Category Archives: Clients

There is no I in workplace – the role of the individual in workplace design consultation

I for information

A few months ago I read an article by Gary Miciunas, “The design of work and the work of design” in Work+Place. Miciusnas focuses on the collaboration between the Director of Work, Director of Work-Place and the workplace designer – bringing together facilities management, human resources, information technology and business services to deliver new service oriented work place models. The collaboration of these teams would be a significant improvement over current typical model of workplace design where it can be a challenge to get all of these people to even sit down together in one meeting (I’ve talked a little about this before – What makes a great workplace design client). However this approach got me thinking about the question of where and how the individual knowledge worker fit into this collaboration? Given the flexibility to choose a place of work – work from home, work from a cafe or work in the office – may mean that workers vote with their feet. What impact does this have on the design of the workplace? What if we design a workplace and no one shows up?

As the choice of place to work becomes a choice of consumption, does the individual workplace user need to become more involved in the workplace design process? Or can the role of the ‘user group consultation’ possibly be reduced as variety or a menu of workplaces are built into the design? The challenge of involving all individuals in workplace design is already a problematic issue. Workers frequently have very fixed ideas of the settings they need to do their work. Sometimes this is based upon existing layouts or settings, at other times those seen elsewhere or an idealised setting. Whilst the worker knows their work best – are they equipped to imagine other possibilities? Do they understand how their work fits in with other work within the organisation?

The idea of ‘the design of work’ perhaps provides a good starting comparison point to the ‘work of design’ of the work place. As anyone who has ever worked within a large organisation knows many individuals design their own processes, systems and software optimising these to suit their own individual needs to best get their job done. However if there is too much individualisation and not enough organisational standardisation, this comes at a huge cost. Each individual worker has spent significant time to customise their work process and it differs from the work process of the other 50 people doing the same job. This is not efficient for an organisation. However too much standardisation and the individual knowledge worker is likely to get frustrated – because whilst there might be 50 others doing the same role, the way they do their job and apply their knowledge is not, and does not need to be identical. Could some of the same thinking apply to the workplace? How can we give people the individuality and flexibility to optimise their work place without losing the benefit of standardisation?

To me, the idea of Activity Based Working can be seen as a potential solution. A variety of different workspaces and settings are offered within the work place ranging from different size and shape workstations, differing levels of privacy and enclosure and different styles of furnishings. The worker has the choice of where to sit each day or each hour depending on the task at hand. The worker may also have the choice not to be in the workplace at all but working elsewhere. By offering a variety of workplaces, can the worker gain sufficient control to improve productivity by enabling choice of environment?

What happens if the workers do indeed vote with their feet, and large parts of the workplace remain unoccupied? This is surely not the aim of a workplace, and would appear to suggest that the design has failed. How do we as designers determine what types of environments to offer? Is it through user consultation, co-desgin (an even more intensive user involvement) or can we start to combine these activities with a more objective evidence based approach?

Currently workplace design (especially in Australia) tends to be based upon the experience of individual designers or companies, with very little high level research applied across multiple sites or projects (what research there is tends to be focussed on green building measures or space utilisation and is not necessarily comparable across studies). Through more research that captures what workers do across similar task types or industries and what design elements provide improvements to productivity, job satisfaction or collaboration – best practice can be defined. This kind of research could give a design team the confidence to know what kinds of spaces to design, based upon defined activities.

Research on the design of the workplace needs to be both qualitative and quantitative – this is where it has the advantage over traditional user group consultation which tends to be qualitative. Quantitative research needs to include testing of actual workplaces. The idea of beta testing our workplaces is already is use on larger projects. Frequently organisations with many thousands of square metres of office space will install prototype work areas for testing during the design process – from the scale of 1 or 2 workstations for workers to drop by to look at, up to the scale of whole floors where staff are working and formal research is being undertaken of how the space works. This is not always practical for smaller projects and if the knowledge of larger projects was made available to smaller projects could give more small to medium size organisations the encouragement and hard reasons to move towards different workplace models. Perhaps through benchmarking and physical testing, in the future simulated computer testing based on previous project data could also become a reality.

