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Office Programming

Design is a plan for arranging elements to accomplish a particular purpose.
— Charles Eames
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Office Programming

If, as the venerable Charles Eames has said, “Design is a plan for arranging elements to accomplish a particular purpose” then, we can say that office programming defines the purpose and also provides the elements for a workplace design. For office environments in particular, this is key because it means that designs are intended to achieve specific business objectives. Office programming is the deliverable from the first phase of the workplace development process where workplace strategies are explored.


Workplace Strategy

The primary consideration for any workplace strategy is the dynamic alignment of an organization’s operational and cultural interests with the physical working environment. There are two overriding and fairly obvious goals: (1) enable peak performance, and (2) reduce costs. But office programming is still an intuitive process driven by judgement calls and leasing cycles, not by key performance indicators and defined success criteria. This means that the relationship between workplace strategy and office programming has not been formally defined. As a result, it’s hard to know reliably which problems have been actually solved by workplace strategy decision making and which have not. One thing we do know, once the workplace strategy phase ends opportunities to correct office programming cost-effectively vanish quickly.

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The deeper into development projects go the more expensive changes become.


Photo by Giu Vicente on Unsplash


Development Process

This chart from the National Institute of Building Sciences helps illustrate the point. The best time to define office programming is during the workplace strategy phase. The deeper into the development cycle workplace strategy decision making goes, the higher the costs for the project become. Business owners have the most to lose if we consider the short and long-range impact of incompatible office programming on real estate costs, which are typically the second largest business overhead expense after salaries. In 2005, Gensler estimated that inefficiencies associated with office environments cost US businesses as much a $350B annually.

There are two overriding goals: enable peak performance and reduce costs.
There is real value here. The software indicated what we did right and what could be done better.
— Jeff Leventhal | Workmarket Co-Founder

Development Ecosystem

We’ve also discovered that the intricate office development ecosystem can present its own unique challenges. Of the many stakeholders – business owners, brokers, landlords, space planners, consultants, and designers – workplace development can be easily undermined by ideologies, corporate workplace standards, and neglect. These obstacles can compromise outcomes for businesses despite the best intentions of experienced development teams. Without a consensus among stakeholders over the specific needs of a business, success is likely to be jeopardized by conflicts of interest.

Without a consensus among stakeholders success is likely to be jeopardized by conflicts of interest.

For example, tenant improvements using landlord allowances may actually inhibit access to design teams. These kinds of transactions typically occur when only a portion of a floor is being leased by a business. Landlords provide a development allowance for all or a portion of the tenant improvement, but then require the landlord’s own in-house architects and contractors to do the work in order to maintain site standards and assure building integrity.

To expedite these deals brokers and landlords now more interested in minimizing costs than satisfying tenant needs typically eliminate the architect discovery process altogether and present a single generic development option to tenants. Having only a limited say in this process, tenants are likely to suffer the consequences of such neglect throughout the term of a lease.

Without a clear definition of the relationship between workplace strategy and office programming, there is little opportunity to effectively mitigate stakeholder conflicts when it matters most.

Consensus among stakeholders can help eliminate conflicts of interest to improve outcomes

Consensus among stakeholders can help eliminate conflicts of interest to improve outcomes


Typical Outcomes


We’ve learned firsthand that businesses have to settle for 65–75% solutions as typical outcomes. This means that development teams generally get 2-of-3 or 3-of-4 heads down, collaborative, private, and social space resource requirements right. The impact on the built environment includes resource scarcity, lost privacy, and staff insecurity; higher lease costs are the result of resource surpluses. At least half of those surveyed believed their workplace was not built to support the business.

At least half surveyed believed their workplace was not built to support the business.

To business owners this can mean, (1) losses from indirect costs attributable to suboptimal productivity, retention, and recruitment of staff, (2) losses from direct costs as a result of space inefficiencies, change orders, and unplanned construction, and (3) losses due to opportunity costs which result from failures to achieve attainable company goals.


Workstation Ergonomics


Science for Working Individuals

Years ago the application of science to the development of workstation ergonomics allowed thought leaders like Steelcase, Herman Miller, Knoll, and others to clarify the physical needs of working individuals. This led to a host of innovative methodologies and iconic products, like the Aeron Chair. But the research did little to promote consensus among architectural and business experts over metrics for the development of workplace strategies that satisfied specific operational and cultural objectives. Nor did it promote methodologies to manage these objectives at scale. What’s been missing are analytics that clearly define the needs of working businesses to effectively reduce short & long-range costs early on during the workplace strategy phase where they can have the greatest impact.

Workstation ergonomics led to a host of innovative methodologies and iconic products.
Aeron Chair

Aeron Chair


Workplace Ergonomics



Let’s consider a technology startup that has just completed a series A round and is quickly evolving into an established company executing a proven scalable business model. The staff is probably shoehorned into a tight pre-built or co-working space that the CEO wants to move out of to accommodate an expanding workforce. The challenge is spending investment dollars on scaling the business, not developing elaborate and possibly compromised office accommodations.

Investment dollars should be spent scaling the business, not developing office accommodations.

Including every strategic advantage in the proposed new space can more quickly bring the company closer to realizing goals that will benefit investors, customers, and staff alike. But the question becomes how does the CEO guarantee that an optimized mission-critical office environment will be created cost-effectively in the smallest footprint possible before the design phase begins? Our CEO is most likely a hands-on leader that values KPIs, defined success criteria, and scenario planning to ensure success. But she will need a framework to effectively communicate requirements to a design team that more than likely has not had experience with the company’s innovative business model and would probably not make effective development decisions without guidance.


Minimize Risk, Improve Quality, Reduce Costs 


Data Driven Process

A data driven analytical process accomplishes workplace ergonomics simply by formalizing the relationship between workplace strategy and office programming. It provides a stable framework for the quantitative definition of purpose (strategy) and a context for metrics that can reveal the consequences of actions taken to fulfill this purpose (office programming).

The process generally starts by defining a representative cultural model. In the simplest case, the model can be adopted from historical examples in an office programming repository. It can also come from an empirical process using floor plan benchmarks and staff workplace experience surveys.

Scenario planning then scales the model in several dimensions like for positive and negative staff growth over time and for trade-offs in workplace area, environment, efficiency, and privacy. This matrix can be transformed into specific office programming examples and evaluated under real world conditions to provide practical, optimized solutions no matter what development challenges business owners face.

Effective office environments have been considered a luxury because they’re so hard to achieve in practice.

Workplace ergonomics is a comparative exercise that can ensure peak performance and reduce costs, provide guidance for site selection and manage conflicts of interest in the development ecosystem. It can also reduce development times by 80% or more and guarantee that an effective mission-critical office environment will be created cost-effectively in the smallest footprint possible.

Effective office environments have generally been considered a luxury or a perk because they’re so hard to achieve in practice or have required disproportionate resources to do so. But a data driven process can reduce costs and enable peak performance in any growing startup, regardless of scale.

Data Driven Process

Data Driven Process


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