Flexible Workspace


Back in 2001, I was given the opportunity to create my own organisation.  It was a great opportunity and I pulled about 30 people together to work on architecture and systems Integration projects in the Infrastructure arena.  We hit upon a slight problem though we couldn’t find any space within the existing company buildings in the area.  This presented us with another great opportunity, work from home, or find and design our own office.  This is the story of how we designed our Office and what we learned.


At the time, (and still today), my company designs its offices by giving a guy with Visio a template desk and chair and an outline of the office and asking him to cram as many desks in as he can.  We actually have a few show case offices where they go to the other extreme, but we had no where near that budget.

So starting with a very small budget and a very creative culture we set about our search and found a large empty space not far from one of existing buildings.  We spent our budget with great care, for example we restricted fixed networking to the outside walls, and invested the money we saved buying everyone laptops and wireless cards, (70% of us had laptops already).

We purchased tables, instead of desks, which were much cheaper and allowed us to fund loads of conference rooms and break out areas. We encouraged everyone to bring in their books and magazines from home and created a fantastic library. Instead of allocating people individual desks, we allocated each team a clusters of desks that they could organise as they wished.  This increased our utilisation and freed up money to allow us to get a great coffee machine, electronic whiteboards and projectors.

We didn’t wire the office for phones, we purchased a load of cheap DECT, (wireless phones), which fitted in great with our flexible environment.  We spent the money we saved on phone lines and wiring to buy everyone a mobile.


You get the idea.  The resulting office looked a bit like the diagram at the top of this post.  I say a ‘bit like’ because we changed it around all of the time, which was very easy as everything was wireless and the tables were easy to move.  The environment was designed around zones that provided support for the following working scenarios:


  • Need to sit and read, research
    • Library Space, comfy chairs, book cases and magazine racks
  • Need to sit in a corner and work on your own
    • Hot desks screened away from the main collaboration areas by cabinets, but with plenty of natural light and with ‘fast’ fixed networking connections
  • Need to work collaboratively
    • Collaborative spaces, with tables that can be arranged flexibly, whiteboards and projector screens for design reviews
  • Need to discuss privately or hold noisy meetings
    • Traditional ‘conference’ rooms and breakout areas
  • Need to do builds
    • Tables to reduce desk clutter, virtual Machines used for build development prior to targeting specific hardware
  • Need to present to customers, do demos and undertake design reviews
    • Demonstration room, two projectors, electronic whiteboards, demonstration stations
  • Labs and server room
    • For use for ‘dog-food’ and concept development lab facilities

We had a cunning plan around utilisation as well:


  1. We bought a whole load a storage trays and put them on every table block and filled them with every kind of stationary item people needed
  2. We provided laptops to everyone so they had no excuse for needing paper files
  3. We put coat racks all around so people did not take ownership of chairs
  4. We provided everyone with personal storage, but not at the desk.  After a month people hardly every used it, they got so used to keeping everything electronic.
  5. Because everyone was wireless and no one had desks people just sat and worked in the environment that suited and with whoever they needed to.  This was almost always possible because there was always space available because we under utilised it.  In a traditional office everyone has a desk, and that desk is only actually used 50-60% of the time, (holidays, meetings, off-site visits etc.)

We got a great culture going as well:


  1. Everyone was involved in the initial design and the re-designs
  2. Everyone liked the facilities and the flexibility
  3. People collaborated much more
  4. Teams designed their own environments and working practices
  5. People relaxed a lot more and did more research in the breakout areas
  6. Do not disturb areas were created for people needing to do quiet work
  7. We showed a lot of visitors around, and everyone took pride in this and it helped to keep the place tidy
  8. Even though our budget was less than average everyone was much better equipped
  9. We had team meetings in the big conference area every week, and we funded the food from the money we made from the tuck shop
  10. We held a children’s party to say thanks to the team, and we used the office.  The kids loved the eWhiteboards and we had two DVD movies playing on the projectors.  We had the biggest pass-the-parcel I have ever seen with about 40 kids!
  11. We ran a tuck shop and gave load of cash to charity
  12. We created an automated sandwich ordering system
  13. We bought loads of books and everyone was encouraged to learn and develop
  14. The team was led by technically savvy managers, with project managers working in a supporting role.   

