Tag Archives: workplace

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 

Do our clients see interior design as a product? Do we as an industry?

enduro cart by i k o, on FlickrFor me the next question that then follows, if our clients do see interior design (or architecture) as a product, or if we do, is that a problem anyway, and does it change the way we design?Last time I wrote I compared some aspects of the workplace to a Chanel handbag, but it wasn’t actually connected thoughts that lead to these questions and title of today’s post. The musings in this post are based upon some comments at Sydney Indesign’s WorkLife day held recently as part of the new and expanded design festival that used to be Saturday InDesign (for some highlights of the more traditional showroom side of the event, visit yellowtrace). The WorkLife day was subtitled with what has become the most popular seminar/talk theme this year – of course it was “The Future of the Workspace”. It was the third event this year I have attended with a similar title (and I missed the recent similar event hekd at the Museum of Sydney – which despite being over $400 for the day apparently sold out). I’m very pleased to see so much focus, discussion and education happening around workplace design in Australia right now, and I thought that having a more formal program alongside the indesign showroom and exhibition event was a great idea. I will say though whoever holds the next workplace design seminar probably needs to think of a different title – I will suggest you could use the “trend” key words collaboration, serendipity and authenticity instead perhaps? Certainly if you are directing your message at an industry crowd.

The format of the day was a series of 4 panel talks with time in between for networking and exploring the exhibition hub of Sydney Indesign – Galleria (at Australia Technology Park, Eveleigh). Whilst the amount of time for the sessions was fine for panel talks (around 45 mins), I felt that towards the end of the day the panels were losing focus and perhaps we could have gotten more out of the day with more prepared presentations or specific project images and discussion, in order to give the panels more to focus on. The line up of Australian interior designers and other workplace consultants was impressive including team members from most of the large ABW projects completed here in the last 10 years or so. (For the full program see the WorkLife website) Paul McGillick from Indesign did do a good job at keeping the panel members talking and trying to get contributions from everyone involved, but there are times when even the best moderators can’t stop those determined to put out their own message (We don’t really want to be sold product at these kind of events). The format of the event didn’t really lend itself to a narrative blog post summarizing each speaker and so I’ve been pondering over the last week in what format I would share it with you.

In the end, one of the discussions that has stuck in my mind the most, was during the first session of the day – “Who’s Afraid of ABW – Is the Party Over?” – with Matthew Blain (HASSELL), Rosemary Kirkby (formerly MLC, NAB & GPT) & Stephen Minnett (Futurespace). It was Rosemary who raised the suggestion that there is a danger that the term Activity Based Working has now in Australia become popularized and many organisations wanting to define themselves as progressive will start to say to their designers – yes I’ll have one of those thanks. Stephen agreed seeing that we are in danger of jumping to another stereotype. The old stereotype was open plan workstations, low partitions and a breakout area with “kindergarten furniture”. He believes that ABW will fail if done as a copy paste, within conventuals time frames without engaging with business leaders and HR. It will fail if drive by the “wombats” in FM and procurement. (I loved this comment and was very tempted to use a wombat image for this post – and in case there are any of you in FM and procurement reading – I would say the fact you are reading a blog about interior design means you can rest assured that you are not one of the wombats).

It is really from these points that my own thought process starts to take over, influenced by other comments and discussions throughout the day as well as my own experiences with clients and designers. At some level, no matter how we feel about it, I believe design is a product. Particularly to our clients. Our clients are engaging us to provide solutions to their problems – and at the end of the day – more often that it these solutions are physical spaces. This is partly because of the procurement process – if we don’t provide a physical space we don’t earn fees, but it is also because that is what we are trained in, and what we know. Sometimes as interior designers and architects we can make the mistake of thinking that design can lead a greater program of change, be that at the office of the city level. I going to be bold and say, it can’t. It can’t lead such processes, but it can be a key part of successful change. We as interior designers don’t have the business background or the necessary skills to lead our clients in changing their workplaces or their technology. If at the end of the day, they don’t engage in the idea that ABW is about their business processes at a much bigger level than just a new office – we can’t make them. As designers, we can’t change their IT systems or their management structures, or their workplace culture. We can educate and influence them perhaps, but they need to come to the party (and bring their whole management team, HR,IT, FM and the rest along with them) if they want a successful ABW solution.

