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'No one dies wishing they had spent more time at the office.' A maxim for a work-life balance if ever there was one. However, the Financial Times Best Workplaces 2005 survey suggests that quite a few of us would be willing to spend much more of our lives in the office, so pleasant an environment have they become. Or at least that's what we are led to believe by the somewhat breathless testimonials trotted out by dutiful staff, viz: 'I apply the 'Sunday evening' test - I used to dread the following morning, now I positively look forward to the next week at work.' Or, in the case of manufacturer and survey participant WL Gore, 'nobody here has a boss'.

Very few, if any, of the best companies to work for in the survey stated that their physical environment was important in recruiting and retaining staff. Buildings were seldom mentioned, and when they were it was more to do with the facilities contained within them than the quality of space or their location.

These factors, above all, can have an effect on how valued a workforce feels, which is (shock, horror) the primary ingredient for happy staff. Take, for instance, Gore's non-hierarchical management structure. How might this be embodied in a workplace setting? An example of this might be consulting engineer Gifford's new campus building in Southampton (see pages 45-47), where the 'open' ethos is reflected in the way the studio is constructed. Workplaces that facilitate interaction, trust and - of course - work, are popular with everybody, no matter what their position in the overall scheme of things might be.

Offices vary in their approach, from totally personal space (the cellular office) to the other extreme, The Democratic Republic of Hotdesking. The former favours hierarchy and limits interaction but emphasises 'value' (for a few at least). The latter flattens hierarchies to such an extent that it may be hard to feel valued at all.

The schemes in this MetalWorks supplement present a happy medium - a medium in touch with all those who died wishing they had spent more time in the office perhaps?

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