Striking the right balance

The following observations are based on a single, one-hour visit to the offices of James Chapman & Co, King Street, Manchester. An overview assessment was conducted focusing on the ergonomic aspects of the offices.

The observations made were as follows:

The refurbishment of these offices has resulted in a bright, airy and stylish environment which feels comfortable yet business-like. Although the designer has clearly placed strong emphasis on aesthetics, this has not resulted in a compromise in functionality or practicality.

The reception area is welcoming and has sufficient space to deal efficiently with a large number of visitors. The large meeting rooms are concentrated on this floor, which minimises any disruption to staff associated with the arrival and departure of visitors. A library area is positioned behind reception, which ensures a further distance between a potentially bustling reception area and one of the main offices.

The firm moved into the open-plan offices in December 1997, having previously been housed in cellular offices. The move has been relatively smooth and members of staff have adapted well to the differences in their new environment.

The provision of screening and a large number of meeting rooms has addressed one of the common concerns expressed by staff in such a move to an open-plan layout – namely, the lack of privacy.

The staff had some input into front-end design process, for example, identifying their individual storage requirements, and the firm has responded to informal feedback received following the move. Such activities will increase the likelihood of staff feeling that they have some control over their working environment.

The office layout has been planned around function-based groupings, which will reduce the time spent going to speak to other group members, allow relevant documentation to be retained in one area and minimise disruption to other groups.

Although a significant amount of time was spent working on the seating plans to ensure seating in functional groups was achieved, the furniture and space available is sufficiently flexible to be adapted if there is a change in circumstances.

The firm has provided good-quality, well-designed equipment and furniture which can be adjusted to each individual's requirements – a fully adjustable chair, task lighting, storage and so on.

Training in how to adjust the working environment to meet personal needs would be beneficial in order to ensure that individuals get the full potential from their work area, for example, to minimise the risk of musculo-skeletal problems.

Generally the lighting level is good. However, lighting levels in the library seemed a little low for reading – although a desk with task lighting has been made available.

The noise level is generally low, with the majority of staff having modified their behaviour following the move to an open-plan design. On the whole, noise problems and complaints have been aimed at particular individuals. Efforts have been made to address such problems at source.

Following the move to these offices, a good working environment has been created. However, it is reassuring that the firm does not consider its role complete now that it has moved into the building. Instead, it has been willing to listen to staff and to modify the environment as necessary.

One good example of this is the redevelopment of the staff room to facilitate its increased usage following the move.