Like Le Corbusiers Unité d’Habitation which inspired so many inferior copies that became the model for apartment slums, are we in danger of the same thing occurring with ABW offices – design solutions which take the physical appearances and funky furniture settings of ABW environments – but not the business change, the use data and the problem solving behind the design. Will these be the workplace slums of the future (this is an idea I’ve had tucked away for ages and had been looking for the right blog post to share it in!) I guess the real question could be, is that any worse or any different to how workplaces are designed today? As Stephen point out, ABW could be next in an already long line of trends.

I thinks perhaps this is not so much a danger, as an opportunity. Yes, ABW could end up another trend, but this is perhaps more due to clients attitudes than things we as individual interior designers or architects can control. Our clients frequently treat workplace design as a product – separate from their business. So many of them do view it as “buying a new office”, a task best left to facilities and procurement – not HR and management. Perhaps sometimes it becomes something management wants to be involved in, and they start to treat it like buying a new car or their own home. Whenever we are engaged because we are the cheapest or because the client wants our practice for their name or their brand – we truly are a product. But to me, at our end, if our firms talk about”house styles” or we specify something just because no one else has it yet, we see ourselves as a product. If we don’t understand that our clients are buying a product and we give them what we think they need without questioning or engaging with them and their business needs, then we are giving them an inferior product. If though at the end of the day, we give them a design which meets their current perceived needs, then that’s ok too. That’s a product they want to buy. If we can work with them to deliver an amazing design solution that enhances wellbeing and productivity, it doesn’t matter if we call it ABW or something else, then that’s a great outcome, but at some level – it is still a product.

Being a product isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If its a crappily designed and produced product that people don’t enjoying using and want to send to landfill the next week, then yes it is a bad thing. But consider that the iPhone is a product too – and is both revolutionary and great design. I think I’d be happy if my next fitout was compared to an iPhone – wouldn’t you?

Image credits:

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License by i k o

What could a workplace and a Chanel handbag have in common?

My first ever Chanel 2.55 by rosebennet, on FlickrRecently I attended a de.frost* event, the topic was The Future of Workspaces, featuring Natalie Slessor, Head of Workplace at Lend Lease. Firstly let me say I think the concept Frost* have putting on these events is great. I guess you would describe Frost* as a graphic design agency (but they seem to be much more than this could mean) and once a month they organise an event in their office with a speaker, put on some drinks and nibbles (all pretty low key) and invite a bunch of people that they work with ( clients, architects, designers, project managers, builders). This was the first of their events I’d been to (although it is up to number 15 apparently) and I thought it was a great event. I had the chance to catch up with quite a number of people, meet a few new ones and hear a great speaker, I thought it was a really good mix – and that they got a good balance of time between the formal part of the evening and the informal mixing and networking – which often seems to be something that event organisers find a difficult balance.

So onto the speaker, Natalie Slessor. I’ve seen her speak before (at GBCA’s Workplaces of the Future Summit, see my previous blog entry) and she is a great presenter with a very interesting point of view on the workplace. Natalie is an environmental psychologist at Lend Lease – not a consultant that is common on our workplace project teams in Australia (or I think even in psychology here – I know quite a few psychologists and I’ve never met another environmental psych working in Australia. Maybe we don’t train them? Natalie is from the UK and the only other ones I’ve met or heard of are from the UK too…)

As I mentioned, Natalie is also a great presenter, and I’m starting to see that she likes to use different presentation structures as a storytelling technique. The presentation this evening was structured around a single slide with a grid of images with each row and column connecting ideas. It was a very effective technique,and I’m sure whilst it looked simple it must have taken a lot of work to simplify such complex ideas down to a 2 way grid of 24 squares! You can view the slide below.

PowerPoint Presentation

The key question of Natalie’s talk was “What is the Workplace for”.  Now I didn’t take any notes at the talk and I’m going to try and retell the story based on the images alone. So any misinterpretations are entirely my own,and I’m sure I will have missed some great points but perhaps some of my readers will have something to add (I know a few of you were there!). Following Natalie’s presentation there was plenty of time for discussion and questions, some of which I’ve woven into the story – there was of course plenty more form many viewpoints and those of you that we’re there can add your own stories of the night to the comments. (Or even if you weren’t – now you can be part of the discussion).  I’ll also state here that the references to the Chanel handbag are my own…but you will see the link.

First like Natalie did I’m going to explain what each row of the grid represents. The first row is the history reasons why the workplace exists. The second to fourth rows are about where we have been, where we are now and the direction we are moving towards. The fifth row is about psychology and the final row is what Natalie believes we should be aiming for in a workplace.

