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1. Provide your own critique of the issues that arise in the two case studies ('Will This Open Space Work?' and 'Bag of Chiat')

Include both positive and negative elements. This critique should address:
  • Objectives and business drivers, both perceived and actual.
  • Practical issues of implementation and how this was carried out.
  • Analysis of success and failure

2. If you were asked to consider introducing a flexible working approach in your organisation, what would you do? Prepare a summary paper setting out the issues as you see them. You should take account of the following:

  • Business considerations and priorities
  • The important stages of implementation
  • The physical requirements
  • Organisational, cultural, building and technology considerations
  • Opportunities and constraints
  • Metrics to be used for measurement of your proposed plan to determine degree of success or failure

Rhys Haden

Assignment from Module Six

MSc Intelligent Buildings Reading University

9th September 1999


This assignment examines the case studies each in turn looking at the objectives, practical issues and analysis of success or failure in each case. We then move on to my organisation, the Network Solutions Group, as I consider how a more flexible working approach can be introduced. To examine this we need to gain some understanding of how the organisation operates and then to look at the physical requirements, opportunities, constraints, cultural issues, priorities and a way of measuring the success or failure of such a flexible scheme.

  • Will This Open Space Work?
  • Objectives and Business drivers
  • The main aims were to cut costs and increase productivity in its core business. The business is in a process of growth with possibilities of acquisition on the horizon.
  • As a result the CEO stipulated a number of objectives:
    • More open space for the work environment.
    • A reduction in cost.
    • The redesigned space needs to support more collaborative work, off-the-cuff meetings and casual meetings.
    • There needs to be a reinvention of how the organisation works.
    • The organisational process needs to be smarter and faster.
    • The priority is to eliminate individual private offices, provided that there were private spaces available to escape to when necessary.
    • To be on schedule.
  • Practical Issues
  • In order to fulfil these objectives the following actions were planned:
    • To have three times as many conference rooms.
    • To ensure that the dining room had an attractive view, thereby encouraging people to stay longer.
    • To create dozens of open and enclosed small meeting places.
    • To ensure that everyone had the same space allocation, access to light and ergonomic furniture.
    • To have regular planning meetings used to convey plans.
    • To create one Just in Time (JIT) room for every 5 employees.
    • To develop team-shared storage space for files rather than individual shared files.


Increase in productivity occurs if staff is retrained at the same time as the workspace is changing. However, productivity goes down if one happens without the other.

The Facilities Manager (FM) was incentivised on how costs were cut, so was very much motivated by the new plans that included fewer walls and standardised workstations. These cost benefits would initially be offset by the initial high cost of new furniture and revamped telecommunications services.

The expectation was that resistance would be encountered from those with private office space. As far as FM was concerned, the answer to any complaints on this issue would simply be the edict from the CEO and the response to the complaints that people had been making about lack of meeting space. The architect Abby wished for more input from the CEO, as she was not so sure that the people were with them. She is correct in being concerned over this, it is important to bring people along with you, particularly if part of the changes require employees those that spend most of their time off site to relinquish their office space.

Geodata Analysis was concerned over the issue of noise in an open plan while they try and concentrate on detailed work. Their perception was that their concerns were not being heard.

It is imperative that people that are asked to move around have transparent, reliable computer and telephone service has this been accounted for? Engineers need copies of technical documentation wherever they are and these files take up a lot of room. Perhaps this documentation could be digitised. The choice seems to be do we change the way the organisation works to suit a structure? Or, do we change the structure that we are trying to implement?

New business ventures often have the requirement for confidential calls. It is impractical to have to keep running off to a private space to take it. Confidential meetings are also often necessary with management. In addition there needs to be some thought for those who feel they need some personal space, a place to put photos of the family etc. It is also worth noting that the competition is perceived to offer better private offices.

New business ventures feel that they have not been listened to and there are rumours of a petition going around the organisation. These are sure signs that the CEO is not succeeding in winning the support of the employees.

Success and Failure

You cannot assume that people will give up something dear to them just because they want something else. In this organisation the employees want to have an improved working environment without losing their own space, this was Sasha's mistake.

