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Welcome to the dark side…

26th November 2012
Luke Connoley

Lighting is often a controversial issue in workplaces. So many people with different preferences are all contained in one place, usually with fixed and centrally-controlled lighting. Some of the more agile workplaces are beginning to increase the variety of sources that light comes from in the workplace – introducing varied ceiling lighting, task lighting, decorative lighting and informative lighting. This can both provide variety across a workplace which employees can then choose by moving around, and it can add an element of user-controlled choice.

Natural light is also an important factor in this. Developers still often construct buildings whose footprint occupies near enough the whole area of the site – creating large floor plates with huge central cores. No amount of floor-to-ceiling glass can counteract the effect of a stiflingly large floor plate which only has perimeter light. Occupiers know this and are increasingly choosing to create natural light sources throughout the building – with light wells and central staircases. Macquarie Bank’s London head office is a prime example of this, where they punched through 10 floors of a new building to allow light in, and created a beautiful asymmetric staircase to bring the activity of the business to the fore.

The central tenet of belief in this realm, it seems, is that more light is better. Two rays bad, four rays good.

Yet in the midst of all this focus on light, we have seen a fascinating example of a workplace which has concluded that darker is better. No, this is not a photographic studio nor is it a cinema. EA Games’ global headquarters in Redwood Shores, California (part way between San Francisco and Silicon Valley) is a campus of four buildings set around a green central square. Nothing out of the ordinary, you might think. But in a significant part of one of the buildings – where the game developers work – there is darkness. Or at least that similar level of darkness achieved in a teenager’s bedroom with the curtains still drawn at midday. Which, explains EA’s Vice President of Global Real Estate Curt Wilhelm, is exactly the point. The people who are drawn to game development (and the people EA wants to attract) are those who have grown up being semi-nocturnal and playing games for hours and hours on end in the semi darkness.

So EA Games has created a home from home for them, with very little natural light, low ceiling lighting and three-quarter height cubicles. Walking round there is an odd calm and silence, yet when you look closer, simultaneously one of activity and creation. You or I may not wish to work in the dark, but it seems there are some who do. Is it time to consider their needs as strongly as we currently do for those who want sunshine and light wells?

In unusual workplace

New London, new work? Will the Olympics drive a move to new ways of working?

25th July 2012
Luke Connoley

Much has been written about the long- and short-term effects that London 2012 will have on the workplace. About what its legacy will be. To make way for London’s visitors on our transport network over the next few weeks, we are being encouraged to change our journey – travel earlier or later – or to avoid making the journey in the first place. TfL, train operating companies and Locog have been pushing this message for months, with the final rallying cry provided by our Mayor Boris with his colourful announcements on our bus and tube tannoys in the past few weeks.

The theory is that through forcing us to make changes to avoid the predicted additional 1 million daily visitors (a staggering 2 million extra armpits daily on the tube!), we will think about how we work. And how we can work more flexibly. Once we have done this once, why wouldn’t we do it after the crowds have receded and the excitement calmed?

It is a tempting argument to agree with. A sudden change forces individuals to change their well-established habits – and then settle into the new habits thereafter. A line of worker ants coming across a new stone in their well worn path comes to mind – and is strangely reminiscent of train cancellations on the Northern Line. But there are two powerful factors pushing the other way. In a time of continuing economic uncertainty, presenteeism in the office is on the increase. People are feeling a greater need to be seen in the office to show they are a productive and important part of the team. If people are not seen, will they be forgotten? And will they then be the first to be ‘let go’ if the worst happens? Are individuals prepared to take the risk that their managers understand how to judge by results and not by presence?

Secondly, flexibility at work is only achieved when both the organisation and its management embrace a new way of working. Will disruptions over the 17 days of the Olympics and more minor disruption over the Paralympics really change the minds of corporate boards regarding the workplace? It’s very possible that there will be instances of this happening, but will it be widespread and herald a pervasive change?

