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Last Updated: Monday, 4 April, 2005, 07:32 GMT 08:32 UK
My office: Devi Lozdan
Our mission to brighten up your working lives continues - and this time, we're taking a long hard look at your offices.
Take a look at David Waddell's office

Over the next few months, our panel of experts will be listening to your gripes about where you work, and suggesting ways to make your workspace more efficient, more congenial or simply prettier.

This week, we're hearing from Devi Lozdan, whose hi-tech company shares a trendy open-plan space in Brighton.

Click on the link under her photograph to read her story, and then scroll down to see what the panel have to say. And if you want to take part in the series, go to the bottom of the story to find out how to get in touch.

Larry Mayers, YSC

Open plan and shared office environments allow for a whole range of benefits - if handled correctly!

Positive spin-offs result in opportunities for colleagues to communicate with ease, fostering joint decision making and problem solving.

Frequent communication also encourages the development of a shared vision, which will allow the various individuals to act as one.

The resulting office unity changes the people from sole operators into an orchestrated team, with mental models of how each member works, allowing for both increased motivation not to let other team members down and increased personal satisfaction.

The benefits may not be reached if the arrangements are not adequately contracted. This refers to both the legal stuff; but more importantly the emotional buy-in of all parties concerned.

Failing to do this will encourage an environment of resentment to build up between the various organisations as well as a sense of "them and us". This will impact not only on co-operation between the various team, but also on the quality of conversations within individual teams.

When this happens each minor act, say employing a new staff member, will be interpreted as an act of aggression, giving further reason to undermine strained relationships.

Building up an environment of trust from this is very difficult, so it is essential to develop a good working relationship before you move in. This often seems tedious and unnecessary, but is of great value in the longer term.

Dangers within each team are often related to differences in individual work styles. One person may talk aloud whilst typing; the other may need quiet during problem solving; one person may gauge their output by how much others are working, whilst one may be personally motivated.

Once again this needs to be discussed in advance. Talking about such issues before they become problems will allow the team to work well together, and when things go awry, to talk about them in a constructive manner.

Steve Day, ODB Group

It is apparent that by and large the existing arrangements work very well. The pressure is likely to build, however, when one or more of the sharers needs to expand into a limited space.

1) Larry Mayers is an occupational psychologist with YSC, a consultancy which aims to help companies drive and manage change
2) Luke Munro is managing director of Home Working Solutions, which specialises in ergonomic and safe office furniture and software
3) Steve Day is chairman of ODB Group, which specialises in modern corporate interior design
4) Jon Thorpe is joint managing director of ACS Office Solutions, a leading supplier of total office solutions, including IT products, services and support, as well as furniture and interiors

Before dealing with how they can improve the use, it is essential to consider the building regulations particularly under the rules regarding fire. Where a floor is split into multiple occupancy, each space should be sub-divided by a minimum of half hour fire rated separation.

To be able to expand in a limited space and provide for the elements of privacy, it will be necessary to carry out a review of the requirements of the companies with a space analysis report. This review is likely to show how much if any additional space can be created with the use of better designed work stations, flat screens and so on.

Ultimately, one or more of the companies may have to move, the evidence for this needs to be compiled and presented in a logical manner.

The benefits of an open plan office environment can easily be diminished through the maze of wires and cables that have to be connected into laptops, PCs or printers.

Using WLAN (wireless local area network) technology can combat this: the equipment deployed is small and unobtrusive and consists of a terminal device connected to a broadband link, and a wireless access point, and computer devices should have compatible wireless cards.

The numbers of computer devices that can be connected at any one time depends on the particular usage, so both the broadband link and numbers of access points will need to be carefully assessed.

Luke Munro, Home Working Solutions

Conflict issues can arise when one or more party expands or contracts with regard to their personnel and/or technological space.

So advice would to be to look at everyone's growth plans thoroughly at the start. This also has implications in terms of the furniture, which without some sort of planning can end up looking hotchpotch, confusing the space and leading to an aesthetically less pleasant and therefore productive workspace.

Within departmental boundaries in a firm, open-plan working can be quite productive and allows plenty of communication and spontaneity. Problems arise when different cultures clash.

The general noise background can affect productivity on occasion. Some firms are simply noisier than others and the noise level can increase exponentially as the number of people goes up.

Major IT issues are security and general technological territory in general. Even when people are well known to, and trusted by, others - to the point where they are allowed to use each others' machines in an emergency, one needs to remember that it doesn't require malice for someone to mess up your whole day.

There is also potentially a problem if you are on a shared network, which is quite likely in these circumstances. Even with people you trust, you should take steps to secure important information - passwords, key documents, intellectual property etc. Make sure you have good passwords - and even recourse to encryption in some cases. And backups - it does not require intent to wipe out your work...

Finally, it is likely that network management will be the responsibility of only one of the firms involved. So be sure that you trust them, and have an agreed service level contract in place.

Jon Thorpe, ACS Office Solutions

Sharing an open-plan office, or simply having office space in a larger building, can have big implications for IT infrastructure. Even in an environment like this, where the neighbouring companies trust each other, there is inevitably a proportion of data which must inherently remain confidential.

A common problem occurs in shared environments when companies introduce wireless networking. We find that our clients in business centres often experience problems with their wireless networks interfering with each other.

None of these obstacles are insurmountable. With expert planning and appropriate hardware, any wireless network can be effectively secured. Unfortunately, most of the wireless products aimed at the small to medium business sector ship with factory settings that leave them wide open to misuse - hence the importance of seeking advice when setting up a wireless network.

However, before going all wireless, consider your reasons. If it is solely related to the flexibility of re-arranging desks periodically, you may be able to do this using traditional cabling and innovative desk wire management. Advice on this might come from your cabling or IT supplier or even, in some cases, your furniture supplier.

As a general comment, companies seeking to realise some of the benefits of open-plan working - without knocking down walls - could find that e-mail, video conferencing and instant messaging technology will make internal communication easier and more efficient.

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