A positive is that Sasha and Abby recognised that people were jumpy and decided that they needed to slow the project down, sell the ideas to the occupants and get some 'buy in'. The architect, however, drops responsibility as far as the people are concerned as she considers herself merely as an architect without any social responsibility for the group that she is designing for. Is this a reasonable stance to take?

Abby has made the effort to place a redesign on the table for discussion purposes. The new design is no longer totally open plan instead it is a compromise on the open plan concept. The idea is to give people some choice and to make the change less of a threat.

Bag of Chiat

Objectives and Business drivers

The objectives are listed as follows:
  • Complete freedom to work wherever they wanted.
  • No personal desks at all.
  • The creation of a college campus environment where people come and go and not be stuck with a rigid cubicle environment which was considered to be inefficient.
  • Chiat/Day were the most celebrated American advertising agency in the 1980's but had become eclipsed in the 1990's. The virtual office was an attention-grabbing gimmick.

Practical Issues

Creating the flexible working environment required mobile phones and notebook computers. These were borrowed, so no one had their own piece of equipment. Unfortunately, there was a shortage of money so there were less pieces of equipment than there were people. The idea being that not everyone would require the equipment at once. A practice began to emerge whereby people would come in at 6am and hide some equipment until later.

Personal effects, pictures etc. were meant to be kept in lockers. People, however, started carrying papers and hiding items because the lockers were too small. In addition, there weren't enough phones and computers for everyone so queues formed as employees waited for devices thereby wasting work time.

People could not concentrate in open areas, as there were too many conversations so it was common for people to make a beeline for the private rooms designated for clients. The rule was that you were only allowed to use one of these rooms for a maximum of a day, and this would be enforced.

Creative directors could not find their copywriters and could spend days looking for their team. The simple way to find people was no longer available!

Success and Failure

Turf wars developed along with griping and loss of productivity. Senior staff bagged private rooms permanently, telephones and PCs were stashed away in lockers and boots of cars were used as filing cabinets.

Considerable time and effort was taken trying to police the usage of space, thereby creating another overhead that was not present before. Chiat would play virtual cop, making sure space was used correctly and people did not leave papers around.

Although Chiat spoke to the employees about what they wanted, he misunderstood their desire for personal space as merely private space which could be temporary. Makeshift desks started to arrive and desktop PCs arrived. Jay Chiat sold his shares and left the business. He still believes that the concept is right, however he concedes that he underestimated the strength of the emotional attachment to personal space.

Network Solutions Group

For my own organisation, the group that I work in has around 80 people of which 37 are engineers, 15 are sales, 20 are management and 8 are involved in administration. In addition, there are another 100 or so who are under contract as installation teams and production of Computer Aided drawings.

The area used by the business unit is the first storey of a two-storey building comprising two meeting rooms (12 seats and 8 seats), 73 desks in a low-partition and open plan arrangement, 8 small tables and a test laboratory on a separate floor. At any one time there are never more than 30 people in the building and often there are substantially less.

The business is roughly made up of the following:
  • 70% high-speed data cabling installation - mainly Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP) structured cabling systems including both copper and fibre cabling.
  • 20% network equipment install - consisting of Local Area Network hubs and switches, monitoring software and router equipment to link organisations to the Wide Area services.
  • 10% network monitoring and equipment service - this includes engineers who are on call and are bleeped when customers network equipment highlights a fault of some sort. It also includes on-call engineers who have access to spares holdings ready for speedy replacement of faulty equipment according to Service Level Agreements (SLA) agreed with the customer. The service side of the business also includes engineers who are available to organise the data connection patching requirements when there are moves and changes occurring within a specific customer site.
Below are listed most of the roles within the organisation and some of the skills required:

Engineer - technical skills that match the breadth of the customer's network. The larger the network the more broad the skill base has to be. Soft skills are required so that the engineer can gently explain some of the technology and in turn learn the way the client's organisation functions.

