The changing nature of workspace: Clerkenwell calling…

One of the benefits of Future of London now operating from Farringdon is being surrounded by innovative architecture and design practices, both in our own building on Cowcross Street, and in the neighbouring workshops and studios of Clerkenwell. Before his internship with us ended in late May, Carl McConnell took advantage of that proximity and took part in Clerkenwell Design Week. FoL will be exploring the viability and delivery of new breeds of workspace this autumn, and we wanted to share Carl’s findings about office design as a precursor…

At a recent Clerkenwell Design Week talk on changing workplaces and design processes, four office-architecture panellists identified the driver behind the changing workplace as productivity.

Continual connectivity has made the greatest contribution to productivity, allowing concepts of the ‘workplace’ to morph into ‘places to work’.  This has led to a blurring of the boundaries between home, work and play spaces; maybe even the obsolescence of the ‘workplace’ as we know it.

Even with flexible spaces, though, there is no one-size-fits-all for industries, sectors – or individuals. Productivity is achieved in a variety of ways, and companies are demanding an increasing variety of designs to deliver it.

One example given at the talk was offices containing elements of home, work and play under one roof.  This certainly has implications for transport use, with possible reduced intensity during the workday, and for the high street.

On one hand, self-contained offices – with increasingly attractive in-house facilities and airy canteens – can limit workday footfall in their neighbourhoods. On the other, some of the most self-sufficient of these ‘campuses’ are appearing where there used to be nothing or blight, bringing at least some new traffic to the area. Further along the spectrum, popular mixed-use workspaces like Dalston’s Bootstrap Company, open to the public on various levels, can invigorate low-traffic areas, and increase commercial and social vibrancy.

At the other end of the commute, so to speak, work-related facilities can be taken out of the office altogether, as we’re seeing with Wi-Fi-equipped cafés and Underground platforms, as well as the potential for more services in parks, multi-function street furniture and so on.

As this was Design Week, discussion naturally turned to the desk itself, which seemed to epitomise the increased mobility of working. Although the speakers said hot-desking was largely disliked by users, alternative spins on the concept included hot desks within permanent team area; breakout areas (both within and out of the office); and lockers for storing the work-related paraphernalia which formerly cluttered desks.  Shared offices were projected to see a growth of 40% by 2020.

Addressing their own question of “How are workplaces changing?” the panellists’ answer was in a myriad of ways which depend on the person, the industry and the growth of connectivity.

As Emily Badger wrote in Atlantic Cities this spring, “Our built environment has been designed to accommodate the ways that people worked (and lived) 20 or 50 years ago. So now what happens when our behaviour changes, when the ways that people move through and need to use space across cities no longer matches some of the ways we’ve built them?” Fittingly, Badger’s article links to an “unconference,” itself a growing phenomenon that requires none of the accoutrements we’re used to in meetings.

Watch for posts on this topic through the coming months, and keep an eye out for related Future of London site-visits and for research on policy and strategic implications for the public sector. We all know this new creature is out there; the next step is understanding its sustainable value, and integrating it into London’s landscape effectively.