Approaching a redesign of the office can be a tricky business – expectations are always high, and budgets don’t tend to stretch far enough to create the ideal workplace.
This challenge can seem insurmountable, particularly when you have staff at all levels of an organisation making challenging requests and explaining why their team or department is a special case needing special treatment.
This is often complicated by senior staff who have read about the latest trend or style in workplace design and assume that they need it in their office – without stopping to consider whether or not it is actually appropriate for the company or industry they work in. After all, a ‘collaborative sofa’ without a collaborative workforce is just a sofa.
As workplace design consultants, our job is often just to step in and ask the right questions.
So many issues that become prohibitively expensive and politically complex can be solved if people lay out their expectations and needs at the start of the re-design process.
These questions are the ones that we think are crucial to ask before anyone opens a floor plan, orders a desk or chooses a paint colour – the ones that will make our lives and our customers’ entire redesign process simpler.
1. How is the current office used – really?
Before starting to design an office, we observe the workplace, and engage with the business – both senior staff and the rest of the office – to understand as much as possible about how the space is used. There is no concept of ‘too much information’ here – the more you can capture about the existing setup, the more certainty you can have that the re-design will be what you’re looking for and what your staff need.
2. What are you looking to change?
Sometimes office redesigns are just about freeing up space or rearranging some teams. However, more often, the business is trying to bring about a change – of culture, working practices or just atmosphere. Unless the business really understands what it is looking to do, it’s incredibly easy to get it wrong. Creating a collaborative workplace isn’t just about new furniture and taking down office walls – and if you don’t tell us what you’re trying to create, we won’t be able to help you as well as we could.
3. What’s happening with the company?
This one sounds simple, but it often isn’t. Many office redesigns are triggered by upcoming changes – new staff, new functions – but it’s important to look as far forward as possible. Push your colleagues to really drill down into what the business will be doing over the next 12/18/24 months, and how that might change the business. An upcoming acquisition might just mean you need more space – but how will that change working practices? Which teams are likely to grow, and which are likely to shrink?
4. What do you actually need?
As mentioned, senior executives will often have some grand ideas about what the new office should look like – but the reality is that sometimes these can’t be met cost effectively. Any project will be a process of compromise between different needs - and so it is crucial to really understand what is required, and what is an aspiration. Without strong engagement across the business at the start of a project, you’ll face some challenging situations later on when it is a lot more expensive and disruptive to change a design.
5. What’s happening in the rest of the building?
Again, this is such a simple question – but it can make so much difference. We need to understand not just your office, but the whole building it sits in. This means both the constraints of the fit-out guide provided by the long-lease holders, but also whether or not there is any other work going on at the same time. The fit out process is always expensive and prone to missing deadlines if badly planned – extensive construction work in the same building can rapidly increase delays, and generate costs which can spiral out of control.
6. What do staff expect out of the re-fit?
Good workplace design should be a collaborative, consultative process. Staff are the best source of information about what is wrong in an office, and how to fix it. However, they can – and often are – very resistant to change. Managing their expectations and keeping them informed is key, and you can only know that if you’ve asked what they expect to happen. If you don’t find this out at the start of a project, the business can face significant challenges later down the line.
7. What is the marketing team doing?
Finally, a simple point – but a potentially expensive one. Before you start commissioning expensive signage and office centre pieces, it’s worth triple checking with the marketing and branding team about their plans for the next six months. We’ve received at least one panicked phone call from a customer who’d just overheard the marketing team talking about their upcoming logo redesign – moments after he’d just signed off an expensive laser cut sign for reception.
This article first appeared in FM World
Capita Real Estate and Infrastructure works with public and private sector organisations to design, build and optimise their real estate and infrastructure assets. From thought to finish, we apply our combined expertise to achieve more from the entire built environment.
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