Tag Archives: buisness

Are you sitting in a half empty office? What would you do with all that vacant space?

vacant 2 by devlon duthie, on Flickr

Two weeks ago I attended the Retrofit and Refurb conference in Sydney at Australian Technology Park. This is the first time I’ve attended this conference, and it’s a very diverse conference in terms of both the speakers and the attendees. The speakers were a mix of architects, engineers, sustainability consultants and suppliers, with the topics as diverse as the speakers and including energy upgrades, environmental upgrade agreements, GreenStar, workplace design issues, hotel refits and project case studies. I would say the target audience was building owners, however there really was something for anyone involved in refurbishing existing buildings – maybe not 2 full days though. The other feature of the conference program was that the sessions were not grouped in any logical fashion but different topics were spread across the two full days. So, for example you couldn’t choose to attend just a half day session to hear the topics about workplace design and GreenStar interiors. I assume this was deliberate in order to encourage attendees to spend the full two days at conference mingling and networking and visiting the supplier expo booths. For me it did mean a couple of sessions on my iPad catching up on emails and replying to comments on my blog – I’m not quite so interested in the detailed operations of air conditioning system upgrades! However, I certainly did find many of the presentations interesting though and have gathered new ideas for this blog as well as meeting some new people and catching up with others.

It was the first presentation of the conference which has inspired me this week. Simon Wild from Cundall’s presentation on multisite integration was one of the most interesting presentations of the conference covering a very diverse range of issues around building refurbishments and sustainability, with a focus on how integrating systems across multiple sites can offer environmental benefits (he has a great blog too). The case study presented was the Sydney Central Westfield, where by combining services systems across retail and office towers greater efficiency was achieved due to different functional uses and different peak loadings. Simon then spoke about how his could be taken further if larger numbers of buildings could share services, which is now becoming possible even remotely for electricity, due to remote transmission infrastucture where electricity is shared over data networks rather than physical transmission (I have heard a bit about this lately…but don’t ask me to explain any more than this about how it works!).

This discussion about multiple uses better utilising services got me thinking during the presentation about utilisation of office space – and how underutilized it is especially at night and on weekends…And then later in the presentation, Simon raised this very issue.

First some facts from Simon’s presentation:
A 1000 person activity based working (ABW) fitout with only 800 desks is equivalent to 15 years of the office operating carbon neutral.
Approx 50% of space in the CBD is vacant at any one time (and I think this is during work hours!)
City wide ABW in Sydney would save as much energy as making all the buildings in Sydney 6 star Nabers rated.

This week, this vacancy rate certainly made sense in my office, with a large number of staff away due partially to the exodus that seems to occur in most offices every school holidays or the week of long weekends. ABW starts to reduce this underutilized space belonging to a single organisation, but creates more empty space as organisations downsize their tenancies. We therefore have 2 kinds of space to consider – the space left vacant by tenants downsizing their tenancies and the temporarily vacant space by people in not being in the workplace.

So, how do we manage all this vacant space, what do we do with it? One suggestion at the conference was to convert commercial buildings into residential. But I’d like to contemplate how this could impact upon the way a traditional office or commercial building is designed and programmed, and how perhaps it could accommodate tenants working in an ABW a model, but other tenants as well, because ABW won’t be the answer for every workplace. Also how could such a building could accommodate other aspects of the changing workplace, such as the ageing population, more flexible working arrangements, options for working parents, and a closer integration of work and life. The commercial office tower as we know it really dates from the early to mid 20th century when western life was base around a separation of work and life with male workers with a stay at home mum and a couple of kids out in suburbia. The fact that these buildings stand at 50% empty consuming resources isn’t so surprising given how different our lives are today.

Mixed use commercial buildings are pretty common these days – the building that doesn’t have a coffee shop in the lobby is a rarity (certainly in Australia anyway), and it’s becoming quite common to have a couple of levels of retail and a food court beneath an office tower too. This is all great, but what else could we insert into our office buildings? In particular are there functions which would operate after hours or support the lifestyle choices of workers? Maybe all these extra functions shouldn’t all be at the bottom of the tower either? In Japan it’s not uncommon for common for restaurants and bars to be located within office tower buildings. Personally, I’m a big fan of a bar in the lobby – so much easier to convince your colleagues they do have time for a drink when they don’t have to go anywhere and maybe you will be able to pull in few more as they pass by.

At the other end of the healthy lifestyle scale, perhaps our office buildings can support some healthy choices too – some buildings already have commercial gyms, how about yoga, massage or acupuncture as well? Some of these kinds of spaces could even become flexible use spaces – meeting rooms during the day and yoga studio after work.