Whilst benchmarking and best practice need to be considered, each workplace still needs to be designed for individual organisations and teams. Ideally each individual work space should be be evaluated and tested to ensure it is providing value to the organisation. This can’t occur as part of the way the design process is currently structured, where the design is completed before the work begins. Perhaps the design process needs to be enlarged, to encompass ongoing evaluation and if necessary redesign with testing of workplace continuing beyond day 1 occupation. Therefore the space that remains unoccupied is not seen as a failure of design but as simply as an area which needs more development. Perhaps it also needs to be considered that it is not design that is the issue, but that the workers need to learn how to use this new kind of space. This then has impacts upon how we procure work place fitout. Can furniture and fitout companies offer components that are offered on rotation for changing needs over time, with leasing instead of outright purchase? Or designs with common component parts that can be reconfigured from a workstation setting to a meeting setting?

Are clients prepared to invest in these kinds of workplaces and the research required to achieve best practice? In Australia, in particular, research into workplace design and productivity has always been very limited and as in many other places has suffered further as a result of cost cutting in tough financial times. However does the changing nature of work and the workplace mean that the creation of great work places is no longer a choice but a necessity in order to attract and maintain the best workers, and get the most out of them?

Are today’s interior designers equipped to manage this process? Do they want to be? Unfortunately there are still too many clients who view interior design in a similar category to interior decoration. A strategic collaboration between interior design, research and the new Director of Work could see this change – or will this see interior design marginalized by a new genre of workplace productivity and strategy experts? What do you think as a designer or as someone who works in an office? Do you think workplace consultation is necessary? Would you like to be able to chose between a variety of work environments each day?

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Is your architecture or design client value for money?

Money by Philip Taylor PT, on FlickrLast week I started a discussion on how the client and their expectations impacts on the cost of design. Whilst there was some hope expressed on linkedin about this next post offering solutions…I’m not really sure I’ve got the answers. As I was originally writing this blog, I found that as I wrote I was moving more and more towards discussion of another contentious topic – competitive tendering. So today, while I continue pondering the impact of the client, this has segwayed into a consideration of the problems of competing tendering.

Often the project brief (or lack thereof) is the beginning of the problem. Whilst developing the brief can be part of the architect or interior designers scope, if it is teamed with unreasonable contract conditions or unreasonable interpretations by the client, significant additional work can be required. I have encountered contracts which expressly forbid the designer from claiming variations due to a prolonged program, limiting the number of meetings or site inspections or from an increased project value. This, to me is incredibly unfair on the part of the client. When the brief is little more than this – design a 5,000m2 fitout in a new building of 5 storeys to accommodate 400 staff in a mix of open plan and enclosed offices with support facilities. To me, the program and budget are key considerations in my scope, the scope is not just the final construction documents. Whilst it is true that the architect or interior designer could increase the construction cost due to design decisions, it is equally true that the client could increase construction costs and the amount of detailed design and documentation required due to their decisions on a higher level of acoustics or particularly extensive and complex joinery requirements as examples. I guess the decision has to be made at the fee proposal stage – do I take this risk of bidding on an very undefined scope and how do I (if possible) cost this into my structure. If the client then gets unreasonable in assessing variation claims, this is a recipe for cost overruns. In the end this kind of client should suffer with reduced quality for their project, but often they don’t, because we as designers still want to do a good job and keep the client happy. And our companies can often somehow think they will be able to make the money back on the next job, but in my experience its hard to make this work if you are dealing with clients who require competitive tendering on every job.

