“It might not work”, says Ian Jones, director of facilities at ITV, “but based on feedback and research, we think it will. You need to try a few things so let's not worry about it if you fail.”
Jones’s words would doubtless find an echo in the experiences of many workplace managers during this pandemic: identify a new workspace challenge and introduce a bold solution to it.
His ‘Manhattan Concept’ is one such solution. It is inspired by the layout of the famous New York City borough.
“You navigate Manhattan in neighbourhoods,” explains Jones. “In Manhattan, each block does something different; you might have a block for hotels, another for theatres, another for libraries, or a park. So I've designed Manhattan in the office.”
Jones’ plan is to create different ’neighbourhoods’ for different teams. “We’re bringing people back into the office to sit in these neighbourhoods. But if we want to change the office quickly, we can just lift up a block.” Each block is kitted out in shapes – squares, circles and hexagons – that can be filled, adapted and replaced with furniture that fits those spaces. “I can fill a circle shape with a set of pods, a square with a set of diners or a hexagon with a six-desk workstation.
“The neighbourhood design depends on what the team does. We've allowed them to design their own to an extent. Our techies, for example, have 10 per cent workstation space and 90 per cent breakout space with writing walls, whereas the legal people have largely chosen workstations.”
The hexagonal workstations (or hexes) consist of six screens for six people and take up similar space to six separate desks. But Jones says the appeal of this setup is that it stops people from claiming space as their own. One person might use the space three days a week and another might use it for the remaining two. Hexes seat six whereas squares seat eight.
Jones says when more people need to be accommodated, it’s simple to replace the hex with a square, achieving 25 per cent more capacity for that neighbourhood. “It allows them to work in a more agile way.”
The ‘Manhattan Concept’ is exciting for Jones. He is confident it will work, but admits that it could fail. “I’m not embarrassed about that. It might not work but we think it will based on feedback and research. But if it doesn’t work, we’ll change it. Let's not worry about failure; you need to try a few things so let's not worry about it if you fail.”
Thus far, the ‘Manhattan Concept’ has allowed ITV to drop 25 per cent of workspace with no effect on the number of seats. He’s invented “a simple accommodation calculator” that tells him how many seats are required.
Even on the busiest day, a Wednesday, only 75 per cent of the workstations will be occupied by people known to be coming in. Jones says that ITV still leaves 25 per cent of those 72 workstations empty for those who might pop in for the day. They don't have to book and they will have a seat at a workstation with a screen. That won't include all the diners, pods, and lounge areas.
The ‘Manhattan Concept’ isn’t cheap. (Jones has a budget of a couple of million pounds for suitably sized furniture to fill the neighbourhoods.) But the goal is a fully flexible workplace that offers end users an experience that they can’t replicate elsewhere.