Of­fice space: the fi­nal fron­tier

An in­no­va­tive com­pany is aiming to raise the profile of the mod­ern of­fice, says VER­NON BAX­TER

The Herald Business - - Focus On Design -

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

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