At the other end of the scale I have seen very detailed briefs, which (I thought) set out the clients full expectations of activities and deliverables. I responded to this detailed scope, pricing accordingly. We were even shortlisted for a tender interview. However, it turned out the client was interviewing all the tenderers (there were 3-5 selected tenderers) because there was such a large difference in the fee values (I think it was something like 200%) and they wanted to ask further questions of each party. I thought the interview went very well, but then we didn’t get the job. When we asked for a debrief, we were informed that we were offering a ‘blue ribbon’ service and that the client couldn’t afford this. So apparently the project had gone to someone with a much lesser level of services than they had put the tender out for, and a matching lower price. So much for fair tendering processes. If they didn’t want our ‘blue ribbon’ services, we should have been given the opportunity to price the same as the other company – or perhaps if they weren’t fixed on the services but on the outcome (eg the fitout) then they shouldn’t have specified all the detailed meetings, reports and the like in the tender. Very frustrating.

Although the tender process makes these things worse, even with more involvement with a potential client up front there is still no telling. Just like a job interview, it is a pretty brief time you spend with someone, where both parties are on their best behaviour. Later when things start to get even a little bit difficult or go wrong it could be a different story. Or it could be that the people change, or additional people get involved in the project. Having a user group that violently disagrees with the project manger/property person responsible for delivering the project can be a challenging process to work through for both the architect or interior designer and the client representative.

The most time consuming client I ever had, was one who used to pop into the office every single day for weeks at a time. She had decided to personally take charge of the colours and finishes. Whilst I wasn’t happy with that, the client organisation had agreed she would do this (I think that people thought it would reduce our workload! Little did they know…) If I told reception I wasn’t available she started to ask for the other project team members. She would then ask to come in and look at the samples library – but she wouldn’t just be doing this quietly on her own, the whole time she would be asking the opinion of whoever had let her into the office and they couldn’t get back to their own work. At the end of the project she sent back a removalist size carton of samples. We did actually end up charging the client extra fees, and thankfully in this case, the organisation was reasonable and recognised the additional work we had incurred due to the behavior of their staff member.

For me the problems is that these different client attitudes have costs attached and this time can also impact upon the project program. We have planned the project process based upon certain time periods, and its not always a simple matter of throwing extra resources against the project when the client requirements expand the time required. So how do we as an industry change this? We can’t always work for repeat clients that we know and understand, where we can somewhat predict their behaviours and expectations at the fee proposal stage. Particularly when it comes to competitive tendering we don’t have the opportunity to get to know the client. Or if we do know them, we might overprice the job or the opposite, we can win the job by offering a lesser level of service than the tender calls for. In my view, we as an industry need to take some responsibility for this. Architects and interior designers need to be less hesitant about defining scope and claiming variations. All architects and interior designers need to take responsibility for this, as often client attitudes are determined by the other architects/consultants they have worked with in the past. We need to educate our clients. But I also think that large client organisations, who purchase architectural and design services frequently also need to take responsibility. In particular, in Australia, government at all levels is a large user of architectural services, generally uses competitive tendering processes and frequently promotes one sided contracts. Clients need to understand their roles in the process and what has been allowed for in the fees. The staff involved need further support and education. Value for money does not mean cheapest. The conditions at tendering stage need to suit the actual project expectations. Client organisations need to judge project management success on more than just keeping consultant fees down.

If one of our largest clients (as an industry) treats architects and interior designers as not worth being treated as professionals with a high level of skills and value, what does that say about our profession? What is your experience – do you think competitive tendering offers the client the best outcomes? Do your clients understand that program or meeting attendance is part of the scope and can impact on your fees? What kinds of additional services have your clients expected without changes to your fees?

Image Credits:
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  Philip Taylor PT 

How many architects or interior designers does it take to design a building (or fitout)?

Light bulbs No, that’s not the start of a joke comparing architects versus interior designers. And it’s just as applicable to engineers too. The question is really how do we determine how many hours it will take to design a particular project? I’m back to what seems to be one of my readers favourite subjects again – design fees. Last week a comment on my post on BIM-onimics queried the number of hours spent on some of the example projects. This question put me in mind of a number of issues I’d been meaning to blog about one day – the main one being how do you cost the client themselves into your design fees? To me this is often more difficult than the already difficult task of putting a number of hours on creativity.  However the more I started to think and write on the subject, the more it has expanded, and so this will be a 2 part post.