It was probably my best team leader experience, a great couple of years!

Most of the comments on this post ended up on Facebook, so I’m repeating them here:

Jack M. Oliveira, Simon Clayton, Martin Fryatt and 8 others like this.

Neil Hodgkinson Great times
Unlike · Reply · 2 · June 9 at 11:42am

Chris Mason Indeed, it was a real pleasure and highlight in my career in IT, both in working for you and with such great talent you gathered around you. smile emoticon
Unlike · Reply · 4 · June 9 at 11:51am

Martyn Dews I remember occasionally venturing into that space when I needed to get information from the boffins that resided there. Lots of knowledge there.
Unlike · Reply · 2 · June 9 at 11:54am
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Steve Richards Lol, that’s going a bit far, especially as you have now been elevated to the lofty status of ‘boffin’ yourself, a status I mostly succeeded in avoiding
Like · Reply · 1 · June 9 at 12:02pm

Simon Beare I thought that diagram looked familiar!
Unlike · Reply · 3 · June 9 at 12:48pm

Chris Mason Ha you just reminded me about the automated sandwich ordering system replacing Vicky! wink emoticon
Like · Reply · 1 · June 9 at 1:10pm

Simon Beare I probably still have the ASP code somewhere. Vicky was the key part of the system as she faxed the order off and collected it!
Unlike · Reply · 2 · June 9 at 1:17pm

Neil Hodgkinson Vicky Bray
Like · Reply · June 9 at 2:39pm
Steve Richards

Steve Richards An app that @paul Earnshaw developed if I remember correctly
Like · Reply · June 9 at 1:17pm

Mike Tombs I seem to recall a very early wireless implementation (ground breaking) and a fridge with chocolate in (double ground breaking) smile emoticon all the best Steve, thanks for expanding my brain (beyond stretching point often!) On many occasions
Unlike · Reply · 4 · June 9 at 1:17pm

Steve Richards Yes, Mike thanks to Emmet Lagan we had wireless 10 years before most people at work, & you’re very welcome wink emoticon
Like · Reply · 1 · June 9 at 1:19pm

Chris Mason And very early adopter of VMware too!
Unlike · Reply · 1 · June 9 at 1:33pm

Steve Townend Ah, back in the day! I need Paul Earnshaw back – remember the absence chart? Can you believe that my current employer introduced a new spreadsheet where we all have to enter our hols – madness! I loved working on VOE and GOE and can remember going to see clients with Steve Richards , a few laptops and demonstrating a whole infrastructure using a handful of VMs running on the laptops; also quite groundbreaking at the time. The PTMC office is the best that I have worked in; great design, great team and great projects to get stuck into. I guess we threatened the established order and were dismantled rather than being embraced. Good on you Steve for having the courage to break the norms of standard office layout, equipment etc – it was appreciated by all.
Unlike · Reply · 7 · June 9 at 1:41pm

Stuart White One of the few offices where a visit did not leave you with a thumping headache. Frustration there seemed to lead to solutions rather than fighting with whatever someone had thought was a good idea five years (or more) before. One of the best work environments and certainly one of the very best teams to work with. Without your foresight though, Steve Richards, I don’t think we would have got in the door, let alone on to wireless.
Unlike · Reply · 5 · June 9 at 2:07pm

Rikki Jones I concur with everything that has been said. Best office, best team and best leader I have ever worked with. Steve Richards were and remain an inspiration! Good luck in your retirement!
Unlike · Reply · 4 · June 9 at 2:56pm

Alex Thompson Is VOE still around?
Like · Reply · 1 · June 9 at 4:06pm
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Steve Richards Sadly not, the Exchange Web Store, upon which it was based was replaced by Sharepoint and so was VOE. Simon Beare probably still has all the code though, he’s my official archivist wink emoticon
Like · Reply · 1 · June 9 at 4:08pm

Alex Thompson Every SharePoint meeting I go to I always let the client know that Msft got the idea from VOE!!!
Like · Reply · 1 · June 9 at 4:10pm

