Secretarial: The information exchange of the future

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The Independent Culture
AS COMPANIES move towards an open-plan Millennium, smoke-filled rooms and cubby-holes are disappearing.

Nevertheless, some companies are compensating. Asda, for instance, has instructed employees at its Leeds headquarters to put on a special red baseball cap if they don't want to be disturbed.

There are also informal meeting rooms with sofas rather than tables and chairs. Spokesman Phil Reed says: "We try and get away from two- or three- hour meetings, which are not necessarily very productive."

British Telecom called in award-winning firm Aukett Associates to redesign its City headquarters: it now has a spacious atrium, along with coffee bars, breakout space, "buzz bars" on all floors and connectivity benches where employees or visitors can plug in laptops and telephone chargers.

Vivian Fowler, one of Aukett's directors, has worked for several large companies including Glaxo, British Airways and Autoglass. She says: "What we have realised in dealing with these companies is that people are in meetings all day and the one chance they get to exchange information is when they are getting a cup of coffee."

Yvonne Danson of Hewlett Packard concurs. She says the company integrated smoking rooms into the original design of its headquarters, but that an open-door policy and sophisticated intranet system are also paying dividends.

"Our new building in Bristol has an atrium and a lovely coffee area, rather like a high-class shopping mall. People don't sit there for hours and hours; you just have a coffee and then you're off again."