As I mentioned in my response to the comment on the number of hours a project takes, and I’ve discussed previously (in my post What makes a great workplace design client) clients come in many forms. I find particularly in the areas I of design I have worked in (workplace, healthcare, labs), the client group expects to be (and in my view quite rightly is) part of the design process. But that said, different clients at both the organizational and the individual level have very diverse views about what their role is, what their architect or interior designers role is, what deliverables should be provided, how many review points they should have, how frequently we should meet and generally how much involvement they will have in the design (and even construction process). The client’s level of industry knowledge and familiarity with the design and construction process also differs. All of these factors will impact on the amount of time I spend working on a project – not necessarily designing, but managing the client inputs, reviews and approvals, answering their questions and producing documents which are specifically for their use and not a requirement for construction.

I don’t necessarily mind doing any of these things. The problem is that if I don’t know the client (and by this I mean both the organisation and the individual) at the fee proposal stage then gauging what kind of client they are and what their expectations might be can be exceedingly difficult, and in some cases downright impossible. If you’re lucky you have a client who is only seeking proposals from  a small number of your competitors (or even better you are single select) and they may meet with you once or twice to discuss the project. You have a chance to speak directly with them to clarify the scope and their expectations. It may even be likely that if there was an obvious difference in scope between the proposals the client would come back to you to discuss this. Unfortunately, in my experience this has not been the norm. Maybe in some sectors and firms it is, which is great (give me a call, I’d love to come work with you!). Particularly when dealing with government or large institutions or organisations, competitive tendering becomes a more usual approach.

Even on an invited or short listed tender with a limited number of companies it is unlikely that there will be any significant interaction between the designers and the client representatives. Whilst a site inspection may be held, this usually involves all tenderers and doesn’t really provide an opportunity for the designer to get to know the client. The first time this is likely to occur is after you have submitted your fee, at a tender interview. Indeed for some larger open tenders, there is never even the opportunity for the architect or designer to speak to the client. The only means of contact may be via an anonymous procurement email address, with the whole tender process run by a different individual than the person who will be the client representative.

Especially when the person who becomes the client representative in the design stage has had very little involvement in procurement their expectations can differ markedly from what is documented in the tender and project brief. Individuals can have very different views over what constitutes a review or approval and how the design should progress. With some of my clients I know that if we have a meeting and I present some preliminary design options, I will get instant feedback and go away straight after the meeting to revise and develop the design. However with others, the decision makers are not in the room or further people need to be consulted, I will be lucky if I get feedback and direction 1 week later. These two scenarios affect my resource planning and my project costs. Design is not just dollars per hour, every time I start and stop it costs more. There is also the likelihood that during the time the client is reviewing the schemes they will have more questions, will ask me to explore more options and that overall there will be more meetings and the project will take longer. Now, I can and do try to reduce my exposure to such risks by including a detailed scope and program, limiting the number of meetings and options and other such assumptions within my fee proposal. But still, a number of scenarios have arisen for me in the past where for a wide variety of reasons other issues arise which further complicate the potential project costs or reveal interesting things in relation to the expectations of the client.

Tune in again next week to find out more about some of these issues, a discussion of competitive tendering and my opinions on what needs to happen to help sort out this mess!  In the meantime, feel free to offer your own stories, suggestions and comments.

PS. My TEDx video is now available on line. Click here for the Audience Talks. I’m at around 9 minutes of the way through.

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Architecture and Interior Design is a business, isn’t it?