Now the first image is easy to remember – the workplace was created as a container. A container for the tools and machines to do the work, that were too expensive, too large (or too dirty?) for us to have in our homes. Gathering all these tools and people together created efficiency (this is what the cogs represent). Until recently, work meant physical things – whether it was a product or a piece of paper – so by co-locating eve white collar workers, efficiencies were gained – I can hand you that paper rather than mail it. So the office was also for gathering people together, as shown in the third image. The final image represents the workplace as being inspirational. Creating a place, creates part of the company identity, and historically inspiring loyalty was also part of the workplace equation. This row of images was why the workplace was created, and to some extent the second row, where have we been, covers a lot of the same ground. The workplace was a manual process (film), where ever more process efficiencies were to be gained (a portrait of Taylor – well known for applying production process thinking to workspace design known as Taylorism or scientific management). Buildings were designed as statements about the companies they housed with branding part of the building design. The Money Box building in Sydney was home to the Commonwealth Bank and I’m sure you recognize the Chrysler Building, one of the most branded buildings I’ve ever come across (I recollect there are parts inspired by hubcaps as well as other car parts and the Chrysler logo, I think also it was one of the first buildings to use metallic materials that were more akin to cars at the time). Part of this design ethos was also giving employees something to aspire to – I will climb my way up to the top floor or the corner office.

Not much of this seems quite so relevant today does it? Buildings are anonymous and owned by investors not branded for occupants, and who as a Gen X or younger would ever picture (or likely even aspire to) a corner office with an ensuite? Moving onto the next row of images we are living in a digital world and over the last few years have moved towards more and more mobile technology – Samsung “life companion” pictured. (From this point in the presentation Natalie was moving down the columns not across the row). The future workplace no longer needs to be a container for the tools, however the tools are just as important as they ever were for getting the job done. One of the things that can lead to the most stress is not having the right tools (eg slow or unreliable Internet connections).

With more mobile technology and as what we do for work has changed into knowledge work, the ideas of efficiency are no longer what they once were. Work is not necessarily the place where we get our best work done or have our best ideas. Whilst many offices are laid out like a place to house computers and well suited to a life of email, they are not well suited to either focused work or face to face communicative work. Natalie sees activity based working as a possible solution. Giving people a choice of an environment appropriate to the task should allow people to get more work done, and therefore reduce stress levels. Whilst there is a big focus on collaborative work and spaces in many ABW fitouts, its just as important that ABW design solutions don’t forget spaces for concentration and focused work either (and places for email too I guess).

As the workplace has become more varied, so too have the places that we work. Work has spilled out of the offices and into coffee shops and public spaces (MLC center pictured). The choice of where the workplace is and what facilities the surrounding area offers is becoming more important. No longer do most people want a workplace that is surrounded only by other workplaces. They want access to cafes, shops, entertainment, parks, childcare – places to go during breaks or after work, access to services. New precincts such as Barrangaro (Natalie’s admitted this as her one little plug for Lend Lease), a whole new piece of the city, need to be designed to consider people’s fulfillment and wellbeing, not just as workplaces.

Balance is what many people are seeking, rather than climbing the ladder. Social responsibility is also going to become a moe important driver for future generations (for me this slide/statement didn’t quite seem to fit into the flow of the narrative). There was some discussion also of the authenticity of the workplace design, and the importance of the workplace design being meaningful to what the company actually does and represents.

What will inspire us in the workplace of the future? Can we create more buildings and workplaces that in themselves inspire us by their design? Design that helps us to get work done, to focus or collaborate, to promote wellbeing and reduce stress. And it’s of all design that inspires. And this is where the link to Chanel comes into the story. The last slide is an image of a temporary building designed by Zaha Hadid as a Chanel exhibition. It was demountable and traveled around the world. Whilst obviously not very sustainable, Natalie found the building and the project inspirational. This is where my link to the Chanel handbag comes in, I also see a connection here with the first row, the container and the aspiration to the corner office – maybe now we don’t need a workplace container, or to aspire to space, we aspire to the handbag which also happens to be a container for the technology? (For women anyway) or we aspire to some other symbol that travels with us (Shoes? Laptops? Clothing? Maybe not such good containers?). So perhaps the office doesn’t need to provide these anymore. I know I’d certainly rather see inspiration and wellbeing than corner offices in my workplace anyway.

