Respecting personal space

Forget what you think you know about office storage solutions because things are changing to meet the new needs of workers, writes Helen Owen, director of new business here at Bisley.

Originally published in architects datafile on Wednesday 13 July 2016. 

It is no longer possible to consider office furniture solely in terms of the traditional discrete elements of desk, seating and storage.

A combination of the post-banking crisis economic squeeze, liberating advances in communication technology and a heterogeneous staff mix of Baby Boomers, Gen-X’ers and New Millennials has altered the office landscape forever. Individual and team-working can just as easily be undertaken at occasional furniture in a break-out or catering area as it can be at a traditional workstation or in a meeting room.

What the next generation office requires is a mix of furniture types that can be flexed to suit changing needs, however, even in the digital age we all still have stuff that needs to be stored!

The nature of office storage has changed beyond all recognition. This shift has been driven by two key factors, firstly the shift in emphasis of what needs to be stored and secondly the evolution of working practices to increased flexibility and mobility. While the completely paperless office has eluded us, there is no doubt that there is less paper filing, matched by the corresponding growth in demand for personal storage provision, often of higher value items – laptops, iPads and cycling helmets.

Culture & technology
Beyond the physicality of the space there are also cultural issues to consider. If we can all work from home – why are organisations still spending huge amounts of money on their real estate?

The truth is actually reassuring; in our increasingly digital world that enables remote access to everything, human contact is becoming more valuable, and the necessity for companies to maintain a sense of belonging for nomadic workers is more critical and challenging.

Design is a major component in achieving this; it has the ability to support and uphold the culture of a business, brand and values, ensuring that the environment is somewhere that employees and customers want to be. Workers need to feel connected to the space, so while they may no longer have their own allocated desk they do have somewhere to ‘store their stuff’, alongside workspaces which are appropriate to the task in hand.

The tools required for work today have had a marked effect on the type of storage provided. While not likely to be wholly nomadic, many individuals work in constantly evolving teams, often from more than one office location, and therefore must travel with many communication devices along with chargers, spare batteries etc. When touching down in a new location they need storage provision that enables them to be up and running as quickly as possible.

Here, overall standardisation with the option to personalise is the key to success. Personal lockers equipped with part-portable locks empower staff with the self-selection of available space, as close to their workstation as possible. Card-holders enable them to identify these for their period of tenure. Mail can then be delivered by colleagues or other staff via posting slots provided and interiors can be personalised by moving internal fittings and using magnetic pins to attach pictures.

A quiet revolution
Elsewhere more conventional storage is undergoing a quiet revolution. The perception of storage as a static piece of utility furniture is being challenged with storage becoming the pivotal and dynamic element of the office landscape.

Since the dawn of the open-plan office, storage has been used as a visual and traffic barrier between groups and departments, however this is now being exploited in ever more enhanced and sophisticated ways. The tops of counter-height storage blocks are now equipped with power-managed tops, so that they can be used as touch-down meeting areas. At a more frivolous level, storage is even being used to support leisure activities such as table football.

Driven by advances in technology, lifestyle changes and a shifting demographic in the workplace (including an ageing workforce), the requirements for office furniture and how we expect it to perform have progressed immeasurably over the last 20 years and we want it work harder for us. We are increasingly seeing powered furniture solutions – bringing a plethora of applications and opportunity to support a modern working environment.

This is an exciting and critical development, addressing many of the workplace issues that face architects, designers and end users. As wonderful as mobile devices are, they often bring with them a regular search for power and if the furniture is electrified then workers can charge at any desk. Power also means the furniture can be lit, with ability to adjust light levels to individual users, to suit their personal preference at any given moment.

Enlightened organisations have understood for a long time that to get the best from their employees, they need to provide an environment that supports the new workplace agenda and creates an environment that is based on comfort, activity, and variety.