Time is Money by Tax Credits, on Flickr

My last post on what makes a great workplace client generated some discussion on one of the linkedin groups about if both clients and designers understanding that design is a business. Whilst no one studies interior design or architecture intending to get rich, I think we all like to get paid at least enough to reasonably live on (and for me – buy shoes) without having to work a second job on the weekends to fund our design work. However for us to get paid (and keep our jobs) then the firms we work for have to make money. Meaning our clients have to pay for our time. Pretty simple really. Time = money. So where is the problem? Why do our clients not always appreciate this? Is it because so many interior designers an architects don’t seem to get it themselves?My observations and thoughts on this topic is that there are a number of issues behind this problem. The first is that so many architects and interior designers are passionate about what they do. They have chosen to work in this field because they believe architecture and design makes the world a better place and they love creating. As I said, not for the money. So because you are doing something you love and that can completely engross you, you are prepared to stay up all night when you at uni, and possibly when you are at work too. You are certainly prepared to give away some of your own time when you feel this way, and especially when there is a knotty design problem or detail that you just have to perfect before those documents are issued for construction.

The problems arise if this attitude becomes the standard for how we work. The first problem is that employers may expect us to work these kinds of hours all the time. As profession we have demonstrated that we are prepared to give away our time to our employers for free, so in some cases the fee models have come to depend on this – more on this later.

The second problem is that some architects and designers come to believe that design takes however long as it takes and seem to be incapable of working within any fee structure. Whilst in some ways it appears these architects and designers do not understand or place any monetary value on their time, I believe that it is probably more accurate to describe these designers as believing good design is above money, so valuable it can’t be considered in such a coarse wordly way. This can begin to place architecture and design in the sphere of art, rather than as part of the practical and functional world of which it must be a part if it is to be a business, and if it not to be relegated to a luxury item for the wealthy.

I believe it is these attitudes that have contributed to the way that clients view design services. Why would our clients value our services if we don’t? If our architecture and interior design teams don’t see and approach their work as a business, then perhaps it is no surprise our clients don’t either. I recently came across an interesting article discussing how interior design as a profession is judged by outsiders based upon the terminology we use.

Many large institutional or corporate clients deal with a number of architecture and design firms, and the attitudes of some architects and interior designers influences the attitudes of the clients to the industry as a whole. I have had one client representative question why I would limit the number of user consultation meetings on a small project to 3 or 4, he asked, “but what if it takes 20?” I asked the client if they would want me to charge them for 20 if only 3 were required. He seemed most perplexed – even though this was a full time property client with years of experience – that I needed to charge for our services based upon the time we spent.

Historically architects and designers are also not good at asking for more money, in the form of variations. Our clients expect to pay for contractor variations, but not for design variations. Part of this is because architectural services are so much harder to define, our scope is much more open ended than a contractors lump sum tender scope. However even when we try to define our services it can be hard to manage the process of developing a brief and a design. I would frequently limit the number of design options to be provided – but do have to admit to usually doing a few extras just to be sure I had done sufficient exploration if the design to satisfy myself of the robustness of the solutions I presented. One client put their project on hold after this concept options stage and then questioned my bill (again a client with industry knowledge and understanding of the design process). They felt that because they had not made a decision on a preferred concept they should not pay in full for the concept stage. I then went through our fee proposal scope and what services we had promised to provide during concept stage, and asked the client had we provided each one. They agreed we had done everything we said we would, including providing 4 options that meet their brief (our proposal had offered 3 options so in fact we had over serviced them!) So I asked, why should we not be paid because you have found that your brief might not be what you want? The initial concepts had identified that the client would have to reduce spatial allocations somewhere or rent additional space and provided for various possibilities of how this could be achieved, which made the decision making more complex than the client had expected. We got paid.

You generally don’t expect to see a doctor for a free assessment of your problem, but we frequently spend significant time and money on proposals and tenders, even if we are not providing free design services, these documents are usually expected to provide an individual approach and analysis of the clients needs before we are even guaranteed a single dollar in fees. Whilst many clients take into account a wide range of issues in choosing their architect or designer, and not just fees, frequently the fee structure is a heavily weighted part of this decision. This process is a significant waste of our industry productivity and another indicator of how poorly our clients value our time and resources.

