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EDITIONS
Office Life Monday, 2 November, 1998, 17:39 GMT
Workers' playground
Meeting on the move: It's how we'll work in future
Take a job in the office of the future and be prepared to exercise your feet as well as your brain.

At least that's if you believe a handful of influential thinkers who have been busy plotting a "romping" revolution in the white-collar workplace.

Out goes the concept of your own, personalised desk and swivel chair (complete with your name Tippex-ed on the back); in comes the nomadic worker who will flit from one corner of the office to another, settling in a study booth, a knowledge centre or a heritage area.

It's been called the office equivalent of the political Third Way - a concept born of free-thinking, purported to deliver the best working environment for rank and file staff, management and clients alike.

According to Simon Henley, of design consultants Buschow Henley, romping - revolutionary office mobility programme - is the result of the search for a "borderless office".

It enables employees to break free of the traditional workplace constraints by freeing up the whole office and allocating areas for specific tasks.

Inside DEGW
DEGW shows off its romping environment
The result is a workplace split into various zones. The recently-revamped London headquarters of consultants Arthur Andersen is divided into areas such as "chaos" (for brainstorming) and "zen" (for contemplation).

Despina Katsikakis, of design and workplace strategy consultants DEGW, says the notion of the nomadic worker is down to the time staff spend away from their desks.

"We did a two-week study of working practices, which showed, on average people are not in the office more than 55 to 60% of the time," she says.

Chat at the coffee machine

"Even then they tend to be in meetings, at the photocopier or standing next to coffee machines. Typically people do not use their desk more than 35% of the time."

But in the enlightened eyes of DEGW, a quick chat in the corridor is not time down the drain. On the contrary, it can be incredibly valuable.

"The common story about Viagra was that two researchers bumped into each other and started comparing notes on their own projects," says Ms Katsikakis.

"Then they started working together and came up with this incredible, multi-million dollar drug."

It underlines the growing consensus that in today's global economy, western societies increasingly rely on creativity and knowledge for generating wealth.

Modern technology in the form of the mobile phone and laptop computer has been essential in making romping a viable reality.

At DEGW, which reassuringly practices what it preaches, staff begin the working day in the "pick-up" zone, where they collect papers from a personal locker, as well as a cordless phone and a laptop.

Choose where to sit

Then, instead of heading to the same desk as yesterday, they have a choice of where to settle down for work.

"Directors tend to be out of the office a lot so when they are in, they sit in the club area which is in the middle and means they are highly visible," says Ms Katsikakis.

Cafe
Looks like a cafe, in fact it's an office designed for romping
Elsewhere there are team rooms for discussing ideas and study booths, designed to enable individuals to concentrate when writing or thinking alone.

A "clear desk policy" operates throughout.

"It's much more than aesthetic. The biggest problem with conventional offices is just piles and piles of paper. People are not at their desks but there's no way you can just sit anywhere. Everyone's workplace is just completely cluttered."

Every office has its own, unique take on romping.

Brand rooms

The iconoclastic advertising agency St Luke's, which has raised eyebrows with its campaigns for Ikea and the government's New Deal, has brand rooms devoted to each of its major clients.

In the Eurostar room, visiting executives discuss ideas while sitting in a real train seat, while the Boots 17 room is modelled on a teenage girl's bedroom.

DEGW's study booths
DEGW's study booths
To traditionalists, it all sounds rather unsettling. But Mr Henley, whose company coined the term romping, stresses that employees will only take to it if they get something in return.

"The problem with hot-desking or hoteling is that people are made to give up personal space for the good of their employer but not for them," he says.

"It saves space, reduces rent costs but individuals see no benefits of their own. It's totally inhumane.

"Romping is about giving them something more; it's about breaking down the boundaries in an office.

"At the heart of the humanising process is the idea of de-homogenising the environment - trying to mimic life outside and bring that richness and variety into the workplace."


Clear as Mud

Too many office-dwellers hide behind gobbledegook, using jargon and obscure words. They may think it makes them look clever, but it leaves most people mystified.

E-mail us your examples of ridiculous English which has been used in your office. The worst entry will win a Guide to Clear English which the winner can secretly leave on the offender's desk.

Click here to submit your entry.

Please include details of your name and country.

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