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Mar 6, 2015
Some companies have been introducing a new concept of working environment. In terms of the percentage of office space area, it’s still a very small fraction.

architect Ian Bryan

Investing in and creating the working environment is worth it

Ian Bryan, a British architect living and working in the Czech Republic, together with his colleagues from the architectural design studio named after him, designed a new concept of the Prague offices for the consulting companies Deloitte and CBRE. The design is made-to-measure to the needs of the employees. CBRE employees choose the chair or sofa to sit on every day. They do not sit at the same table and on the same chair every day. If they need to concentrate, they take a seat in a small room where they are alone and can work undisturbed. On the other hand, when they are working with their colleagues on a common project, they can find a room for brainstorming and solving problems. There are not many other companies in the Czech Republic taking the same approach to their employees’ working environment.

Open space offices are increasingly being spoken of as an outdated concept. Do you think that companies are accentuating the quality of their working environment more today?

I don’t think so, but it's getting better. Some companies have been introducing a new concept of working environment. In terms of the percentage of office space area, it’s still a very small fraction. Companies tend to create relaxation zones in offices instead and people get the impression that this is the new concept of office space. But in fact, it’s the same office space with several attractions such as table football, billiards or a more spacious reception.

The relaxation space is important but what is even more important is the fact that the entire concept of office space must be well thought out. This is closely related to a change in workflows and the way in which people utilize their working environment.

Do you mean with respect to advanced technologies?

Yes, of course. Today people can work practically anywhere. And as they do not have to be present in their office all the time, you can rearrange the offices in a way better corresponding to their needs; giving them the opportunity to work where it suits them best. They do not have to sit all the time or be present in a specified workplace. Currently, a company workplace is more likely a place where people meet to share the philosophy of the company.

Do foreign companies have a different approach?

Yes, they do. For example, like in Scandinavia where the culture is different and where companies lack the typical pyramid-shaped structure. There are many companies who originally had a relatively hierarchical structure but they have abandoned it. People working in these companies still have different incomes but they are equal from the point of view of the working environment in their office. The managers in these companies do not have separate offices. Such companies succeed in attracting the right employees and their stock is growing. To be frank, however, there are not many of them here.

What should the companies who have decided to adopt a new office space concept do?

At the beginning, it’s necessary to prepare a detailed analysis of how the company functions. It’s not enough to tell the architect how many sound-proof telephone rooms the company needs, how many conference rooms and how large an area must be reserved for teamwork. This is a task for the human resources department of the given company, not for the facility or project management departments.

The architect must be involved in the process at the very beginning - to speak to the company management and to carry out a survey among the employees. Only then can they design a new working environment made-to-measure for the respective company. It’s the same situation as when you are designing a house - you make it to your client's needs. When designing office space, we do exactly the same.

Is it common practice to approach several architectural design studios when a company needs to design its offices?

Yes, it is. Unfortunately, it looks like a beauty pageant when six or more studios present their designs to the company. Companies accentuate the visual impression of the interior, they long for originality. However, in many cases this is the icing on the cake, hiding the drawbacks of the working environment. Our role is not to design an extravagant reception or similar things for companies. We have been trying to explain to them that we will invent the environment for them that will improve their productivity or that may contribute to a change in the corporate culture. And this is, in my opinion, much more than interior design.

How long does it usually take to create a new working environment concept?

It depends on the company size. With companies having several thousand employees, it takes longer. In most cases, one month is enough to understand how the company functions and what is expected. After a month we understand the company and are ready to start working on the concept itself. Then it takes four to six more weeks to develop the design and to adjust it based on discussions with the company representatives. However, it is very important for the people who will work in the offices to participate in the creation of the concept.

And doesn’t it often happen that not even the management knows what to do?

You’re absolutely right. This is a very common situation but we can cope with it. We carry out a questionnaire-based survey among employees to find out how much time they spend writing reports, pursuing creative activity, how much they use videoconference calls, how often they have meetings, whether they work in teams and in how large ones... In this way we get a picture of the organization, we know how much time employees spend doing individual activities in the typical week or month. Based on that we then design a concept of the working environment and we are able to determine the percentage of various workplaces - how many conference rooms, how many zones for informal meetings, how many rooms for concentrated work, how many telephone booths, etc. as if we were  putting together a menu for the company.

This means that it is sort of an original mix.

Exactly. Every company has a mix of its own. It’s natural that companies operating in the same sector have a similar arrangement of offices, which means similar mixes. However, they will always differ a bit.