What would you like to see in your workplace if the future? Do you think we can design to reduce stress and increase wellbeing? What would this look like to you? We know we can design buildings to inspire – what are the hurdles which prevent all buildings and workplaces from being inspiring? Or do you still want the corner office with ensuite plus parking? Would this motivate you to work harder?

Image Credits:

Spaced Out and 5 other mega trends in the property sector

Morocco and Spain (NASA, International S by NASA

Last week I attended the Green Building Council of Australia’s Green Building Day in Sydney. One of the notable changes in the professional development events held by the GBCA over the last year has been the broad range of topics impacting upon the design, construction and property industries which are being discussed at these kinds of events – I think this is really great to see as in my view there is a shortage of good professional development and training events available for architects and designers. (Green Building Day is also great for scoring your GreenStar accredited professional CPD points – you can get a whole years worth in just one day.) This year the keynote speaker was Bruce Precious from The GPT Group, speaking on Global Mega Trends and the Property Sector. I’d seen Bruce speak before on the GPT offices at MLC (and blogged about it here) . As I’d enjoyed his previous presentation and I was in need of a few more CPD points I signed up for the morning session. As I got so much just out of Bruce’s presentation and the panel talk following it, I’m going to focus on just that part of the morning. If you missed the day and were hoping for a full wrap, sorry but you will have to hunt elsewhere in the hope someone else has blogged about the rest! (Trust me I’ve picked the best bit for you)

Bruce’s presentation was covering research that The GPT Group undertook in conjunction with CSIRO looking into mega trends affecting property industry. The aim of The GPT Group in looking into these mega trends is to be able to convert threats into opportunities. Bruce noted that if there is evidence of a trend it has already happened, it is historic and doesn’t guarantee the future. I’d also note that if the research has gone this far and now being pushed out to the public its probably not the cutting edge trends of the minute – but then thats part of the point isn’t it, a mega trend is one that tends to last as while as well as have a large impact.

As so often is frequently commented upon in social and technology circles, Bruce commented on the fact that the world is accelerating, the pace of change is ever increasing. Does this mean we can still identify long term trends? This one is my question – but I think when we get to what are the 6 mega trends you will probably agree yes we can.

As well as long term trends there are shocks and tipping points, man made and natural. Whilst these can have just as much impact as the longer term mega trends, they are not something we can predict or our businesses can plan for. Although sometimes these shocks or tipping points could perhaps have been predicted? My question – Global Financial Crisis – shock or trend? But lets not go there – lets go now to what are the six mega trends which The GPT Group identified as having the most impact on their business, the property sector in Australia. Now see if you can guess what they actually mean…I love the names, great idea whoever came up with these catchy sayings.

1. Spaced out
2. More from less
3. The orient express
4. Behind the scenes
5. Tangible intangibles
6. Forever young

Spaced Out
No it’s not about the fact we have less office space per person than ever. It’s about tech savvy people, being constantly connected, the change in how we communicate and what information we have available to us due to the massive changes in technology over recent years. It includes big data, but as Bruce pointed out we have to get from big data to big information, perhaps he thought we can then get to big knowledge but will big wisdom ever exist?

In practical terms, GPT are developing apps based around the concept of the shopping centre as the community hub. The apps not only display info about the centre but link social networks. In future,sensors will personalize this experience even further.

In the workplace, technology allows flexibility and movement – the freerange workplace. The empty desk could be used by anyone, not just someone from our own organisation. GPT has invested in Liquid Space – a start up company base on a concept similar to Airbnb and are now trialing spaces in Sydney and Melbourne.

More from less
This one has the most obvious title – using less – less water, less energy, less materials. Bruce took it in an interesting direction beginning with a discussion of the growing intellectual potential of the world is due to world growth, growing affluence, and participation of women. (I thought it was a great rant by the way!)

GPT are looking at cutting use of natural resources – reducing water, waste, energy etc. Bruce discussed recycling and the possibilities of improving recycling – upcycling rather than downcylcing. Eg rather than grind glass up into road base, can it be used as something higher? Aparently there is a company upcycling dirt from street sweepings which contains a high amount of precious metals, as apparently do old mobile phones! These are generating new possibilities for mining resources.

For GPT and the property industry in Australia energy savings have been a key change in recent years. GPT is part of the The Better Building Partnership which consists of many leading property companies in Sydney. Romilly Madew, the CEO of the GBCA is quoted on their website as saying “Partnership is the new leadership”, Bruce questions could mankind’s new force be cooperation? We now have a database of water, waste and energy covering a large chunk of the local Sydney commercial building market. This is a great resource for the Sydney property market and others moving forward.