Project Manager - ability to assess how long certain tasks are likely to take and in which order these tasks occur. Good communication skills particularly when presenting program information, bad news on delivery or missed targets etc.

Support Group - some basic technical ability to understand how equipment parts are related and fit together. This technical ability has to be of such a nature that the support group person can ask prudent questions of the engineer. Awareness of market costs, some purchasing ability. Document presentation skills, mathematical ability, contact database software knowledge. Also, a good awareness of the pricing structure and margin decision making would be required.

Administration - provide the practical support for all the groups in terms of typing, production of labels, spreadsheets, drawings, hotel and travel bookings and stationary provision. Good communication skills are required particularly on the one-to-one level. Very often the administration department is pressurised with last minute panic tasks through no fault of their own and requires much grace.

Group Manager - Looks after a particular aspect of the business that could be sales, operations, financial/contractual or Technical. The group managers have teams working for them to fulfil that part of the business and need to have the skills to distinguish various team skills and other abilities within their team as well as provide a growing environment for the individuals within the team.

Group Director - has responsibility both to the board for the business success of the business unit and also to the employees within the business unit itself in the conveyance of the corporate aims and aspirations of the organisation as a whole. The skills required are very much in the arena of being able to stimulate, envision and draw a large group of people ahead in one direction.

Account Managers - these need to be able to have some level of expertise on the products and services that are being sold and also be able to have the personality to attract a potential client. Very often the client is not looking to be sold something, they are looking for someone to give them a comfort factor that means that the company talking to them is more than capable of taking on the task in hand. This is developing in importance as organisations become ever more reliant upon networks and partnerships become more attractive to the client.

Business considerations and priorities

It is worth looking at how these roles fit together and perform their business as this has implications for how the building is used or could be used. Below is a flowchart detailing the stages of the business from sale to completion:


The more efficient this process is the less overhead is used and more profit can be made.

The process very often begins from the relationships developed between the engineers, or project managers or account managers and the client. Alternatively, there could be lead that has developed via some marketing project such as a golf day or a magazine advert in the trade press. When the client's IT manager recognises a need for some new equipment or some reorganisation of the network configuration, it is important to have trust in the supplier's engineers that are to carry out the implementation.

The relationship developed between the two parties provides a more open approach to selling a solution. For instance, a number of options can be tabled and discussed, some costing more than others. A best value approach can occur without the dog eat dog competitive tender approach that can often leave the end user with an installation that falls short of the business requirement.

The engineer/account manager has a fair amount of autonomy and can, sometimes in conjunction with the client, design the proposed work (stages 1 and 2) ready to hand over to a dedicated support group that have a role in pricing and preparing quotes. At this stage an experienced project manager is required to program labour and material procurement ready for costing. Much of the design work needs to be carried out with the client on site and at a desk with access to a technical library and noise-free time.

Small internal meetings occur involving maybe three or four people, an account manager, an engineer, a project manager and perhaps a commercial person. If the potential contract opportunity has developed from an existing relationship, there tends to be less need for contractual input. The commercial manager is more valuable when responding to tenders. These small meetings form the basis of a bid preparation team and during this process the design is confirmed documented and costs produced (stage 3).

Away from these meetings the documents being referenced and produced can be taken away and worked upon separately. At this stage the account manager's role and the engineer's role can be performed mainly away from the main office provided that technical and pricing information is available electronically either stored locally on laptops or available via network access. Within the IT environment it is often impractical to port paper versions of technical information due to the ever increasing amounts that are produced.

A successful bid will result in an order from the client (stage 6). At this point another meeting occurs to review the contract and on acceptance of the order procurement begins using the organisation's infrastructure for purchasing, storage, delivery and invoicing (stage 7). This stage is handled mainly by the administration group and requires a presence within the office as a central point of contact for suppliers to call, for stock control and for speedy resolution of delivery and poor supply issues. Much of the communication within the administration group is verbal and they have a good understanding of corporate protocol. This is vital when dealing with the delivery, storage and purchasing groups existing outside of the business unit but within the corporate mechanism.