It is these kinds of client attitudes that then lead to the downward pressure on our fee structures which leads to lower qualities of service and design – and this is not good for either our clients or our industry. The lower fees then lead firms to a point where staff have to work additional hours for free to deliver the projects. In the eight years I have been involved in preparing fee proposals, fees in some of the sectors I work in have halved. Salaries and rent has not halved, and whilst tools like BIM can increase our efficiency, they have not halved our workload. Firms have reduced fees during the tough financial items of the last few years, in efforts to maintain sufficient workload to keep staff employed. The problem is that now they are down so low, do we really think they will go up again? So many clients have now come to expect fees so low that the client representatives know that they are ridiculously unsustainable and will either result in poor service or firms going under (or both). But there is often pressure within the client organisation not to spend any more than last project. Unfortunately the only likely thing to change is is if projects go significantly wrong that clients see the value in paying more for design. As long as architects and interior designers are prepared to work for free…of course we ensure this doesn’t happen.

For all architecture and interior design firms to remain viable business and our industry to exist, all architecture and design staff need to contribute to the perception in our industry and beyond that what we do is a valuable service and worth paying for. And of course we need to make sure that we provide a level of service and design to justify this. Architecture and interior design is a business – do you think so? How do we balance the artistic and creative side of what we do with making money? How do we educate our clients and the public to value and understand the services we provide? How do we manage the design process and its very nature of change in order to satisfy our clients, produce great design and still make money?

Image credits:
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License by Tax Credits

http://taxcredits.net/

What makes a great workplace design client?

Office Politics: A Rise to the Top by Alex E. Proimos, on Flickr

A few weeks ago I wrote a post on if great workplace design was a result of great business leadership.  This generated some discussion on who makes a great client, so I thought I’d consider some points on what I think makes a great client for a workplace design project.

Working with any organisation there is more than one side to the client – there is both the culture of the organisation and the personalities of the individuals involved – and usually we interact with two or three groups of individuals.  Firstly the key client representatives, secondly the wider user consultation groups (or end users they are often termed) and thirdly the executive or approval level (in a smaller organisation it is likely this may be the same person as the client representative). As interior designers it is the client representatives we have the most contact with – usually at least weekly.  So it is usually the key representatives that have the biggest impact on client relationship and also the design of the workplace.  Working with the same client organisation can be quite a different experience if one of the key individuals involved at this level changes.

Most often my client representatives have been project or facilities managers at various levels within an organisation. Sometimes they were going to be working in the new workplace, at other times they will remain based in another office (often even in another city). There is a variety of backgrounds in these client types- whilst there were many with a background in construction or architecture or others who had been in facilities a long time and had much experience if fitout, there were plenty with absolutely no experience of buildings, property, fitout or design. Now in my view this isn’t a problem – as long as they realise this and engage us for an appropriate scope of work.  I have had a client who had no experience of fitout design argue with me over how I knew what size to make a 6 person meeting room and wanted a list of projects where I had used that size room before! (Even with plans demonstrating the setout of the room) At the opposite end of the scale I had a client representative who was actually an interior decorator outside of her 9-5 job.  This didn’t make my life easy either though –  she used to call at least 5 times a day and for over 1 month would drop by the office daily to look over samples because she was so personally involved in the design. At the end of the project she returned a box the size of a removalist carton full of samples. (How do you factor someone like that into your fee agreement?)  So as you can see from the above example a passion for design (or maybe just too much time?) is not necessarily the answer as to what makes a great client.

My top 10 attributes for a great client representative:

