Open-access content Friday 17th October 2008 — updated 12.09pm, Wednesday 6th May 2020
17 October 2008
More importantly, noted Richard Kauntze, chief executive of the British Council for Offices, 45 per cent of employees would move jobs for a better environment.
It's a pressing issue for many organisations, he said in his opening address as chairman of the BCO's Sustainable Workplace conference in London. Efficiency, environment and innovation are needed to get the best out of employees and to retain them in the long term. Thankfully fewer organisations - developers, investors, occupiers, designers and contractors - playing pass-the-parcel when it comes to improving building designs. More and more good buildings are being constructed, said speaker Jonathon Porritt, programme director of Forum for the Future and chairman of the UK Sustainable Development Commission. These include the National Trust HQ in Swindon, Wessex Water HQ in Bath and the Innovative Green Office in Leeds.
A danger is that the current financial crisis will push environmental office design backwards, said Porritt. But he remains optimistic that organisations will think long-term. Potential occupiers and buyers will be less concerned with rent prices and more concerned with the number of carbon credits that come with the building. The driver is the government's Carbon Reduction Commitment plan starting in 2010 for firms spending over £500,000 a year on energy.
But Roger Bootle, chief executive of Capital Economics, didn't believe organisations would lose sight of the environmental issues despite the current financial crisis. He predicts interest rates to tumble next year to at least 2.5 per cent and inflation, now at 5.2 per cent, will "plummet". Companies will come to their senses and see that it pays to improve office design to keep the workforce happy.
There are obvious money-saving reasons for better office designs, and improving environmental aspects of the workplace, explained Charlie Browne, UK corporate environment manager at Ikea. A two-degree reduction in building temperature at their Wembley site saves £50,000 of electricity year. At their Milton Keynes store, £3,000 is saved on the monthly gas bill by installation wood chip boiler. It uses unsold timber and damaged pallets along with some bought wood chips. It is often the small things that will help reduce IKEA's forthcoming energy bill, expected to rise by around 60 per cent next year.
The goal is also to increase an employee's productivity in an office environment. But many speakers acknowledged that measuring an employee's productivity is difficult, if not downright impossible. Part of the difficulty is because that many organisations have no benchmark of what their employee's productivity already is, before any office redesign. They have never tried to measure it at other times, noted Karen Plum, director of operations at Advanced Workplace Associates, which organised the event with the BCO, and a panel discussion delegate.
Terry Arnold, a project manager within the flexdesk programme at Morgan Stanley, said the real gains are in better moral and motivation of the workforce. He agreed with Arnold that measuring real productivity remains illusive. Three-month pilots for IT staff at offices in London and New York has led to more flexible working at their London office. In the next year, half of their IT staff will be flexible working with no assigned desk. But he cautioned about having half a team working flexibly while the other half has assigned desks. It could create a division within team, a have and have-not attitude among the team members.
A major refit for a Microsoft Corporation sales and marketing office in Amsterdam saw building utilisation rise from below 30 per cent to 52 per cent. There was some management concern that the staff were now spending too much time in their new offices rather than out on the road talking to clients. But the sales figures didn't fall, as would be expected. Instead, explained Douglas Lowrie, Microsoft's Workplace Advantage programme manager, employees were bringing their clients back to Microsoft premises. Employees were proud of their new, comfortable offices which had become conducive to cutting a deal, he said.
But during a panel discussion Lowrie, too, was hard pressed to say there was a productivity increase. "We are still not sure ho to measure this apart from building utilisation."
Any redesign and flexible working scheme needs monitoring to ensure employees don't abuse it, noted Lowrie. He has known an FM get into work early to sit where a general manager had sat the day before to ensure that he doesn't set up permanent shop in that desk.
Case study: Royal Bank of Scotand
The Aldgate Union building in London was "not the sexiest" item in the Royal Bank of Scotland's property portfolio, said Claire Arnold, head of workspace at RBS. The 1980s building for 3,500 employees was bought by RBS several years ago. It was a traditional 1:1 desk to employee ration.
But a Cinderella-like transformation in association with consultants Advanced Workplace Associates lifted it to a 1:1.75 ratio. Around 30 per cent of employees still have their own desks. But the key, said Arnold, is to design according to what will work best for the function.
RBS's design revolves around team zones, explained Arnold. People will book a desk within their team zone only, which is between 50 and 200 people. This maintains a sense of team belonging and also a sense of territory. The result saved 600 seats, equivalent to another building that RBS would have had to buy or rent. "You can talk all you want about environmentally efficient buildings, but the best most efficient one is the one you don't need."