The engineer will spend more time within the test laboratory as equipment is configured and tested. There will be much more time spent on site, on many occasions this will occur out of normal working hours. Time spent on site is much more intensive where installation of data cabling is concerned since this is time consuming and involves much more interaction with other trades.

Engineers who are more involved in the network monitoring side of the business have dial in access to a central monitoring centre. The equipment within this centre has numerous links to customer sites with which the organisation has monitoring contracts. The engineers are paged when network issues arise and this, coupled with the remote access, allows the engineer to work from home and at any time.

We can see a pattern of space usage emerge as we look at the above processes and this can be summarised as follows:
  • Monitoring engineer - Mainly access to the monitoring centre screens.
  • Installation engineer - Quiet, cellular desk space and site.
  • Account Manager - Mainly on the road, regular use of large meeting rooms for presentations, access to product promotional information which is increasingly in video and intensive graphic format.
  • Project Manager - Partly on site, access to financial and contractual information.
  • Group Manager - Access to contractual and financial information, plus access to staff.
  • Group Director - Access to management team, some time spent with clients and potential clients, plus access to financial information and corporate management.
  • Support Group - Access to both engineers and account managers plus technical information and supplier information.
  • Administration - Access to paper-based file systems, label machines, CAD stations and corporate support groups such as purchasing, marketing and storage.
Although not exhaustive, this summary indicates how the variety of roles can result in very different uses of space by individuals.

The important stages of implementation

  1. Inform employees of the theory behind the space changes.
  2. Encourage contributions from individuals within the various groups as to how the space can be used more effectively. This could be via group discussions and questionnaires.
  3. Explore any implications on the support infrastructure. For instance, if an engineer is no longer expected to have a personal desk and be office based, then that person will need to have other ways of accessing information. The Intranet will need to be information rich and intuitive to use. There may be a requirement to look at some of the business processes that help tie people to the office, e.g. paper-based contract files, ordering systems etc.
  4. Draw up a number of optional plans for the space for open discussion. Giving choice to the employees is likely to encourage them to be part of the change rather than feel that the changes are being imposed.
  5. Implement the support infrastructure changes plus any process changes.
  6. Build in training for everyone so that they are comfortable with any support tools that have been introduced.
  7. Implement the workspace changes.
  8. Obtain feedback regarding the changes via group discussions and questionnaires.
  9. Implement any changes required with explanations if some changes will not be implemented.

The physical requirements

It is very common now to have technical documentation produced on CD together with contextual search tools. This is also the case for multimedia presentations and sales material. The power of laptops with built in CD drives and modems allow access to information wherever the person is. This flexibility has resulted in the current office being used less for the desk space and more for the small informal meetings. It is becoming increasingly common for the two meeting rooms to be fully booked and for small groups to use the small tables that are spread around the office. Using the small tables in an open plan environment creates a noise problem that is increasing.

Permanent desks will be required for management and administration workers. There could also be a desk for someone who is on technical support duty. Any engineer who is in the office is prime target for sales and management, as that person happens to be around. Often the engineer is in the office for a specific reason and continuous interruptions hinder productivity. Creating a role of technical support could work on a rota basis such that an engineer would for instance, spend one day a fortnight in the office specifically to be available for pre-sales support. The desk used by the technical support engineer could also have a number of cupboards containing books and technical documentation that may not be already distributed on CD.

Most of the other desks can be set up as temporary workstations with laptop docking stations and network connections. Since every engineer, account manager and project manager has a mobile phone there would be no requirement for a desk telephone. The number of desks in total could be reduced by perhaps 30-40% and there would still be enough desks for the 30 or so employees that are in at any one time.

The space that has been released can then be converted to small meeting spaces for up to 6 people at a time. Some of these meeting spaces could be separate rooms, some could be located near drinks and snack utilities and serve as a coffee bar. It would be important to locate these meeting areas such that they would cause little disturbance to those who are using the desk space. These meeting areas could be located by the two exits so that employees such as the account managers who may just be popping in for a short meeting would not need to book in a desk and unnecessarily have to move further into the office space.

