Written by Simon Forrester, Chief Executive Association of Interior Specialists 2009.Simon Forrester looks at how clients and suppliers can work together to deliver efficient and effective workplace interiors.
Simon Forrester looks at how clients and suppliers can work together to deliver efficient and effective workplace interiors.
One of the most important factors for any office occupant is making sure that their workplace is designed to optimise business efficiency. More than ever, in the current economic climate it is important that companies are not just working harder but working smarter, and that requires an environment designed to optimise efficiency and staff performance and to get the most value out of the space available.
A study by international design consultancy Gensler last year concluded that workplaces that engaged employees and allowed for more social methods of working correlate directly to improved business performance. Enrico Caruso, principal of Gensler London, said: “We have always known that well designed workspaces lead to better employee engagement but never known how to quantify it before. But based on last year’s survey we can see that top performing companies are the ones who optimise their office space for focused work, collaboration, learning and socialising.”
When businesses fit-out their offices to try to achieve these aims it is likely they will use an AIS member. Just like any other business, our members are trying to improve efficiency and productivity. This means engaging more effectively with clients and other businesses in the interiors sector to make sure they deliver the best possible results.
Just over a decade ago the Egan report introduced the concept of ‘partnering’ to the construction industry. This hinged on the idea that clients, contractors, suppliers and everyone else who forms part of the complex jigsaw of a construction project would work more closely together and develop long-term working relationships, rather than in the traditional tendering for a contract, doing what is required and then moving on. The intention was that by developing more collaborative relationships everyone’s expertise was brought to the table so that better solutions could be achieved.
Despite progress made in the years since the Egan report, inevitably the current economic climate is compelling people to focus more on cost, resulting in a move in some quarters back to the more traditional approach which allows little room for dialogue between parties.
This emphasis on cost is of course a measure of false economy, as it is frequently to the detriment of quality. In the long-term, the clients and businesses which return to outdated working practices will suffer. However, if clients, specifiers, contractors and suppliers approach a project in a collaborative way, the results are proven to be better for everyone, including those managing and working in the building.
Martin Atkinson, Managing Director of PiMS Workspace, a firm that delivers space planning, interior design and refurbishment management, agrees: “It is important that when a company approaches us about re-fitting office space, that we actually sit down with them and work out how their business operates and what it needs to work,” Atkinson says.
This was an approach that led to PiMS winning a prize for partners in business change at the Premises and Facilities Management 2008 awards for its work with financial services company Skandia UK.
Skandia had previously occupied three buildings in central Southampton. By engaging with the company’s needs through a series of interviews, PiMS helped to move the company into just two buildings, allowing them to let the third. Not only did re-stacking and re-fitting the available space free up the third building as an asset but it also streamlined the company's efficiency.
Atkinson said: “We sat down with the business unit heads and got to understand how their business worked. As a result, we were able to create a layout which maximised workflow efficiency. We also increased occupancy densities by around 20%, despite a perception by staff of having more space due to the introduction of features like more natural light.”
Tom Jamieson, Managing Director of workplace management specialists Work Inc (part of the Eastlake Work Group) also believes it is important to bring a collaborative approach to each project. Jamieson says: “We try to work with clients to educate them to actually think about their procurement route and their responsibility.”
Jamieson espouses the value of design-and-build packages where a running dialogue on design continues throughout the project. He notes: “If you do the design and then stop, the contractor is no longer able to grow it and then when you come into the building what happens, for example, if you have partition lines clashing with an electrical grid system?
“With design and build," he explains, "you can hit those problems running and say, okay, now how do we evolve the design? Perhaps we look at a curved partition here, or look at the ceiling grid. You are able to incorporate changes so much easier as the job progresses with no extra cost.”
Jamieson cites Lowry House, owned by office providers Bruntwood Estates, as a successful example of collaborative working. Bruntwood gave over the ground floor of the building to meeting rooms and spaces, something Jamieson describes as “a brave move because in square footage cost you are not getting a return out of it.” He added: “When they brought us their specification we looked at the design and saw where improvements could be made. We advised them that if they invested an additional 20% of their budget, we could improve the design in such a way that it would help phenomenally with the letting of the building.”
Work commenced in February 2007 and took 16 weeks, a process that followed a nine-month preparation period of working with the client. As a result of the dialogue between the two companies, Bruntwood was able to let the property eight months ahead of schedule which obviously resulted in a massive amount of revenue being generated. According to tenant feedback, this was due to the impact of the space created on the ground floor.
The project went on to win a Gold award in the interior fit-out category of the AIS Contractors Awards. Guest judge RIBA Immediate Past President Jack Pringle commented that the client’s innovative approach to office support facilities and services centred on the building’s reception produced a challenging brief, which was translated by Work Inc into a clear conceptual design.
Facilities support specialist Beacons Business Interiors (BBI) approach is to work with its clients to target costs over the whole life of the project. Chairman Andy Graham explains: “You need to target savings by looking at how you can redesign and re-engineer as you go along without compromising quality. You have got to work closely with the client to achieve this. If you get into an adversarial approach then you just waste time and money.”
Equally important as engaging with the client to BBI is building strong relationships with manufacturers. Graham described this as ‘absolutely crucial’. He said: “We have allied ourselves with major manufacturers and we have been very loyal to them. We don’t swap products for cheaper alternatives to make an extra quid here and there.”
From a specifiers point of view, Bob Fry, MD of architects Swanke Hayden Connell, thinks it is vital to involve specialist contractors at an early stage. He comments: “One of the things I have always said is that specialist contractors know a lot more about what they do than we do. We are painting the bigger pictures and applying a lot of detail but are sometimes missing the knowledge of the mix of the paint. That is where you can get an enormous head-start. It is a very efficient way of working because you are designing with more confidence and cost awareness.”
Despite the current challenges of the market, Fry says the office refit sector is able to resist pressure around cost cutting, which inevitably leads to falling quality. He said: “What I would call the right calibre of specialist contractor knows that the focus when you cut costs needs to be on value rather than cutting quality. Having seen the collective work of AIS members as a guest awards judge, I know they are truly committed to quality and high standards. They are not people who cut corners to save money at the expense of quality.”
In a recession the market will always drift towards cost-focused solutions; but for companies looking to improve their workspaces, a solid investment in a quality fit-out could be the impetus that will help see them through the recession. As Martin Atkinson noted: “You can make significant savings, increase productivity and have a positive effect on the bottom line by going ahead with that fit-out. But the process requires dialogue. All parties need to understand the aims of the fit-out to be able to produce a quality working environment that meets the needs of the business and its employees.”
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