Challenged Beliefs

Spend more time defining innovative office solutions and less time worrying about whether design teams understand business needs

If you have ever been responsible for the development of enterprise office space or if you’ve been following this blog, you know that design teams traditionally provide the inspiration and architectural insight for all aspects of a new project. It is the design team that ultimately creates the workspace that is destined to fulfill the operational and cultural objectives of the client's business.

But a significant flaw in this process is the fact that clients won’t know much about the design team’s vision until after they deliver the first floor plan. And this could be weeks or months following the project start date. Only then will clients have an opportunity to make a critical assessment of the design. And coincidentally, this is also when building contractors typically start banging on your door.

What techniques do you use then to objectively determine whether the proposed workspace satisfies the needs of the business or not? Should you simply just trust the design team? As we've seen, this is a risky choice considering what we know about the pitfalls businesses struggle with when making decisions concerning the definition of effective office space. So, what useful measures can be applied to allow clients to gain enough confidence to approve the new design and finally sign-off on the purchase orders that will allow the construction of the new workspace to begin?

As it turns out there are a lot of them, but they have been prohibitively expensive to use in practice. For example, metrics for even a modest 2500 square foot workspace require tens of thousands of calculations to gain an objective sense of the space in terms of environment, efficiency, and privacy; a workspace with over a thousand employees and 250,000 square feet or more may require 75 to 100 times that.  And these estimates do not include the resources that are required to initially assemble the data and to later create the documentation that’s needed to present the results.

Happily, we live in an age where work of this magnitude is no longer the obstacle that it once was. In fact, it’s an opportunity. Think back on your experiences online. Have you ever sat at home in your underwear looking for properties on Zillow at any time of the day or night? Have you ever used a comparison shopping engine like PriceGrabber to collect product information from several retailers at once and then display the results on a single page?

The advantage of life in an information economy is that technology allows for the easy exploration of personalized needs. This is important because it's hard to oppose tools that efficiently provide insights that help us become better decision makers. This applies to office space planning as well.

For example, using a simulation and modeling framework like Aenvision's, businesses can imagine the workspace they want for themselves, not one that a design team imagines for them. And this is done in a way that leaves little uncertainty about the essential workspace requirements when the design team finally arrives. In this light, the belief that “only floor plans can determine workspace performance” is a flawed perspective.

With a space planning engine, businesses maintain control of the entire office space lifecycle. For example during development, businesses themselves can establish objective workspace design criteria using a flexible intuitive user interface. This same objective criteria can then be used to validate design team floor planning before construction begins. And following buildouts, businesses can monitor workspace performance against these metrics to inform reinvestment planning as the company matures.

An automated approach like this allows occupancy planners to spend more time defining innovative office solutions and less time worrying about whether design teams have understood business needs. It can be shown that office programming produced in this way is a much more reliable predictor of workspace effectiveness than floor plans created by conventional means. And it’s essential to get designs right early on because the deeper into the development process a project goes, the more expensive and perhaps even prohibitive changes to the design become.

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