The orient express
The growth of China and other eastern population centers – a scale of populations that is unimaginable as an Australian. A company sales conference of 3000 people came to Sydney, this was just their top people! They booked the bridge climb for days solid! Can we even visualise this scale? Bruce recommended Gapminder.org as a way to visually see the changes and development of the world across many measures of large population centers. (There is a great gapminder TED talk too).

Behind the scenes
Supply chains and logistics are changing – both due to the internet and globalisation. I think there might be a lot more interesting stories behind this one.

Tangible intangibles
We are moving beyond consumerism as product consumption and into experience consumption – for example travel. Shopping centres for example are now experiential as well as for the function of shopping. Community spaces, outdoor spaces, gathering spaces.

Forever young
The impact of ageing and disability on design. The space requirements for motorized scooters and wheelchairs.

I thought the last 3 trends could have been discussed further, all of them will impact on design and could be quite interesting. I can see why the trend More with Less was a focus at a sustainability event, but it did seem that maybe Bruce was running out of time at the end – I would have been quite happy to listen to more. Bruce’s presentation was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Romilly Madew with Bruce, Siobhan Toohill (Westpac) and Richard Palmer (WSP) who brought some interesting perspectives as well as answering audience questions on the topic of mega trends and the property industry.

What stories would you add to these last 3 trends? What do you think are the mega trends affecting the property industry? CSIRO apparently came up with eight of which GPT chose to focus on six. Do you think the trends elsewhere are the same as in Australia? Some of the other interesting trends raised in the panel discussion following were the social and sharing economy and the rise of the city.

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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The Midnight Lunch: My favourite (mostly) design blogs and websites

Who Needs Books? by boltron-, on Flickr

This week I’ve been pretty busy preparing presentations for the Revit Technology Conference which is being held in Auckland 16-18 May (you can still register here). I’m giving 3 presentations – topics are using information as part of the design process, revit and room data sheets and the economics of BIM from a design practice perspective.  Anyway as a result of all this conference prep I’ve been pretty busy and thought this week I would share with you my favourite blogs and websites related to interior design, workplaces, BIM, innovation and collaboration. Some I subscribe to via email and check out every post, others I have in google reader and I view on the flipboard app (I still don’t know what I’m going to do when google kills the google reader – any suggestions? I love the flipboard interface for the aggregated feeds).

Happy reading!

Yellowtrace
http://www.yellowtrace.com.au/
This is one I have subscribed to for ages. One of the only Australian interior design blogs with any commerical project/product content, but also just so beautiful to look at. A little interior design eye candy in your mail box every day, its writer Dana also has a very personal and witty style. I also love design free Thursday which often focuses on art – frequently of the very kitsch and very funny variety, I often share Thursday posts with many non design friends. If you subscribe to one interiors blog, I say make it this one (as well as The Midnight Lunch of course!)

Office Insight
http://officeinsight.org/
Heaps of articles from a variety of contributers on workplace design, real estate and culture. UK based. I can always find something to read on here.

Workplace Unlimited
http://workplaceunlimited.blogspot.com.au/
I was just recommended this one recently, it is written by Nigel Oseland an Environmental Psychologist and Workplace Strategy Consultant. One post in particular was suggested to me where Oseland blogs about the comparison between workplace design and zoo design. I need to find time to sit down and read more.

Workplace Design Magazine
http://workspacedesignmagazine.com/
An interior design magazine, but focussed on the workplace. Ideas, projects, products. You get the idea.

Double Helix
http://doublehelix.me/
This is a relatively new blog, some great posts on workplace consulting – check out Crunchy Creative Clusters. But some of the other posts do seem a bit random.

New Ways of Working
http://www.newwow.net/
One I have only recently found described as combining real estate, HR and IT. A lot of posts on teleworking and sustainable workplace design. Best of all is the infographic of the week.

Office Snapshots
http://officesnapshots.com
Want a peek inside Google, Facebook or Microsoft offices – here is your website. Photos and some commentary on great office fitouts from around the world. Odd thing is, its not curated by someone with a background in design or workplaces but a teacher!

Life of an Architect
http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com/
An American architect named Bob, blogs on all sorts of aspects of practicing as and just being an architect. Great writing and great sense of humour. One of my favourite posts was one for Valentines Day Architect+Architect=??

Green Futures
http://digbyhall120.wordpress.com/
Another quite new blog, this one a local Sydney blog on architecture and sustainability. I like the idea of daylighting the Tank Stream.

