Alternative workspaces: Best office building is no building

A new concept called alternative workspaces is receiving more and more recognition for its savings and efficiency possibilities.

office building 88 (photo credit: )
office building 88
(photo credit: )
Addicted to your Blackberry or iPhone? Find yourself doing more and more business over instant messenger and e-mail? Is your actual office becoming less and less relevant? If you answered "yes" to any of the above questions, you are not alone. All of these phenomena are being brought together into a new concept called alternative workspaces, which is receiving more and more recognition for its savings and efficiency possibilities. "What is the best building? The best building is no building," Sholem Prasow, Teknion Furniture Systems vice president for business development and strategic planning, told The Jerusalem Post. The LEED-accredited professional was here from Canada to deliver the keynote address at the international "Office and Workspace" conference to 600 Israeli architects on Friday, and to teach a two-day course on green building. "At any given time in North America, one-third of the people are not in the office. Half of those in the office are not at their desks," he said. So what if not everybody has a desk? The real reason people go to the office is to work collaboratively on projects or to socialize, neither of which has anything to do with having a desk and a cubicle with their name over it, he maintained. New workspaces should be designed around conference rooms with a number of undesignated workstations or "touch down spaces," which would be used by multiple people. "Alternative workspaces save 10-30 percent of costs, whereas green building saves about 3%. It cuts down tremendously on office space and therefore real estate space. So the real savings are in alternative workspaces. Ideally, of course, one should do both," Prasow said. He added that "82% of businesses in North America are now looking into it." Alternative workspaces also raise efficiency by at least 10%, according to recent figures. LEED is a voluntary green building certification system established by the US Green Building Council (USGBC). All of the components already exist, according to Prasow; they just need to be woven together. "You need to look at two spaces - the physical and the virtual. Physically, build the office around the conference rooms and then get the employees to design the space they need for their team and their projects," he instructed. Instead of large corner offices for management, alternative workspaces would be optimally employee-designed and use far less floor space, he proposed. "Virtually, we need to move towards a collaborative work environment with totally digitized storage. That would look like a unified inbox - e-mail and voice mail together. You would use instant messaging and e-mail to communicate with your team members, who would be illuminated according to their location - office, home, on the road, etc.," he said. And forget the desktop computer or even the laptop - according to Prasow, the new mainframe will be the Blackberry. Rim has offered $150 million in seed money for software developed for the Blackberry, he said. To prove his point, Prasow e-mailed two relevant presentations and a link to this reporter from his Blackberry during the interview at a coffee shop in Tel Aviv. Prasow developed his theories while at Teknion. The company offers Greenguard-certified furniture, which means they have the least Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) discharge. In Israel, Teknion is part of the Global Israel group, which comprises 60% of the market share in office furniture. Prasow teaches a weekly on-line LEED-certified course to 700 people and will be participating in various Webinars in the near future. Teknion got into LEED certification as a result of customer inquiries. "We had to learn the principles because customers asked. So then we had to train our salespeople. We have more LEED-accredited professionals than any other furniture company," said Prasow. "I started teaching on-line when people in our Ottawa office asked for training. Instead of going to them, I told them to just conference call in to another group I was teaching." Rather than coming up with just a cute gadget or a fancy toy, Prasow has pulled together cutting-edge technology and employee work patterns into tools for a green revolution in office design.