Organisational, cultural, building and technology considerations

We need to provide an infrastructure that allows a natural progression to open space. This includes easy access to group and company information. There is already in existence the corporate Intranet that has details such as a telephone directory, addresses, company news, and vehicle-fleet information. In addition, business units have been allocated sections of the Intranet for their own specific requirements. Unfortunately, many of the business units have not exploited the potential fully yet. The advantage of the Intranet is that graphical links can be created in order to link to frequently used and very valuable information. These links make tools and information far more easy to retrieve using a web browser, rather than the more unfriendly 'drilling down' directories of some nameless fileserver in the depths of the corporate network.

There needs to be a psychological delimiter between work items and personal items. Some may resist working at home not wishing to carry anything related to work back home even if it is just information on a laptop.

There are one or two issues to consider when personal space is limited to a cupboard. For instance, where will the in tray be for the paper communications? Where can occupants keep personal trinkets and photographs of the family? Is a cupboard going to satisfy the demands of the nomadic worker? Often the desk is used as a means of delivering an item such as a piece of hardware as one engineer may leave such an item on a personal desk knowing that the desk owner will eventually come across it. We need to consider whether postal services need to be used more or whether there ought to be provision for a central collection area for convenience.

As far as personal effects it is common for pictures to end up on the computer background screens, perhaps this may become a replacement for physical trinkets for many.

Will employees complain because they are used to leaving work at varying stages on their desk for days at a time?

Opportunities and constraints

Less space needs to be used for desks freeing up more space for meeting rooms.

It is unlikely that money can be saved by using less space as the business unit uses one floor completely and it would be organisationally awkward to divide the space such that enough useable space would be available for another business unit. The motivation for such a change is likely to be weak from the corporate point of view since they will make no overall immediate savings as they will still own the space.

Metrics to be used for measurement of your proposed plan to determine degree of success or failure.

Satisfaction levels will need to be included in the evaluation questionnaires. It may be helpful to have some relative measures of satisfaction before any changes, after the support infrastructure changes and finally after the space changes have occurred. This way, one can isolate more easily the items that cause concern.

Ease of use of the support infrastructure is vital to the success of the move. There needs to be good feedback on this, perhaps a score sheet that will indicate support changes that need to occur.

How the space is utilised in practise will need to be examined. Are the small meeting rooms being used as intended, or is there evidence of individuals claiming space as their own? Are the noise levels worse than before? How much is having a desk perceived as a status symbol?

Productivity is difficult to measure and perhaps needs to be measured as perceived productivity both before and after changes have occurred (Leaman and Bordass, 1999). We need to be careful that taking away private space does not compromise a person's ability to do a job well.

Ultimately the costs to attract and retain good people will rise if the workspace is not satisfactory.


Although it seems like that there is a radical change to working life, the fact that the employees are already spending much of their time out of the office shows that the foundation for flexible space is already there. Many of the engineers have desks on a site anyway and invariably this desk becomes their main anchor point. The account managers are considered more successful the more time they spend with potential customers. It makes sense both for business and their own incentives to be out of the office as much as possible.

Ultimately, we were not looking at saving space within the Network Solutions group, the aim was to look at using the space more effectively.

It is important that all the occupants' feed back into the decision making of the space changes and as much choice is afforded as possible. The management cannot hope to understand all the processes and group dynamics that exist throughout the whole organisation. Although this process takes time out from business, it is vital for future productivity. A demoralised workforce is likely to have far more impact on business than planning meetings.

The process of looking at the impact on productivity and employee retention is important. These issues are difficult to measure, but we need to try since they cost a lot of money and business if we get them wrong (Vischer, 1999).


Leaman, Adrian and Bordass, Bill, Productivity in Buildings the 'Killer' variables, 1999, Building Research and Information 27(1), pp. 8.

Berger, Warren, Bag of Chiat, May 1999, FMX, pp. 23 - 28.

Vischer, Jacqueline, Will This Open Space Work? May-June 1999, Harvard Business Review, pp. 28 - 40.

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