Dezeen
http://www.dezeen.com/
Is this the webzine for architecture and design? Does anyone who is an architect or designer not already subscribe?

Australian Design Review
http://www.australiandesignreview.com/
Get the local architecture and design news.

ThinkBIM
http://revitall.wordpress.com/
News of all things BIM with a focus on interoperability.

Practical BIM
http://practicalbim.blogspot.com.au/
This blog is all that its title promises – a practical view of BIM. Posts are well written article on many aspects of BIM project delivery, very much focussed on working with BIM in a real project environment and not just doing crazy techy things because we can.

BIMFix
http://bimfix.blogspot.com.au/
Another very practical BIM site, which aims to discuss things BIM which “need fixing”.

Seth’s Blog
http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/
If you have read Seth Goodwins books, you should read his blog. Or if you haven’t read the blog anyway. Just a couple of paragraphs of wisdom on all sorts of stuff every day. I would describe the common thread of the stuff as being about communication and dealing with other people – something we all need to do all the time.

Innovation Excellence Weekly
http://www.innovationexcellence.com/
A good place for articles on collaboration and also often technology. It is where I came up with the name for this blog.

The other sites I frequently seem to find myself on are the business sites, Inc and Forbes.

What are your favorites? Perhaps you can put me onto some great new blogs – there seem to be more and more starting up all the time.

PS On Saturday I’m going to be in the audience at TEDx Sydney, so next weeks post will feature my thoughts on something great from the day – there are so many interesting presentations I think it will be hard to choose! They are simulcasting live to satellite events at heaps of places so if you have nothing to do on Saturday think about heading to one of the satellite events.

Image credits:

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  boltron- 

Workplaces of the Future: Will the office look like my son’s bedroom?

Oliver’s ’Big Boy’ Room by Jug Jones, on Flickr One of the questions raised at the Green Building Council’s Workplaces of the Future Summit held on 12 April, was will my office look like my son’s bedroom? The answer is apparently Yes. Now I like to think that this relates to all those cool crazy things like the car bed pictured, and not the mess of a teenagers room, but possibly it could be either! Today I’m covering the second half of the summit, if you missed my post on the first half of the Summit – Freerange Working, click here.

Psychology and the Workplace
Natalie Slessor – Lend Lease
Natalie is an environmental psychologist and talked about what is needed to design places that connect with people, attract staff and promote well being. The workplace should to be synonymous with the organisational culture and values.

Using clever groups of three words beginning with the same letter Natalie identified key issues in designing workplaces to achieve these outcomes.

Competence, Control, Confidence – does the environment facilitate work/productivity, can the occupant control the environment, does the environment make the occupant comfortable, safe and give confidence.

What is the vision? What is the experience? What is the question we need our workplace to help us answer?

End State, Engagement, Evidence – understanding and addressing both organizational and individual drivers and fears, honesty is important as part of the engagement strategy, strength of evidence based research to help in decision making.

Bruce Precious – GPT Group
Bruce was a self admitted naysayer of activity based working – until GPT moved into their own refurbished offices in the MLC Tower, and now he is a dedicated convert.

As a major property owner and landlord, GPT Group embarked on a major fitout of its own space within the MLC tower to demonstrate that existing buildings can indeed keep up, with a showcase fitout designed by Woods Bagot. Bruce spoke on the process of behavioural change management, moving from an environment which housed “more paper than people”. There were certainly many staff for whom the move to non allocated desking and only 1m of storage  space provoked fear and anxiety, Bruce himself among them. However by starting the conversation with staff early and the CEO taking a leading role, the shift has been successful. Within the first 3 months, 88% of employees would not have gone back to the previous environment. The idea of the ‘biggest loser’ competition where staff competed to reduce paper/storage brings some fun into the change management process (I wonder if ‘gamification’ could perhaps be taken further in the context of stakeholder management?)

Whilst research suggests that an office environment in itself might not be motivating it can be demotivating according to well known psychologist and “pioneer of job enrichment” Frederick Herzberg. After the staff had moved in extensive post occupancy studies were undertaken using BUS occupancy survey method and compared to previous studies for the old GPT offices (also in MLC but on different floors). GPT now rank as the most satisfied office occupants out of the offices surveyed in Australia! Bruce believes the GPT fitout may not be motivating but it is certainly inspiring.

