In a 2003 survey by Management Today magazine, virtually all (97 per cent) of those responding said that they regarded their place of work as a symbol of whether or not they were valued by their employer. Yet only 37 per cent thought that their offices had been designed ‘with people in mind’, and no less a third said that they were too ashamed of their offices to bring back colleagues or clients. This is the kind of gap which should worry management – and which, were it to occur in any other discipline in business, would almost certainly get urgent attention in the boardroom.
So why do so many companies continue to dress themselves in rags in a country which must, in the face of growing international competition, earn its living by its wits? The answer may be that a company’s most natural response to that same force of competition is to seek to drive down its costs – and premises represent a cost that is both readily identified and readily comprehended. As in so many facets of life, however, a preoccupation with cost may actually destroy value: but the ways in which office accommodation can create value for a business, not just through economy but also through improving the effectiveness of its people and broadcasting positive messages about its values, are inadequately understood.
This study into the connection between office design and business performance is therefore both important and timely. It provides a positive route map for those facing the challenges and opportunities of addressing their business’s accommodation needs; and it does this by: • summarising what we actually know, so that we can embed this learning in good practice and avoid re-exploring the same issues • summarising what more could be known, pointing to the need for further research • proposing a framework for the analysis and application of accommodation factors which affect business performance • suggesting a standardisation of the language and protocols by which this subject is pursued, so that we can accumulate a growing body of knowledge on this matter of national importance.
None of this will throw up easy answers, and one by-product of this study should be the abandonment of the very idea that there might be a single answer to any user’s question – a holy grail of office design. The report does, however, point the way by which individual users might find their answer, and demonstrates that the effort is worthwhile. For those who get this wrong, the best they can hope for is a missed opportunity; and the worst is nothing less than the loss of their key people as a consequence of growing dissatisfaction with their working environment. For those who get it right, the reward, if not the holy grail, can be something almost as magical.