Currently, these kinds of facilities are either provided commercially or by single tenants for the use of their own staff, within their tenancies. Is there the opportunity for these spaces to be provided in a different model – either by the landlord, or perhaps by one large tenant but benefitting all tenants? This could enable better use if space throughout a building and enable landlords to fill up otherwise vacant space and entice new tenants. Maybe a landlord could provide a series of well being rooms suitable for massage, physio, doctors or acupuncture. Individual practitioners could rent the rooms perhaps on differing short or longer term arrangements. Maybe some operate commercially selling their services to individuals but maybe others are paid for by the corporate tenants as a benefit for their staff.

Landlord provided spaces and services, or commercial tenancies are quite straightforward in terms of who pays, the security of the space and shared access. Management of the spaces becomes the issue, with a landlord having more diverse functions and infrastructure to manage and operate. But how about tenants sharing out their tenancy space? What are the issues? And could the landlords actually help with this too?

Whilst the landlord could manage a major meeting and training facility for the use of all tenants, maybe this is better off managed by one of the tenant organizations. Perhaps they have a very high level of in-house meeting needs, specific expectations of service, or they are a training provider. Firstly, if this is to be a shared service, then the costs of the space and servicing it have to be considered – in my view it’s the landlord who is best placed to manage this, through rent discounts for tenants providing services such as this, and maybe a higher rent to other tenants. I’m not convinced these models should be a direct user pays system based on booking, but maybe that could work too – Although I think as soon as something like this becomes user pays, corporates just start to build their own.

The meeting facility is usually a discrete space though – what about letting people in to use all those vacant desks, informal breakout areas or casual meeting places? Or perhaps even breaking down the idea of one organisation, one tenancy? Traditionally the tenancy is required as a secure container for stuff (refer to my blog post on Natalie Slessor’s talk on the future workplace for more on this). More recently, this stuff was also electronic – data servers and computers. We had to protect our equipment, our papers, our computers and our data from being accessed by outsiders. What we could never really separate from outsiders was our people – today, it’s our people that are the most valuable asset. These days although we still want to protect our data, we don’t keep it on servers in our offices (creating yet more vacant space), we keep it on the cloud or in data centers. So why do we need that company network anymore? What if IT was provided by he landlord, as a utility, like electricity? Then there is no technical reason why I can’t come and work in your office for the day if it suits us both (oh, I didn’t mention, we have gotten rid of all those fixed computers and phones we need to keep secure too). The only reason left is confidentiality, which I think is mostly only a concern held by those who are up to something dodgy in the first place – or if it is a genuine issue – needs genuinely confidential space, not open plan offices anyway.

Does this help fill up the vacant space though? If I have just moved from my office to yours because you have better coffee and a bar and a massage room, we still might have some vacant space? Though it really does encourage choice, and highlight which offices are popular and place of choice to work then doesn’t it?

Maybe we can fill up some space with some more diverse functions, that encourage other things and parts of our lives too. Just a few more random thoughts – a commercial kitchen could be used by office caterers during the day and charities at night (I know there is one in Sydney OzHarvest that cooks for homeless), a model making workshop for the architectural practices could also replace our individual home garages and workshops, childcare shortages are a big issue in Australia and it would certainly help more women return to work if more centers are provided within workplaces…I’m sure you can think of more ideas? With the growth of the sharing economy and of co-working perhaps we will start to see a whole range of different ideas.

Is your workplace half empty right now? How would you share your office space? What kinds of facilities and services would you like to see in your workplace? Who would pay? Who should operate them?

Image credits
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  devlon duthie 

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 

BIM-onomics: How will BIM change the business of design?

Money by Tax Credits, on FlickrDoes BIM cost your design practice more? How does BIM impact your fee proposals? How does BIM impact your business? These were some of the questions I was recently asked to address in a presentation at the Revit Technology Conference held in Auckland.

Partially as a result of my previous blog posts Architecture and Interior Design is a business, isn’t it? And The art (or is that science?) of architecture and interior design fees, I was invited to address the topic of the economic and financial impacts of BIM on a design consultancy – I think due to being among the relatively small group of industry professionals who understand both BIM and the business of design. I convinced another such individual Rodd Perey – committee member of RTC Australasia who had invited me to do this talk – as well as Principal and Group Design Technology Manager at Architectus, to join me in discussion of this topic.

One of the most interesting things about preparing the talk, was that whilst Rodd and I come from very different practice and BIM backgrounds, much of the time we agreed on the issues affecting a design practice who are using BIM by themselves and for their own benefit. We termed this Lone BIM – as opposed to the benefits of using BIM as part of a larger project process in conjunction with clients, sub-consultants and contractors. This Lone BIM, the efficiencies and impacts on practice, and its opportunities for reducing project risks, were the focus of our talk.

I have attached the slide deck to this blog via Slide Share.

