Guest Author: Ann Clarke is the Joint Managing Director of Claremont Group Interiors, one of the largest office interior fit-out and refurbishment companies in the UK. With 29 years working in the field of office design, Ann’s views provide an experienced look into the industry.
There comes a time in the life of all organisations when they either have to move to a new office or change an existing one. When that time comes, there is often a tendency to see a move to purpose-built new offices as a better option than improving an existing space. In reality, whether you decide to stay or go depends on a number of factors which should be backed by a strong business case.
In the right circumstances, intelligent office refurbishment is at least as effective as a move to a completely new home. Offices consist of six essential layers, each of which functions on a different timescale. These range from the site itself which has a life cycle measured in centuries, through to the building (decades), interior fit out (years), technology (months), to people (minutes). An effective office refurbishment or office fit-out will resolve the tensions that exist between these layers regardless of the building type.
What is important at the outset is to be aware of the technical and physical complexities of the decision making process. There are two common reasons why organisations need to change their workplaces and both are business critical. Either the organisation needs to accommodate change in the business and more staff (or fewer); or it needs to introduce new technology or a new culture.
For growing organisations, it is often possible to accommodate more people with intelligent space planning which either changes the organisation’s space planning standards or frees up poorly used space or, more frequently, both. In the same way, new ways of working offer a choice of cultures and space planning models which can accommodate significant change.
Whatever choice is made, the new office interior design must reflect some important considerations.
1. Business culture: The business must understand how it functions. Self-awareness can be hard to achieve but asking all of the stakeholders in the move, including employees, customers and suppliers will be essential in formulating a brief, ideas and engaging people in the change process. The design should reflect important considerations about the management style of the organisation, its working practices and the way people communicate.
2. Image: A growing body of research demonstrates the role a building can have as part of the company brand. If your organisation is strongly associated with a particular building, a move may have implications for the company’s image.
3. Cost: It can cost as much to refurbish as to relocate but there are likely to be other cost advantages for an office refurbishment such as those accrued by a phased occupation. The important thing is to focus on long terms costs of ownership and build flexibility into the design.
4. Recruitment: While new offices may also help to attract and retain staff, factors such as location, access to public transport and amenities may help you to retain staff who might otherwise feel uncomfortable with a move or who may be unable to travel to a new location. In addition, research shows that people are attracted to organisations with an enlightened working culture and a workplace that reflects those values.
5. Ethical considerations: There may well be environmental considerations as well as a belief that a company needs to stay in or move to a particular location to maintain an association with an area and provide employment. There may also be fiscal incentives from government for the firm to be in a particular site.
6. Legal considerations: Recent legislation on issues such as disabled access and the management of asbestos will have a bearing on your decisions, especially about the use and refurbishment of older buildings. You should also look to anticipate future legislative changes.
7. Wellness and productivity: Good office interior design will care for the wellbeing of employees but will also make them more productive both on an individual basis and as part of a team.
Decision making about your office interior design should always cut across the entire organisation. Similarly, close co-operation between the disciplines working on the project is essential to get the best results as is the buy-in of the people who will work in the new building.
With careful planning, a focus on the organisation’s strategic objectives and an holistic, multi-disciplinary approach, even century-old buildings can become outstanding contemporary workplaces that meet current needs and are flexible enough to respond to future demands.