Corporate workplace redesign is no longer merely a matter of a lick of paint and some new furniture, but integral to the business, as Mark Bradshaw explains.
2 October 2015 | By Mark Bradshaw
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 offices - without stopping to consider whether or not it is appropriate for the company or industry they work in. After all, a 'collaborative sofa' without a collaborative workforce is just a sofa.
So many issues that become prohibitively expensive and politically complex can be solved if people set out their expectations and needs at the start of the redesign process.
These questions are the ones that are crucial to ask before anyone opens a floor plan, orders a desk or chooses a paint colour - the ones that will make your lives and our customers' entire redesign process simpler.
1. How is the current office used - really?
Before starting to design an office, the workplace should be observed and you should 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.
Remember, there is no such thing as 'too much information' here - the more you can capture about the existing setup, the more certainty you can have that the redesign will be what you're looking for, and what your employees need.
2. What are you looking to change?
Sometimes office redesigns are just about freeing 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 achieve, 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 explain what you're trying to create, consultants won't be able to help you as well as they could.
3. What's going on at the company?
This one sounds simple, but it often isn't. Many office redesigns are triggered by forthcoming changes - maybe new staff or new functions - but it is important to look as far forward as possible. Encourage your colleagues to really drill down into what the business will be doing over the next year of two, and how that might change the business.
A forthcoming 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?
Senior executives will often have some grand ideas about what the 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 going on in the building?
Again, this is such a simple question - but it can make so much difference.
Your contractor needs to understand not just your offices, but the whole building it sits in.
This not only means understanding both the constraints of the fit-out guide provided by the long-leaseholders, 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 that can spiral out of control.
6. What do staff expect from the refit?
Good workplace design should be a collaborative, consultative process.
Employees are the best source of information about what is wrong in an office, and how to fix it. But they can also be very resistant to change. Managing everyone's 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 centrepieces, it's worth triple checking with the marketing and branding team about their plans for the next six months.
I've had at least one panicked phone call from a customer who'd just overheard the marketing team talking about their forthcoming logo redesign - moments after he'd signed off on an expensive laser-cut sign for reception.
Mark Bradshaw is part of the workplace team within Capita's property and infrastructure business