GreenStar Interiors – Beyond Office Interiors
Jorge Chapa – GBCA
The uptake of the GreenStar Office Interiors tool and its impact on the market for environmental products has been significant. However rather than just update the existing tool, the GBCA has extended the reach of this rating tool with the release of the new GreenStar Interiors Tool. The new tool takes GreenStar interiors to other environments beyond the office being applicable to any type of interior – education, healthcare, retail, industrial (I must say I was left wondering what an industrial fitout might be?) and is currently in pilot version.

The new Interiors tool focuses on sustainability for people. It is also a simpler tool with less documentation and instead of prescriptive metrics defines criteria that design teams can use to find solutions to suit their projects.

Brett Pollard – HASSELL
The new HASSELL Sydney Studio fitout is aiming to be the first project certified under the new GreenStar Interiors tool. The new tool has a more human centric focus and will help improve a wide varitety of work environments. A wide range of spaces such as healthcare buildings, retail environments and law courts are covered by the tool – and are all workplaces too.

HASSELL has long been a supporter of the GBCA and have designed many GreenStar projects including SA Water House, which achieved a 6 star rating for both Office Design and Office Interiors tools. HASSELL has also obtained ratings for its own studios in Melbourne, Brisbane and Shanghai (LEED rating), which are also located within refurbished industrial buildings rather than new building stock.

Brett spoke of the human need for choice and how we can design the likely choices to be more environmentally friendly, ideas coming from the book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness (by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein).  This book uses the term ‘choice architecture’ to describe how human choices can be ‘nudged’. For example if we design the default settings for a meeting room to have the lights and air conditioning off instead of on,  many users will then simply leave it off, only turning on if needed, resulting in energy savings.

Amanda Steel – Stockland
Amanda spoke of how the use of retail space is changing and already includes spaces such as art galleries and community rooms. Shopping centres have become a social hub and are no longer just for shopping. All Stocklands Centres now include community rooms which are used for a wide variety of purposes. Wifi in shopping centres is essential. Shopping centres may already act as a third workspace, and in the future it is likely that coworking spaces will also become part of a retail environment (I am aware of The Milkbar in Canberra which is a coworking space in a former retail space/strip, not in a centre).

25% of people are in shopping centres to do something other than buy a product. Unlike in office spaces, the outcomes of sustainability and human centric measures in shopping centres are easily measured in terms of sales and time spent in centre. For example with an increase in daylight, shoppers will increase time in the centre by 30%.

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Workplaces of the Future: Freerange Working?

Chickens by Richard Elzey, on FlickrOn Friday I attended the Green Building Council of Australia’s Workplaces of the Future Summit in Sydney. I thought I would share with you some of my notes and thoughts for the day. One of the key messages from the day is that the workplace is changing and there is a big focus on the experience of the user – many of the presentations dealt with this issue and it forms a larger part of the new GreenStar Interiors tool (which is now is pilot version). A number of the speakers used the term ‘freerange working’ to describe a new way of working where the user has more choice and space in which to move as well as a more enriched workspace experience.  The summit was a fantastic opportunity to hear from a wide range of speakers including designers, occupants and researchers.  As I have so much material, this will be a two part post.  Part 2 next week will include an update on the GreenStar Interiors Pilot tool. (Part 2: Will the office look like my son’s bedroom?)

Bilophilic Design – Dr Stephen Kellert (Yale)
Dr Stephen Kellert is a Professor Emeritus of Social Ecology from Yale and was the keynote speaker of the summit. His presentation was an introduction to biophilic design, what it is and a summary of research showing why biophilic design is beneficial to building occupants.

Biophilic design is based upon the idea that we are biologically predisposed to attach meaning to the natural world and therefore incorporate nature into buildings and urban spaces to improve the human response to the built environment. The design can include the incorporation of the actual natural environment through plants, water views or the like, or by the influence of nature through patterns, complexity and variation of design and the use of natural materials. Much of the world’s most famous architecture – for example Gothic Cathedrals or the Sydney Opera House exhibit principles of biophilic design.

Dr Kellert also discussed a number of studies which have shown that such environments improved outcomes for human health and productivity. These studies included healthcare, social housing and factory settings.

Those interested in finding out more should visit http://www.biophilicdesign.net/ where you can purchase the film Biophilic Design: The Architecture of Life or various books written by Dr Kellert.