How do the needs of Deloitte and CBRE differ in terms of how you created a new arrangement of their office space?

They are similar to a certain extent. Deloitte, however, has many more employees performing static work. But there are employees who are practically all the time in the field with their clients. And compared to CBRE, the number of employees at Deloitte changes much more quickly.

Do you have more orders due to references from these customers?

Recently, I received an e-mail from a company demanding our services because they had seen the CBRE offices. The company had decided where to relocate and the space is relatively large. They want us to design the reception, conference room and the offices for the company management. This is not the way we work. We provide comprehensive services improving the company's productivity, the employees' loyalty and its attractiveness for new applicants.

Creating a working environment does not include the interior design only. There are more key factors such as selecting a suitable building, its acoustics or daylight. In terms of the design, it’s necessary to assess workplaces suitable for individual activities in a comprehensive manner - starting by concentrating on individual work through creative activity up to informal meetings. It’s necessary to create the space and not focus on the aesthetic aspect only. There are many factors that influence working environments. For example, the acoustic properties of the space are much more important for good working conditions than the visual design itself. Acoustics have a decisive influence on the behaviour and well-being of people in the workplace.

You have been working on the new concept for Deloitte’s offices since 2007 and you are still working on the project. What are you inventing there after so many years?

The consulting business is changing. When I say that we create made-to-measure concepts of corporate working environments it does not mean that our work ends with implementation. Currently, Deloitte needs more places where their people can concentrate. Therefore, we are adding “silent rooms”. On the other hand, some spaces, such as billiards in the relaxation zone, were not used so much. That is why I say that a new working environment does not mean that you equip the employees' offices with toys- that’s nonsense. You don’t go to work to play but to work. While it is true that games help develop creative thinking, companies like Google are an extreme. This is not the solution responding to the needs of most companies and their employees. Only in a few companies is this anything more than mere marketing.

Are there sectors or companies for whom the new concept of office space is more suitable than for others?

More or less all organizations may benefit from such a concept. Most attorneys-at-law will request separated offices, as they are very conservative. On the other hand, I know a law office in Prague where the lawyers work in open space with no one having an office of their own. The advantage is that the employees can choose in which environment they will work on the given day. Whether they want to share an office with their colleagues, have a private talk in a separate room or be in a place where you can concentrate on work.

Employees are often afraid of innovations.

People in general do not like change. You will never make everybody happy. About half of the people in companies are introverts who do not like a typical open space. This means that approximately one half of employees do not work effectively. This is the reason why you should offer them the opportunity to choose their workplace.

The offices of the Czech branch of CBRE, a global real estate consulting company, where not even the managing director has a stable workplace and where people can choose whether they want to work on a sofa every day, or, when they need to concentrate, they can spend the day separated in a small room. This does not necessarily have to be a model for all companies. It’s possible that the best solution for the given company is to have its employees working in separated offices. However, the final decision of the management should be made on the basis of a discussion with employees about who will work and  what generates profit for the company in the environment, coupled with a thorough analysis of the company needs.

Open space offices are a less expensive solution for companies than designing and implementing an innovative concept.

Sure. It’s enough to know the number of employees being assigned a place in the open space. This is of course a very cheap solution but it actually becomes less profitable. Companies lease as little space as possible in buildings as they want to save money. In most cases, they have a certain sum allocated for moving.

However, the rent for the office space represents only about 10 percent of the total expenses of the company. The most valuable assets of the company are its employees, and employees can be productive only in an environment which they like and which complies with their needs. Otherwise, they leave the company. Everything mentioned before is much more expensive than the space itself.


Ian Bryan

An architect and founder of the Ian Bryan Architects architectural design studio. Ian is an architect chartered in Great Britain and authorized by the Czech Chamber of Architects. He is an assessor of BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method), the environmentally friendly certification of buildings. He graduated from the Edinburgh School of Architecture, Scotland.

Ian Bryan Architects

The architectural design studio has implemented a number of projects in the private and public sectors since 2007. The studio has created urban designs for the Statenický Mlýn and Slunečný vršek residential districts in Prague and the Park Inn Praha and Kempinski Prague (later renamed to The Mark Luxury Hotel Prague). The studio has also designed a complete reconstruction of all facades of the British Embassy in Prague, among other projects.

A recent project implemented by the studio was the second stage of the construction of the luxury Dock Residence in Prague 8 - Libeň and the local branch of Air Bank.

The original article from Hospodarske noviny can be found here.