  1. Trusts us – Respect our professional advice and opinion. Sometimes a colour or a piece of furniture might not be what you would choose yourself but if you put your trust in your interior designer you’ll generally have a better project outcome. That said, the most successful design is a result of an open relationship between the two designer and the time where the client can question and debate the interior designers proposals.
  2. Understands the organisation and business – Both at the strategic level in terms of company direction and aspirations, and at the operational level in terms of the different functional groups within the organisation.  Understand what the organisation wants to achieve through the fitout and clearly communicate these priorities to the interior designer.  Be able to direct the interior designer as to which business groups have specialised needs, and be able to make the judgements about what the user groups need.
  3. Appreciates design – To me this does not mean that you must have highly developed design of knowledge, education, or aesthetic appreciation but that you appreciate and value that you are paying for an interior design service and that this service offers tangible value to your organisation.  You respect that my time is valuable . And you understand that it is our job to design the fit out not yours – you understand the difference between providing the design team with functional requirements of a space versus designing the space yourself.
  4. Manages the user groups – It is important for the design team to have access to the end users at some point during the design process. They need to be the option to ask questions and gain a further understanding of the way people work especially if there are very specific activities undertaken by certain groups. However as interior designers we need your assistance to manage the user groups. We don’t have the authority within your organisation to tell people what they can and can’t have or what they do and don’t need – you need to do this.
  5. Tells us the budget – Trust us to manage their budget (I’ve blogged a little on this subject before). Allow your interior designer to suggest where money is best spent. Clients can get quite caught up in the price of an individual chair. I think this is because they understand and can relate to the price of a chair – you have bought one before. However you need to look at the cost of the fit out as a whole or of larger components of the budget rather than just at a single individual expensive item. Especially if there are just one or two of those expensive chairs in the reception area. Of course, if it is a task chair the cost will add up – but here we are talking about then the investment in good seating which is an important consideration not just the cost. Understand that your fitout is not just a one of project with a capital cost budget to meet now. The decisions you make now will impact upon operational and maintenance costs, as well as how well your fitout will age or meet changing organizational structures and needs. Maybe you would be better off spending more up front to have more energy efficient lighting for example.
  6. Has reasonable expectations – particularly with your expectations regarding program or scope changes.  Understand that there is a fine balance between cost, time and quality, you can’t reduce your program and expect the same cost and quality.  We probably can’t revise the design in less time than you spent reviewing it.  Agree and stick to the timeframes for your own internal review processes. Manage your team (and your management) that needs to be involved in this process.  If you make changes later, or want more 3D views understand you have to pay for this (refer point 3 again!)
  7. Understands that significant internal resources are required – we need access to a wide range of your staff through user groups, to your executive team for decision making (unless they have delegated this task), you need to manage your inputs and reviews and someone needs to manage the relocation process as a whole – there is a lot more to be done than just designing a new office.  Interior designers usually don’t undertake relocations planning, but may be able to assist with some tasks if this is agreed as part of their scope (for example fire evacuation plans or phone number/seating plans would not usually be part of the scope but an interior designer may be happy to provide these as additional items).
  8. Has the authority to make decisions – you don’t have to be the final decision maker, but you need to understand the priorities and provide the design team with confident direction on all matters relating to design – be they functional, aesthetic or budgetary.  If the interior designer is not in regular (weekly) communications with the decision makers you need to be ensuring they are kept in the loop and we are heading in the right direction.  Otherwise we might waste weeks of both our time.
  9. Isn’t worried about their own corner office – you have the interests of the organisation as a whole in mind and not just a focus on your own office, own team or a particular driver that motivates you. You understand that the workplace design will influence staff motivation and productivity and satisfaction and you care about improving the place you work.
  10. Is part of the team – you understand that the best workplace design will be the a result of collaboration and trust between you as the client and your interior designer.  Your input, and particularly your detailed reviews and feedback are an important and necessary part of ensuring that we have understood and captured your organisational aims, objectives and functional requirements.

This list might seem pretty demanding, but I guess that is part of the point.  For a major office relocation, being the client representative is an important and necessary role that does take up a lot of time.  As interior designers or architects we can’t just walk in and give you an office without an understanding of your organisation.  One thing you will notice though – is nowhere on my list does a job title come into the picture.  To me it doesn’t matter if your real day job is in FM or HR or you are the CEO – its about your approach to your workplace design project, your organisation and the people that work there.

What do you think?  Are there any qualities that I’ve left off the list?  Do you disagree with any of the above – am I expecting too much? If you are client side – what are your qualities for a great interior designer?  (maybe thats another post someday)

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Great workplace design = great business leadership?

