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Important innovation

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Facilities are getting friendlier Kitchenettes and recycling stations feature in workplaces designed to encourage interaction and retain good staff BY SANTA RAYMOND AND ROGER CUNLIFFE

'Architects don't have to live with the results of their work, like facilities managers do,' was a recurring theme at the recent facilities management conference, World Workplace Europe 99, in Gothenburg. 'Architects don't know how to listen; they don't understand business needs; they can't communicate what they are thinking.'

However, architects were also seen as a source of important innovation. This was clearly demonstrated by Joe Pereira, architect in charge of revolutionising workspace at Monsanto, from Berlin to Bombay. He claims that the world needs a different approach from architects; that they are wedded to building 'gravity-dependent structures'.

Disneyland becomes a model for 'experiencing' the environment. Considering the workplace, Pereira asks: 'Would you want your children to work in a place like this?' When interviewing users he not only asks about their work and personal needs but their spiritual ones as well. 'Architects are good at collecting briefing data, but that's history: discovery by users engages the spirit - that's the future'.

Britain's Phil Roberts and Alastair Blyth also made the case for more effective briefing, describing the process at Hertfordshire County Council. There, business problems, opportunities and needs are analysed carefully. The initial focus is on objectives, not solutions; and the danger of jumping to a building solution is thus avoided. baa's 'no-build' approach was also cited.

kpmg Netherlands used the process from briefing through to post-occupancy tweaking to change the mindset of 650 colleagues and 15,000 customers at the kbc Bank in Belgium. Martie Jacobs described 'awakening' as the first step, 'plateau planning' as a series of milestones, the importance of avoiding personnel changes (and thus loss of collective memory) in the project team, and KPMG's formal monitoring system of red, orange and green indicating the level of intervention required. Her diagram showing 'stages of mourning' is a useful tool.

Design featured mainly in the general sense, with Cornell's Sheila Danko crusading for the big vision of designing an effective business process. Tom Peters was quoted: 'Be a design freak - it's the best path to exceptional growth.' Kjell Nordstrom of Sweden's Institute of International Business agreed: 'What now gives the competitive edge are image and ethics.'

In our presentation we talked about design, but in the context of 'friendly facilities', places at work which are designed to encourage interaction and to attract and hold top quality staff. Our slides included Sheppard Robson's Motorola building, which the locals like so much that recruitment is no problem.

This friendliness becomes essential in these uncertain times. Joe Pereira again: 'Change is traumatic because it affects many things, and in unexpected ways. Everyone wants to go to heaven; but no-one wants to die.'

Practical facilities managers queried the relevance of 'famous examples'. Frank Duffy's concept of 'clubs and hives' changed mindsets, but was considered too simple to be truly applicable in these days of 'FeMinisation' (as one speaker said; 'Women are not small men'). Workers are interdependent which members of a club rarely are. Perhaps the office as a village, a community, bringing together groups of cottage workers, is a more apt concept today. According to Dion Kooijman of Delft University of Technology, we should look to the way city planners work, where time, evolution and chance are all part of the mix.

James Woudhuysen of de Montfort University tossed out some controversial findings: paperlessness - 'scanning will always take for ever'; computers - 'how would you feel if your car failed as often as your computer?'; flexible work practices - 'British firms aren't flexing'.

Presentations about offices in Gothenburg, and subsequent visits both there and in Stockholm, were revealing. Architect Carl-Johan Lindfors explained his scheme for Goteborg Energi ab - designed to encourage new workways and to save money. The net area per person was, however, targeted at 20m2.

We saw both 'free-range' workspaces and cellular offices. 'Walls keep the cigar smoke in,' our guide told us, but there were also smoking rooms in each place we visited. Adjustable-height desks (often being used standing) and ergonomic chairs were everywhere. Cabling was mainly around the perimeter or in the ceiling, with solid floors, mostly linoleum finished, and carpeted walkway areas neatly flushed in.

There was less timber than one might expect. Colours were bright and varied, often with patterned drapes as well as blinds at the windows. Triple-glazing was standard, but we noted no special lighting to counteract winter sadness. The lighting was surprisingly unsophisticated and un-energy- conscious with, for instance, ambient lighting provided by low-voltage spots at Cap Gemini.

However, recycling stations were in prime positions, sitting boldly by the receptionist. So too were kitchenettes. These occurred frequently as part of the workspace. As in France, staff use the microwaves provided to recycle last night's leftovers.

Sustainability is now high on architects' design agendas, in building construction and use. However, the poor attendance at the excellent presentation by the chairman of cibse Facilities Management Group, Jim Ure, indicated that facilities managers are less concerned.

The most staggering discovery was of a major European city on an fm buying spree. The civic head visited the conference in order to find firms to help outsource all the city services: work not only for facilities people, but for designers and constructors as well!

Touting for work was certainly a feature of the conference, with consultants and academics appearing to outnumber facilities managers. But there were also wonderful visions. Kjell Nordstrom filled the room with ideas, such as: 'Marx said workers should own the critical resources for production. Now they do - knowledge.' And, reminding us about globalisation: 'Nation states have gone - Madonna, Pavarotti and radioactivity don't care about them.'

Change is taking place in every sector, but as Jan Bengtsson of Goteborg Energi said: 'ttt - Things Take Time.' Or in Swedish, Ting Tar Tid.

World Workplace Europe 99 was held in Gothenburg from 30 May to 1 June 1999.

Santa Raymond and Roger Cunliffe are founders of SRC Workplace Strategists. They advise organisations that need to change their physical environments to facilitate new and integrated work practices. They lecture in Britain and abroad. Their book Tomorrow's Office - creating effective and humane interiors, is published in the UK by E & FN Spon, and in Italy by UTET as Progettazione di uffici.

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