There is a big difference in the way offices are layed out in the UK in comparison with other European countries. In general, offices in the UK are open plan with a higher density of workstations. Employees work in cubicles or in rows or ‘bench-desking as they call it in Britain. Their managers are located in their glass walled cells. In comparison to oofices in Britain, continental European offices ar more devided and have more space per employee, although it is fair to say that every market is different. Crucially, the difference is the amount of square meters per employee, 14.5 in London and 27 in Amsterdam and Frankfurt.
The differences in office layout between several European countries
The British real estate market is characterised by property developers and inverstors. By nature, these are more interested in the efficiency and flexibility of office buildings than in the needs of their users. Italy has a simular situation, but the influence of the market is not as strong there as it is very fragmented and not so developed.
The difference in space planning and interior design are also cultural. Workplaces reflect the tradition and values in status, privacy and ways of collaboration. The way in which the design reflects the culture is very much dependent on local market circumstances and the involvement of employees in the process of interior design in Glasgow.
The reason for the differences in office layouts can be brought back to the early sixties when the German Quickbornerteam developed the ‘office landscape’ or open plan office where seemingly desks were randomly dotted around in the space. A concept that quickly became popular in continental Europe. Ten years later though, the concept was ditched just as quickly as it was adopted, when employees’ influence in office design increased. The major concerns were the lack of privacy and the lack of direct personal influence on the working environment.
In the UK, the office landscape has never been as popular as it was in continental Europe. Under the influence or the United States, British organisations transformed the idealistic concept into an advanced version of Tayloristic open-plan office of the twenties. The organic lay-out of workstations was replaced by an more efficient orthogonal design. De opinion of employees didn’t play a role in this transformation.
The relatively low cost of office accomodation, make some European countries rather generous with the amount os space they use. In addition to that it has te be pointed out that the generous utilisation of space fits the image of the high living standards and employment perks in countries like Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands. British organisations have to be way more cost efficient with the amount of space they allocate for office use. Especially in cities like London and Edinburgh the high cost of office space represents a big chunk of the overhead costs. There is a great opportunity here for Glasgow. The city of Glasgow still has a tremendous amount of space left unused in the city centre. The costs of office refurbishment in Glasgow far outweigh the lower rent in the long term.
Health and safety regulations also contribute to the differences between the countries. Unlike in the UK, in countries like The Netherlands and Germany the law stipulates a minimum of 7 and 8 square metres per person per workstation respectively. However the influence of the law should not be over estimated. In Sweden and Italy the amount of spaced used is relatively high with the same minimal regulation as in the UK.
Cultural differences are more important than differences in regulations.
The first aspect of culture that has an influence on workplace design is hierarchy. In the Swedish egalitarian culture every employee gets his own dedicated space or room. In the more hierarchical British culture, these rooms are the sole privilage of the higher ranks. In the Netherlands and Germany you can see the hierarchy in the size of the rooms and the amount of people in those rooms.
The second aspect of cultural influence on workplace design is the amount of individualism. The popularity of separate rooms and offices in Germany can be explained by the importance of the need of personal space and privacy. In the same way are the Swedish offices the result of ‘social individualism’. The individual aspect is reflected in the personal office layout, the social aspect in the collaboration and break-out areas. It is not a surprise that the combination of individual and shared spaces is a swedish invention.
These differences are also reflected in the local manufacture of office furniture. High end well designed and engineered sspacious workstations in Germany and the Netherlands, minimalist designed but always height adjustrable workstations and sit-stand desks in Sweden and modestly sized and cheaply manufactured desks in the UK.
Only in the UK, there is no clear link between individualism and office lay-out. According to various cultural research studies, the British are very individualistic but nevertheless need to share an open plan office design with minimal privacy and personal space. Like mentioned before this is because of costs and hierarchy.