Time traveller

After 20 years with the same company, Paul Finch has witnessed numerous configurations of the workspace, with the latest one – the most efficient to date, he says – dovetailing with a move to PaddingtonCentral


Having worked for 20 years in the same media organisation, it is no surprise to me that the nature of our workspace has changed frequently. This is partly the result of changes in activity, partly the way the company is structured, partly about the autonomy or otherwise of divisions and how they are themselves organised, and partly due to significant changes in office technology.

In 1995 I was heavily involved in a big office relocation, combining one company with two others we had purchased. Briefing our architects about the fit-out of the new building required a key decision from the outset: would we be entirely open-plan, partly open-plan, or essentially cellular? This is not a question that would require much discussion these days, given the huge economies achievable through open- plan space with bench-style desk layouts.


© Dave Parker Photography

The other big question, to which there was and is no correct answer, is whether the arrangement of different groups should be based on activity or product. This is about whether different platforms related to the same subject are located together (for example, construction magazine/conference/ events) or whether sales and marketing sit next to relevant editorial/event teams. All this depends on how the company (or more precisely MDs, sales directors and marketing directors) think about business efficiency and effectiveness. Having seen many approaches I am agnostic.

Back in the mid-Nineties, hot-desking was a gleam in the eye of the more advanced space-planning theorists, in the same way that the paperless office proposition was only beginning to take on momentum. Both are now far more in evidence, though genuine hot-desking, where you have significantly fewer work stations than you have staff, doesn't seem to be dominating the market as some predicted it would. Perhaps that is because companies such as Yahoo have rediscovered the benefits of managing staff required in the office every day.


© Dave Parker Photography

Our own company, i2i Events, moved into Development Securities' and Aviva Investors' PaddingtonCentral as a result of a fundamental corporate restructure. This involved a name change for our umbrella company, from Emap to Top Right Group (the Emap name has been retained for the magazine division). Far more significantly, it marked a radically different approach to organisation and location.

For many years in a previous incarnation (Emap Business Communications, the b-to-b division of Emap plc), we occupied a multiplicity of buildings, mainly in the EC1 area of London, though with significant outposts in Croydon and Bournemouth. Broadly speaking, different subsidiaries occupied each of the buildings, related to a small group of subject areas, for example architecture, engineering and construction. That approach was turned on its head when most of the company was put under one roof in 2007, in the famed 'Black Cat' building - Greater London House, in Camden. Now we have split again, with four divisions located in Old Street, Holborn, Piccadilly Circus, and Paddington.

Operating as a standalone global company i2i Events Group occupies two floors in Two Kingdom Street, originally planned as studios, in a KPF-designed block on Kingdom Street, which runs off Sheldon Square, the heart of the PaddingtonCentral development. Change-of-use permission had to be sought since our activities were not strictly conforming to the original permission. However, the studio spirit is very much in evidence in the fit-out, with an emphasis on a variety of informal meeting spaces, teched-up presentation rooms and zero cellular offices.


© Dave Parker Photography

The decision not to install a suspended ceiling has worked successfully, giving a 'white-collar factory' feel to the space. There are more than enough desks for all staff, though a clear-desk policy, strictly enforced, means that anyone can sit anywhere having collected laptop and connectors from lockers. Super tidy but personality free. Most people tend to sit in the same area each day, if not at the same desk.

It is all a far cry from my first workspace in the company: a small glazed office (I invariably kept the door open). This is my fourth location in 20 years, and in terms of the way we now do business definitely the most effective, the result of being realistic about the need for meeting spaces of every variety. I wonder what things will be like in 2033.

Paul Finch is programme director of World Architecture Festival/INSIDE, and editorial director of The Architectural Review/Architects' Journal

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