Monday 17 January 2005

Notes from a visit to the Ark workplace

Today I took a bit of time out of my busy schedule to visit the offices of Assai in Sydney. Physically their office space has a capacity for 30 people but Assai have an unusual arrangement because they actually share their open plan office with six other small professional firms as well as some virtual or hotdesking tenants. My reasons for visiting them is that I'm very interested in how organisation create collaborative environments, physical and online.

The administration of the office, called The Ark, is community based. This means they operate on a fixed cost basis (with exception of telephone calls) that covers things such as stationary but also the use of other facilities like meeting rooms. Despite that fact that there are many different businesses operating in the space, there appears to be a strong sense of community in place and this guides people to do the right thing and use resources fairly. Compare this to most corporate open plan environments!

From the perspective of the integration of technology into the workplace I was particularly interested in the fact that they put their services - cabling and air conditioning - under the floor rather than above as is typical. It means that they have greater flexibility to rearrange the layout because power and data are underneath. They also use a cordless DECT phone system that means people can wander around the office or even go down to a cafe below but still have access to their landline. However, I can also see great potential for a wireless data network in this environment - particularly for the meeting room and informal spaces - so that the spaghetti of blue LAN cable can be banished. I would then be interested to see how that impacts on their use of shared space.

It is very easy to look at The Ark workplace from just a single architectural, social or technology perspective. But what appears to make this environment work is the fact that they have thought about both the social and technology infrastructure needed for a "community" to exist.

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