Simon Beare Yeah got all of VOE and DTR on DVD in case anyone ever needs it. 😇
Like · Reply · 1 · June 9 at 4:12pm

Steve Richards Oh no, you mean GIP is lost forever frown emoticon
Like · Reply · June 9 at 4:17pm

Neil Hodgkinson Alex, I now work in the SharePoint product engineering team and wish we had the original VOE talent available to help with the product development. Amazing too see that SharePoint has now come full circle and embraced JavaScript again just as VOE did back in the day
Like · Reply · 1 · June 9 at 4:51pm

Steve Townend I am at a loss as to why most companies seem to use SharePoint as a simple document dumping ground. Considering what we built for VOE with very little underlying capability, it would be awesome to develop rich business apps on top of a rich framework like SharePoint. Especially now that Typescript has enabled serious apps to be developed and maintained in JavaScript. I still have my VOE t-shirt from BAE Systems in the US smile emoticon
Like · Reply · 1 · June 9 at 5:00pm

Neil Hodgkinson Couldn’t agree more Steve. SharePoint simply became the case else for workloads when there was no off the shelf platform available. We are starting to see some interesting stuff grow out of the office.dev.com patterns and paractices but its slow going.
Like · Reply · June 9 at 5:04pm

Steve Richards I’m biased of course, but there’s still quite a bit of VOE that’s not been improved upon in Sharepoint, performance unfortunately was not one of them
Like · Reply · 1 · June 9 at 5:04pm

Alex Thompson Neil, you just need to open an office in Preston and recruit a few known individuals wink emoticon. VOE v2
Unlike · Reply · 3 · June 9 at 5:12pm

Simon Beare I should have GIP in there too. We backed up all the data off the servers before we shut them down.
Like · Reply · June 9 at 8:44pm

Graham Chastney We loved TLA’s even then…
Like · Reply · June 9 at 8:45pm
Steve Richards
Graham Chastney PTMC was a great place to work, but I don’t think my knees have yet recovered from bashing them on the sharp metal edges under the corners of some of the tables. Not seen them recently, but I think those tables still live on in a CSC office somewhere.
Unlike · Reply · 3 · June 9 at 4:56pm

Mark Goodridge I agree with all comments, and have yet to work in a more productive environment. I still remember the endless discussions with security about wireless after we implemented…..
Unlike · Reply · 2 · June 9 at 6:51pm

Steve Richards I’m pleased you spared me the details Mark!
Like · Reply · 1 · June 9 at 7:09pm · Edited

Darren McComas Reading all these comments sparked so many memories. Probably one of the most enjoyable periods of my career surrounded by so many knowledgeable people which helped bring on my knowledge.
Unlike · Reply · 1 · June 9 at 8:16pm

Laura Mills · Friends with Simon Beare and 3 others
Oh my goodness … Can’t believe you still have this! Trip down memory lane or what!
Unlike · Reply · 1 · June 9 at 8:32pm

Steve Richards I’m an virtual hoarder
Like · Reply · June 9 at 8:35pm

Graham Chastney Oh the power of small, well focussed, autonomous, highly skilled, co-located teams – with good leadership.
Unlike · Reply · 2 · June 9 at 8:32pm

Simon Clayton That was a great environment to work in. It is amazing how people react to trust and empowerment. I recall Graham hosting the strangest meeting I’ve ever been to: “Why did Project X, go so well?”. Thank you Steve. Enjoy your retirement, you accomplished so much.
Unlike · Reply · 2 · June 10 at 8:04pm

Chris Mason Talking of meetings, it still brings a smile to my face when I was chairing that meeting where Stuart Ball (I think) installed that routine on Emmet’s laptop. The one which kept on ejecting his CD tray, seconds after he pushed it back in! smile emoticon
Unlike · Reply · 5 · June 10 at 9:12pm

Alex Thompson Coffee cup.exe or something like that combined with soon.exe
Unlike · Reply · 2 · June 10 at 10:16pm

Simon Clayton CupHolder.exe
Unlike · Reply · 2 · June 11 at 4:46am

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

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