Tag Archives: facilities management

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)

Image credits:

Working with Mechanical Engineers

*** by dzarro72, on FlickrAt a glance working with mechanical engineers can seem to present less visible coordination issues for interior designers than electrical engineering (previous blog post here).  However, the results of mechanical engineering (most commonly air conditioning ) are one of the most frequently complained elements of office fitout.   Whilst a lot of the reasons for the complaints about the air conditioning are not strictly due to coordination issues between the interior designer or architect and the mechanical engineer, there are ways that the design team can help to minimise any problems.  In my opinion there are three reasons for the majority of the occupant complaints:
  1. People’s different perceptions of temperature. 
  2. Under design of the mechanical systems compared to the intended use.
  3. The interactions between the base building systems and the fitout systems or modifications made due to the fitout.
Perception of temperature

Individuals perceive temperature and humidity differently depending on many factors.  This is always going to be an issue and if you are dealing with a large number of people in a single space it is difficult to design out.  There are some options now available for individual air flow controls at workstations, or you can allow user override in meeting rooms or offices – however these options generally have to be balanced against increased energy consumption and installation costs and are not necessarily going to be suited to every project or client.

Under design of mechanical systems
Under design of the mechanical systems is the area where the design team have the most influence and control over the functionality of the systems.  As an interior designer or architect you need to ensure that the mechanical engineer is fully briefed on the functions and occupancy of the room. Often mechanical engineers assume certain numbers of people and anticipated occupancy periods based upon the floor plan and the usual use of a room. For example if the floor plan shows a series of meeting rooms with operable walls, drawn with a certain number of meeting tables and chairs, frequently the mechanical design will be based upon the number of chairs on the floor plan. Whilst the mechanical design may take into account the operable walls and allow the space to operate as a single space – it may not take into account that when the operable walls are open the client intends to use the space for a lecture and the occupancy density will be higher. The mechanical engineer needs to understand if spaces are to be used in different ways with different occupancy densities.

I have also found that the mechanical engineer may under design the systems to save money, thinking that the client will not really use the space in this way very often and therefore not want to pay the additional costs – for example a training facility for 60 people which converts to a function room for 250 people. If the mechanical engineer believes that the cost of the briefed functional requirement is unusual or excessive then they need to discuss this with the interior designer/architect and the client.  The client would much rather understand and have the choice to pay the cost up front than to have to modify the system later after everyone has sweltered at the opening party. Particularly if they had asked for a space for 250 people.

Base building issues
One of the biggest issues with the mechanical systems for many interior fitouts is that you are working with, modifying and adding to an existing system. Often no accurate drawings or manuals exist for those systems. Whilst not frequently undertaken, a full site audit of the existing mechanical systems prior to design can be very worthwhile – if the client is willing to pay for this and if there is a way to arrange access (generally this will mean removing ceilings). If not, the involvement of the mechanical engineer during construction stage to work with the air conditioning subcontractor is essential.

The other issue with existing base building systems can be that there is an air conditioning subcontractor responsible for ongoing maintenance. It always makes sense to see if this subcontractor can undertake the fitout modification works as well. At least that way if there are any complaints there is only one responsible maintenance company. Some building owners and facilities managers require that modifications are undertaken by the maintenance contractor.

Other coordination tips
Many of the issues discussed above are not so much coordination issues as design management issues.  So I’ve listed below a few more of my tips on coordination between interior design / architecture and the mechanical engineer:

  1. Ensure the mechanical engineer understands the different partition or wall types in the project. In particular they need to be aware which walls are operable walls and which walls are full height to the underside of a slab or roof above, or which walls have baffling above.  Walls to the slab above or with baffling above impact on the path of return air above the ceiling and need to be taken into account in the design of the mechanical systems. Operable walls change the air flow within the space and again need to be taken into account in the mechanical system design.
  2. Coordinate different types of diffusers and grilles. Ensure that grilles are shown both on architectural and mechanical drawings. Ensure that you understand where the door grilles go and advise the mechanical engineer if there are any problems with proposed locations. For example grilles proposed in acoustic doors , glazed doors or other doors where the visual appearance is important. Similar issues apply to ceiling diffusers and grilles.  Ensure that the selection and style of grille and the colour are co-ordinated suits the interior design and are not specified differently in the architectural documents and the mechanical documents. Also ensure that linear grilles which crossover from room to room and could impact acoustics are considered and detailed appropriately.
  3. Check locations of thermostats and controls. Ensure they are not on operable walls, glazed walls, behind retractable screens or in other functionally or visually unappealing locations.
  4. Consider accessible outdoor space for condensor units and the need for either building owner or authority approvals for any outdoor units or grilles.

All of the above are my tips and suggestions – maybe the mechanical engineers reading this have their own suggestions?  What are your tips for working with mechanical engineers?  Does anyone have any more solutions to managing and coordinating with existing base building systems? Do you have any tips for hydraulic and fire engineering collaboration?

I thought my readers might also be interested in this blog post  on BIM collaboration – what it has to say about collaboration applies to every type of project, not just BIM projects. http://bimfix.blogspot.com.au/2013/02/collaborative-bim-planting-seed.html

Image Credits:
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  dzarro72 

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?

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