BIM-onomics slidedeck from Ceilidh Higgins

As you will see from the slides, one of the repeated messages was that practice directors, principals and anyone costing or managing design projects need to firstly understand what BIM is actually being used and produced in their office and secondly what BIM outputs will be delivered to the client. How can you calculate your fees if you don’t understand your deliverables?

Right now in the industry and even within individual practices BIM can mean different things to different people. It’s important to understand which BIM deliverables and processes are additional services outside traditional services, and which ones can help you improve your efficiency in providing traditional services. To model every part if a building at 1:1 with full operational and facilities data will certainly cost you more than traditional documentation, but is that what the client has actually contracted you to deliver?

We felt that there were a number of key aspects to using Revit (or other BIM software) within your practice that improve your “BIM-onomics”. Aside from understanding what BIM you deliver, you need to leverage the information and automation aspects of the BIM – for example scheduling, keynoting and proper use of materials which allow consistency and automation across the project. Directors and principals need to have some understanding of these concepts so they can question the outputs. However its not all about BIM either – continuous improvement, ongoing training and debriefs are necessary to capture and spread the learnings across your organisation. This needs leadership.

Then we get to really the key thing – BIM impacts all areas of your business delivery model. BIM impacts upon your project workflows, your resources, your programs and your QA. Are these things you are just going to leave to drafters or modellers? You can’t leave your practice to the “revit robots” nor can you buy in the revit “A team” to solve your BIM implementation problems (though it will help). Economically successful BIM relies on the knowledge of your team, the mix of knowledge between software, design, construction and business. Everyone is part of the BIM team. The senior architects and managers may not be on the tools, but need to be able to speak a common language and communicate with someone who can understand both the BIM and the business. Someone needs to direct the BIM process to ensure that over modelling and over servicing is not occurring, a common reason for cost overruns on BIM projects. But one that is more typically related to management practices than the BIM software itself.

BIM will change your project programs. As Rodd pointed out though, that most overused of conference graphics the MacLeamy curve is wrong – what consultant in their right mind would sign up for a process that makes you do the same amount of work earlier in the process, when the client is still most unsure? Both of us agree, that whilst BIM does put some of the workload forward, it will be overall less work – and the project examples we used demonstrated this (the graphs come up later in the slide deck).

Your quality checking procedures also have to change – again this isn’t one for the junior revit modeller in your office is it? But it is another opportunity to leverage your information – you can use BIM to check your BIM. Examples shown include using auotmated drawings to check precast panel details and smoke/fire compartments. The more uses you can find within the BIM itself the more valuable the BIM becomes. The BIM becomes also a risk reduction tool – you get in right during design and spend less time on site, you think things through and solve problems in the design phase. But again senior and experienced project staff need to be part of this process – they need to know what is possible with the BIM, and then they should be asking for it in their own offices.

Both Rodd and I presented a set of comparison projects with an analysis of an AutoCAD project versus a Revit project. Unfortunately it is impossible to ever directly compare 2 projects as every design project has different factors, but we both selected the most similar projects we were able to find. In Rodd’s case, 2 hotel redevelopment projects on the same site for the same client, and in my case 2 office fitouts of a similar size for similar client types. As you can see on the slides Rodd and I examined slightly different project metrics based upon the information we had available. The one metric in common though was the percentage difference between the number of hours and the number of drawing sheets. We both proved the Revit project to be significantly more efficient based on this metric, and amazingly we came up with figures within 5% of each other!

A question from the audience worth repeating here, was how long had the teams been using Revit? For both Revit examples it was between 2-5 years, and it was certainly not a case of having a super BIM team and a crappy AutoCAD team – both myself and Rodd considered the teams also to be comparable. To get a good return on investment isn’t going to be an overnight process.

BIM is a process you need to manage the whole way through your projects – right from fee proposal stage. Its pretty straight forward really…define what you are providing, what others are providing (such as point clouds, parts of models/existing models, BIM standards) and understand what you are costing. If you as the person costing a job don’t understand all the technical aspects, talk to someone in your office who does. Build the understanding between the technical people and the business people – or find people who are able to do so and bridge the gap, becoming the translator and teaching at both ends of the equation.

In conclusion – does the BIM-onomics stack up? If you manage the process, manage the risk and are delivering the same it should cost you less.

Do your BIM-onomics stack up? Do you know by comparing projects? If your BIM is not yet economic, what are the challenges and issues you see as stopping it? If you are a practice director or principal do you know your BIM? If you don’t, do you have someone who can translate for you? Have we missed any factors you consider critical to the economic success of BIM in your practice? Do any of my slides not make sense to you? (if so comment)

You can find my other RTC presentations – What’s in a Room and InforMeDesign on Slideshare.

Image Credits:

. http://taxcredits.net/