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OFFICE ENVIRONMENT

TECHNICAL & PRACTICE

Hot desking, cold calling, boiling kettles, freezing conditions, lukewarm receptions, warm words, chill-out zones, cool responses, heated arguments. Just another day at the office, dear.

Many books have tried to take the temperature of workplace design, and the latest is yet another of CABE's interminable reports.

Unfortunately, in 16 pages, it tells us absolutely nothing except, of course, that there is little 'hard data' but asserting that what research there is has missed the changing nature of technology-driven workplaces.

'Such new directions, ' it says (meaning mobile and remote technologies), 'emphasise the need for further research on issues such as workplace connectivity and social network analysis.' Groan.

Meanwhile, Jacqueline Vischer's new book 2 should have been on CABE's reading list.

A straightforward text by an environmental psychologist (groan), it is a simple guide to increasing comfort and efficiency in offices - not that the two necessarily go hand in hand. It has the merit of being based on real research and reaching conclusions that have meaning. Admittedly, it contains loads of Freudian guff, and its assumptions are challengeable, but at least it deigns to put its head above the parapet.

Using real examples, she suggests that companies decide to change their workplace environments variously for economic, cultural, design and/or functional reasons. The economic driver, for example, tends to mean fitting more people into less space, 'usually accompanied by a parallel interest in maintaining or increasing productivity.' Conversely, it might make sense to have more space if it reflects one's brand.

The book is a guide to changing the working environment in ways that will keep staff happy. But just like the CABE report, the dynamic in the book is a fear of staff 'churn'. The idea that companies need to keep their staff happy is a symptom of corporate defensiveness.

Historically, profitable production made staff happy, not the other way around.

Vischer has seven principles of transformation, which I will reduce to: change is imperative;

it should be continuous; and it should engage staff in decisionmaking. This is the ultimate 'involvement' exercise. It is office politics for the counselling generation.

('Conflict is inevitable; steps must be taken to manage constructively the energy it releases, to the advantage of the change process.') Meanwhile, the British Council for Offices' booklet 3 tells you everything you need to know to show that you've thought about the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).

It pulls together information from Building Regulations, Approved Documents, British Standards, as well as the DDA, good practice and case histories.

It is a simple, invaluable, idiot's guide to ticking the right boxes.

With so much written about accessible, efficient, manageable, transformative, adaptive or even playful office environments, it is a wonder than any work ever gets done.

Over the page, we explore a case study looking at YRM's move to premises in Kings' Cross.

Will it increase productivity, staff retention and minimise sick leave? We will follow its progress.

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