Probable Pain

Acquiring data for effective workspace design can be demanding, time consuming and error prone

Whether business owners have experience planning office space or not, they inevitably rely on competent, trained architectural professionals to create new working environments for their businesses. And one of the first things architectural teams require is a space needs assessment for the business, also called an office 'program.’

Programs are simple, generally incomplete feature lists made from informal sources like emails, Word docs, and spreadsheets. They are mostly used for head counts and to calculate rough area estimates for the workspace. Traditionally, programs do not include assessments of the operational or cultural objectives of the business.

Programming is the least significant portion of the total architectural budget. According to one source, design firms generally allocate about 5% for this task. The balance includes 10% for schematic design, 20% for design development, 45% for permit, bid, and construction drawings, and 20% for construction administration.

Designs for floor plans are then created from office programs and from whatever applicable knowledge may be gained during design team evaluations. If we take for granted that skilled design teams come with proven architectural expertise, it’s also reasonable to assume that they have little in-depth knowledge of the businesses for whom they’re working. But the operational and cultural objectives for the ideal workspace, its soul, come from the core values of the business, not from the architectural expertise of a design team. Without industry standards or common metrics to describe work environments with these specific objectives, how likely is it that this knowledge will be clearly and unambiguously communicated to design teams who typically allocate so few resources to acquire it?

Realistically, the primary responsibility of any architect is to guarantee that the workspace can safely accommodate the necessary workforce and that the design complies with local building codes. A registered architect with 25 years of professional experience once told me, “The floor plan just has to be buildable. If they tell me they want two offices and a conference room, that’s what they get!”

If we consider factors like time constraints, the lack of standard programming methodologies, incomplete understanding of business values and culture, or unsuitable design team expertise for the specific business type (to name a few), then clearly the conventional means of acquiring relevant data for effective workspace design can be demanding, time consuming, and error prone. But without this data, design teams can only get lucky or produce floor plans that cannot guarantee acceptable returns on investment for the enterprise.

Is it surprising that there has been such a long and unfortunate history of workspace ineffectiveness undermining workforce productivity and jeopardizing the achievement of business goals globally?

Consider the following statistics taken from the Gensler 2005 UK Workplace Survey.