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The Personal Touch

02 July 2010

There is a growing trend for personalised storage as boundaries between work and leisure become blurred. Richard Blackwell identifies a need to understand what needs to be stored, and how this can contribute to a productive workplace

IS YOUR WORKPLACE PULLING ITS WEIGHT? You might be able to tick the boxes for providing all the correct ingredients - desks, chairs, filing cabinets, coffee points and so on - but are they working to maximum advantage?
While it might not be the most glamorous element of a workspace interior, storage can assist in delivering business benefits. It’s also important to recognise that the types of things being stored are changing. Storage is increasingly used to provide a sense of personal ownership of space in otherwise anonymous corporate openplan spaces.
Many companies only have the vaguest idea of what they are storing. Unwanted documents are kept in forgotten filing cabinets for decades, taking up crucial space. Important letters that require archiving are accidentally consigned to the shredder. Lever arch files collect in piles on the floor while cupboards remain disregarded and empty.
In short, nobody within the organisation knows what is being stored, for how long and who has access to it. There is no clearly defined storage policy. Until you know what needs to be stored, you can’t really come up with a satisfactory strategy. Unless someone performs a proper audit, any decisions about specifying and purchasing storage furniture will be arbitrary, with great potential for waste and cost inefficiencies.
Coming up with a storage masterplan needs an understanding of how a company works. For many businesses, working practices have fundamentally shifted over recent decades, as technology advances at breakneck pace. Each new breakthrough - from mobile phones and laptops to iPhones and iPads - promises to revolutionise working practices, with workplace interiors often struggling to keep up.
The ways we work have also been influenced both by corporate and personal forces over recent years. Boundaries between work and leisure have become blurred. For employers, there is growing recognition that pleasant working environments boost productivity. Staff are happier, and feel encouraged to work longer hours. Some offices even resemble boutique hotels, offering in-house gyms and gourmet cuisine. The end result can be a happier, healthier workforce taking fewer days off sick and deciding to stay on the premises for their lunchbreak or putting in extra hours. Investing in the interior sends a message that staff feel valued and makes them feel comfortable.
For employees, there is growing desire to work flexibly, perhaps from home or in locations other that at their desks. There might be an inclination to mix work and pleasure, perhaps visiting the gym at lunchtime or enjoying in-house pilates. Inevitably, this means that the range of items being stored is expanding. It’s not just about files, documents and stationery but about ‘lifestyle’ storage of personal effects. Our desks have become home-from-home, our lockers filled with sportsgear or party clothes. Storage also needs to meet changing performance requirements. For example, people working flexibly with laptops need somewhere secure to keep their gadgetry safe when not required.
It is important to step back and take a long-term view. There might be budgetary pressure to cut costs and specify cheaper products. But spending more initially, perhaps specifying more durable and adaptable furniture, can deliver long-term gains. The products might help to deliver greater productivity, or will last longer. Growing demand for flexible, durable products means that they types of storage furniture being chosen bycompanies is changing. There has been a big increase in flexible solutions that can cope with change. Systems like Bisley LateralFile offer a vast range of options within a unified minimalist aesthetic, with the ability to be adapted as circumstances dictate.
We are also seeing the specification of more locker units and cupboards specifically for employees’ personal belongings. In most cases, these seem to work best when located at, or near to, desks. For obvious reasons, people don’t like to leave valuable personal items a long distance from where they work.
It’s long been the case that people like to personalise their workplace. It represents a way of taking over a small corner of an impersonal openplan space. However, it’s more challenging to address this situation when it comes to flexible working and hotdesking. How can you feel at home in a workspace when working nomadically?
Employees want the freedom to be able to take their personal belongings with them to wherever they are working, to claim their territory if only for a day. As a result, we’ve seen a growth in demand for mobile storage products, including  our recently-developed Bite units. Bite provides space for both personal and work storage, and wraps around bench-style desk surfaces, helping to delineate space and create a sense of private territory. At the end of the day, it’s easy to pop your belongings into the secure upper storage compartment, ideal for supporting a company’s clear desk policy.
However, any flexible work policy needs to be policed. There’s always the temptation to park your storage trolley and take up long-term occupation of a desk space, much to everyone else’s annoyance. This can particularly become a problem with smaller mobile pedestal units. By extending well above the desk surface, Bite is visible across the office landscape. Those employees abusing the nomadic work policy are more easily caught out.
Bite also proves that storage can be personalised - helping people take ownership of their workspace even if it’s mobile – without resorting to covering it with stickers and gonks. The lid to Bite’s upper storage compartment can be raised to act as a privacy screen, while the inside can be customised as a noticeboard or wipe-clean writing surface. Along with many other Bisley products, Bite can be tailored to individual requirements (you can even specify post slots, which can also be incorporated into our MySpace lockers). We have even created lockers that, instead of name labels on the doors, display photographs to identify their owners.
Indeed, the desire to store away more personal belongings and valuable high-tech items, means we are also witnessing a rise in lockable storage. There are ways of dealing with this in a totally flexible and efficient manner. Instead of having allocated lockers for employees - which would mean that many would remain empty when not required - Bisley has developed the DockLock system. This is a removable lock that is allocated to an employee, who can then use it to secure a vacant locker, perhaps picking a big or small space depending on their storage requirements. So next time you take a look at the storage units within your office, think carefully. Do you really know what’s going on inside them? It might be time to open the doors and look within.

Case study
The Technology Strategy Board (TSB) is an executive non-departmental public body that’s all about driving innovation. So it was apt that Bisley’s innovative mobile storage unit Bite (below) was chosen as a key element of the workplace storage strategy. Half of TSB’s 120 employees are freelance with no need for a permanent desk. Being mobile, Bite supports flexible working, providing multifunctional storage while also creating an allimportant sense of personal space. It helped reduce the floorspace required by 30 percent, highlighting how storage strategies can have a major impact on business costs.
● Richard Blackwell is sales and group marketing director at Bisley UK

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