The drive towards new ways of working within an organisation usually has a strong champion in the management hierarchy. In most cases, without the charisma and energy of such a champion, change simply doesn’t happen. Or the change is so piecemeal that the benefits of flexibility are not felt by the individual or the organisation, and are not measured. If benefits are not measured, the smallest cost increase or budget cut can end a flexibility programme. The Olympics will be an opportunity for any new ways of working champion (or champion-in-waiting) to launch a campaign to bring change in an organisation’s workplace – and will provide a fantastic start off the block. But how many champions-in-waiting are there?

I suspect that Locog’s legacy team don’t list workplace change and innovation very high on their catalogue of Olympic legacies, but arguably if the Olympics does have a widespread influence on flexibility at work, it will be the most tangible daily legacy that the majority of the population feel.

The real impact of the Olympics on the workplace is very difficult to predict, whatever the strong views on either side. It’s a penetrating question whose answer will affect millions. Who knows the answer? This is, as Mayor Boris keeps reminding us, ‘the big one’.

In future of work

A walled garden 18 storeys above Canary Wharf

11th July 2012
Luke Connoley

Medieval castles had their drawbridges, palaces have their triumphal arches, and suburban terraces have their garden gates and porches; making a statement at an entrance has always been important, it’s human nature. Many office buildings have large atria for much the same reason, yet the lift lobbies on each floor are as much an entranceway – and to some extent more so – to a workplace, yet for the most part they are dull. Monochrome walls and monochrome floor interrupted only by the metallic lift doors. Does this need to be so? I would argue not. It is both relatively cheap to bring a sense of energy to a life lobby – with decals of images or branding – and important to inspire employees as they enter their place of work. It sets the tone for the rest of the floor.

Credit Suisse in Cabot Square, Canary Wharf have been piloting new ways of working on one of their floors, as part of which they have done just that – created a lively and energising lobby which echoes the theme of the floor’s design with images of London icons. These images and other London icons are visually repeated and manifested physically throughout the floor, including two London telephone boxes with both Bakelite and VoIP phones inside. The new ways of working floor which Credit Suisse has created is an impressive space for 250 employees, with a variety of zones nestled in amongst each other differentiated by elements of design which show instinctively what mood and activities each caters for.

Credit Suisse Garden Canary WharfThere are lounge zones for small ad hoc meetings (complete with great coffee machines), quiet zones for concentrated individual work, project zones for intense collaboration, bookable and non-bookable meeting rooms, individual soundproof pods for conducting teleconferences and other confidential work in, drop-in pods for those 15 minute gaps between meetings, as well as ‘traditional’ open desk zones.

Two spatial innovations I was particularly impressed by were the ‘garden’ zones and the ‘view seats’. The garden zones had individual workspaces nestled in amongst a variety of plants. The zones were partially enclosed, creating an incredible impression of being in a walled garden, albeit 18 floors up and with great views over London. I know which zone I would head to each morning. The view seats are also an interesting idea – though not practical for every office space – these are individual seats with a small table looking directly out over London, allowing employees to drop-in for some creative thinking, for five minutes away from the buzz of the rest of the floor, or just to eat their sandwiches with a view to look at.

There are some great innovations in the technology throughout the floor, alongside the elements which are necessary for new ways of working – universal laptops and pervasive WiFi access. The power source of each of the ‘desks’ have several plug sockets but also include USB power sockets, making the charging of phones, tablets and headsets far easier. The individual lockers (the only 1:1 ratio on the floor!) are locked and released by an electronic PIN mechanism, avoiding the need for padlocks. Finally, there is a ‘laptop hotel’, a room where employees can leave their laptops in secure drawers plugged into power and the network, allowing them to access the network remotely through their laptops.

The floor is part of a global programme currently in three locations – Singapore (200 users), Zurich (2,700 users) and London (250 users). I look forward to seeing the long term results of the programme as it is rolled out even more widely across Credit Suisse offices globally. The results from pilots have been very positive with a large majority of users preferring this new style of working.

In New Ways of Working Case Studies

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