04/12/2001 - 21:00

Workplace evolution an office revolution

04/12/2001 - 21:00


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EVOLVING management structures and rapidly changing technologies are forcing workplace environments to become more flexible to ensure they maintain their relevance.

Workplace evolution an office revolution
EVOLVING management structures and rapidly changing technologies are forcing workplace environments to become more flexible to ensure they maintain their relevance.

As businesses begin to adopt flatter management structures and place greater emphasis on teamwork, workplace environments will be modified to include more and varied meeting rooms, according to interior designers.

Meeting rooms of various sizes will be needed to cater for different teams and will, in the future, need to have facilities to allow video-link and Internet use.

But formal meeting rooms will not be the only spaces to be upgraded, according to Blake Thornton Smith Designers director Ben Blake.

“Social areas, or pause areas, are areas where informal discussion takes place ... and firms may sometimes use these areas to sit down with their clients over a coffee,” Mr Blake said.

“These areas need to have more freedom and colour and can often be a bit quirky.”

Work areas also are expected to undergo a small revolution, as the practice of ‘hotelling’ or ‘hot-desking’ workstations becomes more common.

Companies looking to use space efficiently will study the work patterns of their employees and those who do not need to be in the office are likely be moved to share a series of workstations.

Interiors Australia associate Murray Simcock said the shared workstations, while not appropriate for all staff members, would increase an office’s flexibility.

“There may be 50 workstations in an office which can be shared between 70 people. Staff can have their own mobile cabinet, which they move to a desk when they are in,” Mr Simcock said.

“And it also means employees can travel across the country, booking a workstation ahead of them so when they arrive they are able to start work immediately.”

However, when implementing this practice, businesses need to closely analyse the requirements of employees.

One of the greatest challenges facing businesses in creating effective work environments was integrating technology with the ‘human factor’, according to Hayworth Australia national sales manager Dave Thompson.

This meant making the workplace as comfortable as possible for employees through use of office furniture, technology and design.

Mr Thompson said office furniture in particular could have a great impact on employees’ health, citing a study based on the fact that humans can shrink by about two per cent of their height each day through the compression of spinal fluid. While asleep, humans ‘stretch out’ to their normal height.

“We set up two groups and kept one sitting at their desks each day, and they continued to shrink by about two per cent,” Mr Thompson said.

“However, the other group were seated at a sit-to-stand desk, allowing them to work standing up for a period of time, and we found this group only shrunk by one per cent ... we believe this must be healthy.”

Mr Thompson said adjustable office furniture would become more popular but noted office layout also could be used to make sure employees moved around during the day.

This could be done by locating office equipment, such as printers and faxes, and social areas and kitchens a longer distance from workstations. The next wave of technology to be integrated into workplaces will be wireless and voice recognition tech-nology, Mr Thompson said.

Voice recognition technology in particular will present a fresh set of challenges.

“Voice recognition technology is developing and will be used ... but can you imagine an office where everyone is talking to their computers?” he said. “It will present a new set of layout and acoustic challenges.”

Mr Blake said while wireless technology meant less cabling through the office, it was not yet the answer, as it raised security issues.

“It does mean that people can go down to a coffee shop and work on their laptop but there are still questions about their security,” he said. “At the moment, businesses are using raised floors to place cables, instead of having them run under desks and chairs.”


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