Office space: the final frontier
An innovative company is aiming to raise the profile of the modern office, says VERNON BAXTER
IF WE are to remember Friedrich von Schelling’s famous adage that ‘architecture in general is frozen music’, a swift glance at modern offices would suggest that many companies are more likely to hit pause on MTV than Mozart. Yet the shift away from traditional, one worker/one desk models, reflects less on a new generation’s preference for iPod-chic and more on the growing awareness of how office design can effect everything from productivity to marketing.
Modern off ices are fast becoming as important as a company’s website and advertising campaigns for conveying an impression of a business and its values, not least when it comes to recruitment. Smart office design, however, is more than skin deep. Inefficient use of space, poor allocation of technology and a jarring aesthetic appearance cost companies real money on a daily basis. This is perhaps due to a traditionally negative approach many companies continue to take towards interior design.
“The interior of a property is generally classed as an overhead, not an asset,” suggests David Eastlake, managing director of the Eastlake Group, a company that specialises in the facilities support sector. “If it is planned well your office interior can work as an asset
rather than a cost; it can be a catalyst for growth’.
A testament to Eastlake’s remark is the handy bit of internal redecorating he carried out himself in August 2003, when leading a management buyout of Georgesons. The company was renamed the Eastlake group in January 2004 and since then staff numbers have leapt from 56 to 130 and turnover has also doubled to around £28m. Rapid development has also meant that the Eastlake group is now operating from nine locations across the UK, as opposed to the two offices from which Georgesons functioned. By shifting the emphasis of the business from primarily selling product to providing a design consultancy service, Eastlake has invigorated the company.
‘If you look at businesses in our sector they primarily have a sales force that go out and sell because most businesses purchase their office environment every ten years. You sell it and move on to the next one. We haven’t invested heavily in sales but rather in service. Don’t get me wrong, the old approach still works ; if you don’t sell anything you have nothing to service. But if you take a proactive approach and continue to bring new ideas to the customer, you have a fairly powerful business model.’
Considering the perpetual expense of updating technology, meeting various health and safety regulations and simply maintaining an office space, there remains a suspicion among many businesses that something as intangible as interior design is, well, a bit fluffy; a frivolous budget that keeps the creative director happy, not a legitimate area for hard business results. Eastlake realises that it is vital to understand the culture of each business. ‘The three things that must work in an off ice are architecture, furniture and technology but these must be assimilated with the people and the culture of the business. If the people don’t buy into it then you’ve spent a whole lot of money for nothing.’
Office space is about more than business culture for some employees; it is about the human desire to personalise (or territorialise) their surroundings. Considering businesses ask employees to commit the majority of their waking hours to the company shouldn’t they at least expect their own desk? Not if they want to put the company first and consider a building’s potential, argues Eastlake. ‘ An office shouldn’t be about representing one person, one desk; i t should be a hub of communication. If you only spend 20% of your time in the office you don’t necessarily need a desk, you need somewhere to work when you are there.’
Part of the problem is that when an employee sees the plans for a new interior
design and his name is not on any of the desks he might feels devalued, or even threatened. If management is strong enough to implement change, however, the returns are potentially great. While improvements in working space might seem a small-scale change if it means the difference between maintaining four buildings rather than five suddenly you start your business starts to save a lot of money and property is released back to your estate.
‘People and property are the greatest costs for most businesses. If we can get more out of their people or save them on property costs, or make their property sweat more for them, then we have helped them achieve an efficient working environment.’
While Eastlake’s comments may not inspire quite the same metaphysical contemplation as von Schelling’s, you would think even the great German philosopher would agree he has a point.
David Eastlake is working to make office interiors a catalyst for growth
Eastlake’s design consultancy aims to understand the culture of each business