OFFICE by jk5854, on FlickrFrequently the question is raised “Does office design increase workplace productivity?” or some other slight variation of this such as increases to staff motivation, retention, collaboration or other desirable attributes to enhance business performance.  I came across one such discussion just this week on Linkedin with some great discussion points. With the current trend towards activity based workplaces and the groovy workplaces of Facebook and Google frequently featuring in the media, many organisations use the time for moving into a new office as an opportunity to question how their new office should differ from the previous one. However, the problem that I have frequently seen is that frequently the business leadership are not highly involved in the decisions of design.

On a regular basis, our clients are often represented by the facility managers, project managers or people with a financial background. They will say to us I want x number of desks at x dollars/square metre by x date. And often and this is how big/shaped the desks are to be.  Their brief (or performance metric) is to provide an office with a certain number of desks at a certain cost by a certain date.  And if the desks are the same as what the organisation has now, they believe no-one will complain too much.  However this is not the way to create great work places.  “…a clear understanding of the organizations cultural inclinations (motivations) and therefore their desired behaviors, is the only way to create a workplace design for the future that is truly effective and supports a particular organization.” (quoted from a comment by Jack Webber on Office Insight: The Business of Workplace Design and Management)

How can we as designers help to educate our clients about the human value of office space when the people who care about the bigger picture – usually the leadership team or the human resources staff are absent from the design meetings? These are the people that can provide the cultural information about the organisation to the design team and who should appreciate the project of the new workplace as it impacts upon the overall business – not just as a one of project to be ‘delivered on time and on budget’.

In larger organisations, all too often the business decision makers are only brought into the room when a significant amount of design time has been spent and many basic decisions have been made. They are there to be “presented to” so they can “sign off”. Sometimes the interior design team never have a chance to even present to those with the authority to make the final decisions.

Frequently this means that key players in the business are not party to much information, discussion and preliminary design materials. They miss the opportunity to input into strategies for cultural and business change through design – perhaps because they don’t understand that a new workplace will result in cultural change or they don’t understand the need to align and prepare the business and manage the staff in advance of the move or that design can be used to reinforce desired cultural changes.

Human resources staff are often left out of the equation altogether unless brought in to manage staff consultation (a whole topic for another day). One of the best projects I have worked on had the HR manager as the key representative. It made a huge difference as to what was seen as a priority and what was presented to the higher management. The needs of staff were taken into account in an intelligent way at a high level, not simply giving in to or providing every small thing that was asked for or denying everything, but decisions made with a real understanding the roles the staff performed and the functional requirements.

Whilst facilities managers are quite frequently very knowledgeable about their organisation and its staff and may have an interest in design they are not usually the drivers of change within organisations. One FM once said to me something along the line of “but why would I want to get involved in trying to change the culture via the new office design, it’s not my job and my job is hard enough trying to keep everyone happy with the new office as it is – I have no desire to change too much”. And I guess that’s fair enough, it’s not their role, background or training. Cultural change and change management is a high level leadership issue. However perhaps as the design of the workplace is changing, facilities management will also change. The Sodexo Workplace Trends 2013 report states that

“To be effective, FM leaders must change their behaviors, and indeed their very identity. FM is not about managing facilities per se; rather, it is about enabling the workforce to be productive and engaged, and to produce value for the organization.”

Part of the point though is that it is not just involving the business leadership or the HR team, it is about these leaders valuing their staff and valuing the part the design of their workplace plays in business processes and staff satisfaction. If the business leaders are involved in the design process but do no more than focus on the size of their own office then they are not effective contributers either. In the end a great office design that enhances an organisations business and improves staff motivation and morale comes out of great leadership. Most people wouldn’t stay working in a google type office just because it had a slide and a ping pong table if that was the only positive thing their company could offer them.

How do we as interior designers get our clients to appreciate the role of business leadership in workplace design? Or do they appreciate it already but just not have the time? Do we need to change our approach to business leaders? Does the role of facilities management need to change? Can HR play a greater part in workplace design? And do you think all of this really lead to better workplaces?

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  jk5854