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Tue 12 May 2009 04:00 AM

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Moving away from the ‘office factory’

Globalisation, specialisation and digitisation are the driving forces of change within office environments. All three factors are directly interrelated; it is only worldwide mobility and the availability of information that allow global goods traffic and synchronous working at different locations.

Moving away from the ‘office factory’

Globalisation, specialisation and digitisation are the driving forces of change within office environments. All three factors are directly interrelated; it is only worldwide mobility and the availability of information that allow global goods traffic and synchronous working at different locations.

At the same time, global networking is increasing the complexity and thus the specialisation of business processes. And, last but not least, office work is becoming independent of time and space due to the miniaturisation of working aids and means of communication. What implications does this development have on the design of buildings?

Communication and co-operation are key factors in a knowledge society. Only in the course of personal encounter do trust, commitment, and a sense of togetherness and identity evolve.

The greater the global competition, the more decisive strong corporate identity is. The more intense the specialisation, the more necessary co-operation becomes. The more complex the processes, the more important it is to involve all those concerned. The total knowledge that a company has at its disposal cannot be found in internal information databases but in the heads of those working at the company.

Sharing knowledge and building up new knowledge means promoting info-exchange by means of focused space planning and design. The pivotal point of any building concept is therefore no longer the model of an ‘office factory’. What is more important is to create the prerequisites for allowing employees to meet, exchange information, discuss and co-operate efficiently.

Such an approach requires conference rooms for gathering information, fine tuning and decision-making; training and seminar rooms for promoting learning and further development; project and workshop interiors for planned innovation and change management processes, as well as semi-public areas such as reception, transit and relaxation zones, lounges and cafeterias, for spontaneous and chance encounters.

The integration of state-of-the-art information and communication technology as an interface to the virtual world marks a new challenge for designing such interiors.

Traditional media concepts focus on interaction between people and computers. Yet this tends to disturb teamwork rather be conducive towards it. Keyboard, mouse and necessary operating skills ensure that only one person is involved at a time. There is no opportunity for active involvement, spontaneous interaction and making annotations and changes as a shared task.

In response, Wilkhan has developed a concept for conference, meeting and teamwork environments, but also for informal consultation and meeting zones, where real space and its elements, such as walls and tables, serve as an interface to the virtual world.

Technology takes a back seat, at least optically. As with an iPhone, operational steps are carried out completely intuitively and on the monitor directly, by using a finger or a pen. The wall is used as an interface if more formal, targeted visualisation processes are required. If the focus is on participation and interaction on the part of team members, interactive high tables will be used.

The co-operative building of the future is shaped by two basic principles: spatial structures and interior design are individually co-ordinated with the promotion of various communication, learning and co-operation processes, and they are enhanced by means of team-oriented integration of modes of access to the virtual world – invisible computing and ubiquitous computing.

In terms of interior design, the merging of roomware elements with digital technology provides completely new challenges and opportunities – as companies are thus able to combine the advantages of personal encounters with all the benefits of the digital world in terms of cost and productivity, including synchronous collaboration of teams at globally distributed locations.

Burkhard Remmers is responsible for international corporate communications at Wilkhahn and is the author of the ‘Planning Guide for Conference and Communication Environments’. For further details, see www.wilkhahn.com and www.foresee.biz.

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