However this doesn’t mean you can get rid of half your desks, as there are always peak hours (the 9am sign in for example). A time and motion study will help you to understand what your requirements are and for when, and efficient space planning will make the most of the office space you have helping you to keep costs low and plan for the future.

Next week we’ll be discussing how you establish what your current requirements actually are and how to ensure your office design is future proof.

Planning for an office move – part 2

The best way to ensure that the actual move goes smoothly is to begin with an “as existing” space plan that shows your current office design and layout, and has each item of furniture identified with a code number. This plan can then be printed out at large scale, or emailed to all your staff, allowing them to add the identifying code to each item of furniture (we can recommend companies that can do this also using low-tack adhesive labels that are attached to every item of furniture). Then at the new site, a large printed plan shows the same furniture with identifier codes showing the porters exactly where each item of furniture should be moved to. This simple system ensures that you don’t end up with bits of furniture in the wrong places, and therefore ensures that your new office design will be put in place accurately and in accordance with the proposed plans. If you would like more advice about office moves, give us a call on 0845 166 8381.