The Workplace Diaspora
Sarah Kay (Woods Bagot)
Sarah spoke of the “Google Generation” – those born after the mid nineties, who have grown up with the internet – and the impact their coming into the workforce in coming years will have. Sarah described this generation as always on with a need for stimulation and choice, access to information and an ease with technology and virtual communications. As a result the office space is likely to become more of a place for physical collaboration.

The “Google Generation” are also used to being switched on and communicating 24/7 and as a result working hours are likely to shift and line of sight management may become a thing of the past. This will lead to the physical space of the workplace being utilised more intensively both in terms of utilisation (which we are already seeing), but also in terms of hours of working. Trends such as Activity Based Working, Real Time Working, Agile Working and Alternative Working Solutions are already heading in this direction and Australia has seen a number of high profile examples including Macquarie Bank, National Australia Bank and GPT.

Lauren Haas (Brookfield Mulitplex)
Lauren spoke on the need for developing high performance buildings, which she defined as buildings where the value of the built environment can be objectively demonstrated through independent research.

Lauren looked at the changing design of zoos from providing an environment where animals simply survive in small bare enclosures to today’s zoos where animals thrive in environments that are designed to mimic nature and provide stimulation [I thought this was a fantastic analogy!]. This would lead to higher performance of our building stock. The focus of building performance measures to date has been on energy efficiency, rather than the benefits to the human capital of the business. As salaries and the costs of turnover make up such a high percentage of business costs then the cost benefits to be reaped by improving the environment for the human capital through increased productivity, health and well being are huge.

Lauren was involved in the World Green Building Council report “The Business Case for Green Building”, in the chapter on Workplace Productivity and Health, summing up some of the key research undertaken in this field.

Paul Auglys (Commonwealth Bank of Australia)
Paul spoke on the process of change management in the Commonwealth Bank move to Activity Based Working at Commonwealth Bank Place.  Key elements in the decision for a fairly conservative organisation to make the move to ABW were to visit a number of other projects (Microsoft and Interpolis being key influences) and to prepare a business case identifying benefits across employee engagement, productivity and customer service, environmental and space utilisation measures. It was also important to find the ABW that suits the individual business model.  For  the CBA, the concept of staff having home zones rather than a totally free desking environment forms an important part of their ABW implementation.

After making the decision to move to ABW, key to the successful implementation of the project were the intensive stakeholder engagement process, the construction of a large pilot project were 200 staff worked and an integrated project team including Property, IT and Change Management.

Paul’s advice for other organisations looking at moving to ABW:

  1. Don’t underestimate the amount of change, provide support for change and ongoing training.
  2. Technology is a key aspect and must support the environment.
  3. Tailor ABW for your business – connect your ABW with the culture you want to build.

Carol-Ann Pickvance (HASSELL)
Carol-Ann spoke about the future of work beyond activity based working.  ABW is rapidly moving towards the mainstream in Australia and likely to become the norm.  Workplace trends beyond ABW inlcude coworking and codesign.

Coworking is a rapidly growing way of working where members rent space within shared office environments. Originally envisaged as spaces for start ups and individuals looking for work communities, corporate memberships are growing as the coworking space is seen as an environment which offers different opportunities for collaboration or innovation than the traditional corporate workplace. The Hub in Melbourne is an example of a coworking space. Key to the coworking space is that the workspace needs to attract people to it, the space is self organising and user appropriated (everything is on castors for instant rearrangement) and merges the facilities and atmosphere of traditionally different typologies – coffee shop, education space, workspace. The other concept from the coworking space that offers users additional benefits is the concept of the host, who not only manages the space but also seeks to understand the different projects and people and assist in connecting members and creating networks.

Carol-Ann also discussed the role of technology, and identified that the speed of change means that many corporations are just unable to keep up. Frequently consumer technology at home is ahead of corporate technology. The coworking space is based upon bring your own device and therefore the only technology must is wifi. However in some places coworking spaces are also offering members the benefits of shared high end technology such as telepresence.

Carol-Ann believes that many of the elements of coworking will become important in all workplaces, and in particular the element of user choice. The idea of codesign takes user consultation to the next level incorporating the workplace user group in not just the functional requirements but the whole design process and aesthetic. This could be quite confronting for interior designers and changes the focus and process of design.

I will be going back to discussions on the business of architecture and interior design, but the next few weeks posts will focus on a number of conferences I am attending. As well as part 2 on the Workplaces of the Future Summit, in coming weeks I am attending TEDx Sydney (May 4) and attending and presenting and the Revit Technology Conference in Auckland (May 16-18) and will blog further on topics of interest from these conferences.
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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