Blue-Sky Thinking as Cloud Moves in; Julian Lebray, Midlands Regional Managing Director of Birmingham-Based Fit out Specialists Overbury, Takes a Look at How the Rapid Advance of Business Technology Is Likely to Have a Major Impact on the Workplace of the Future

Article excerpt

Byline: Julian Lebray

The design of an office as a workplace is constantly evolving. Take a look back just a few decades. Offices were stuffy, smoke-filled places that were too hot in summer and too cold in winter. Desks were piled high with paperwork. Ashtrays and bins were overflowing.

Bosses sat alone behind mahogany desks in their huge offices, masters of all they surveyed and aloof from the rest of the workers.

Things improved in the 90s with the introduction of open plan space, with a few directors even venturing to sit among their staff. But it wasn't until the beginning of this century that light, airy, open spaces really began to appear, with communal coffee and breakout areas. Now fast-forward to today, and it is clear that the evolution of the workplace is fast becoming a revolution. The demand for sustainability and rapid advances in technology are driving change at a startling pace.

Here at Overbury we're already looking at what this means for our clients across the office, retail, leisure, education, and technology sectors and how we can help them to meet the challenges of the 21st century workplace.

The last 30 years has witnessed a complexity in office design and construction to accommodate an ever growing array of networked technology that has shaped the office into a container for work - housing people, technology, data, paper, infrastructure and so on.

Complex cooling, fire suppression, power and data networks along with voids and risers have influenced building design and created 'fat', expensive space. But we could be about to witness a step change, as new technology and a host of other forces re-shape property into leaner, fitter and more agile workspaces that can accommodate 21st century organisations.

In our view the accelerating uptake of mobile devices and the cloud by businesses globally will have a profound effect on IT infrastructure and storage. Full cloud adoption will reduce space requirements for servers and other IT equipment and much of the associated 'fat' space.

In the short term this means being able to fit out or refurbish a building to increase the number of people using the existing space, or to reduce the space used.

In the longer term, it would enable designers to develop 'thin buildings' that don't require large amounts of space given over to IT infrastructure. The design process could therefore become much more flexible, allowing different shapes and structures to be developed, enabling buildings to be more sustainable in their use of materials and energy.

'Thin buildings' could be physically thin as well as metaphorically thin - increasing natural light penetration and creating a more effective environment. This concept also applies to existing office stock, which today is frequently shunned in favour of new buildings, purpose-designed to accommodate current technology requirements. As the uptake of Cloud, 4G and mobile devices increases and the need for 'fat' space reduces, the refurbishment of existing office space, often with prime city-centre locations, could seem a more viable option for firms looking to re-locate or set up regional offices. …