straight answers to curly questions

questions that will help you trust your gut

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

what should I ask a fit out company before committing to them?

 

Rosemary de Lambert – general manager

 

Accepting assurances on face value can be disastrous or it can be a timesaver and a lifesaver all at once.  It depends on how much you trust your gut and how you provide said midsection with enough valuable information to make the right call.  Despite their reputation for only dipping a toe in the deep waters of due diligence, gut instincts, when fed the right answers to important questions, can prove a reliable and ultimately profitable asset.

So, the first question to ask would be, what are those important questions?  Rather than simply providing a list of standalone questions you might like to throw at prospective partners on your commercial office fit out team, some context and perspective may prove useful.

Of course their website looks great, which is not a bad thing

These days, websites are a relatively low-cost way of offering up online bona fides.  They offer an easily digestible summation of who you are and what you do – which is important.  The effectiveness with which they approach and deliver these vital messages may vary.  Variations will be discernible within the text, the images and overall branding.  Somewhere in there is the truth that will help inform your decision making – yes or no or maybe.

In order to get a clear picture of a fit out company’s capability and methodology, ask:

1) What exactly do you do for your clients?

2) Looking beyond the finished work shown on the website, what were you asked to achieve for your clients?

3) Why have clients selected your fit out company for their project over your competitors?

These questions will give you a deeper understanding of how well they might understand, interpret and execute your brief rather than basing next steps on the talents of a copywriter, photographer and/or a web designer.

Best friends for how long?

As mentioned many times before, both in our blogs and on other online forums, the construction phase of a commercial office fit out is only the tip of the iceberg.You are literally asking for structures and mechanics within a commercial building to be changed to suit your brand and way of working.You’re doing this while conforming to many and varied laws, rules and regulations.Understanding the weight and scop of this is vital.Vital to understanding that the planning and approval stage will take some time.Sometimes a lot of time.Think in terms of months not days.

With that in mind, and to ensure that time and money-saving due diligence is at the top of your prospective project partner’s list, ask:

4) Can you outline the approach to achieving the project goals?

5) How long do you think it takes from initial discussions, through to handover?

6) Why so long/how will it be done so quickly?

7) What guarantees can you offer that the work will be completed on time and in full?

No two projects are identical.  So, the timelines will vary from office to office.  Nonetheless, the answers you are offered here will surely feed your gut some salient answers to digest – giving you an insight into methodology and due diligence.

What more could I ask for?... No, really

Taren Hura has written extensively on the need for interior designs to challenge the brief, not simply acquiesce to its strictures.  If you, the client, are not in the market for a commercial office fit out that allows your team to work in an environment that helps optimise efficiency and culture and creates a truly delightful workspace, you may be short changing yourself.

The interior design and concepts you are shown should inspire you.  If you find yourself simply shrugging in acquiescence, ask:

8) Is this the best that can be done to optimise this space and our way of working?

9) How many additional features and benefits have been included in the design that we (the client) hadn’t thought about?

10) Why can’t we have (insert your choice of features, fixtures and/or functionalities that caught your eye during the initial search phase)?

There will be instances where very talented interior designers need to be given permission to think bigger, smaller or more innovatively to satisfactorily complete the brief.  That’s fine but experienced teams will have their minds and hearts set on impressing the client, not merely satisfying them.

These 10 questions do not constitute a comprehensive pre-appointment inquiry.  In fact, they barely scratch the surface and are a poor substitute for an in depth, face-to-face discussion.  But that’s not their purpose.  This list does two things.  It will help you, help fit out companies vying for your business to flesh out their offer and in so doing, offer you a valuable insight into who they really are, what they really do and why they really do it.  Secondly, it will feed you the information that doesn’t appear on websites so that you can trust your gut and make the best decision for your company.

 

an approach to approaching the bottom line

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

How much is all this going to cost?

 

Chris Deering, managing director

 

It’s just human nature to hastily thumb through to the last pages of the proposal in search of the price.It’s what people do.This is especially true of people who are heading up a project or are responsible for expenditure.But it’s no less true for ordinary people making ordinary purchases – cars, microwaves, flat-screens or holidays.However, our curiosity reaches fever pitch when you are making a sizeable purchase that you, and others who trust you, are going to live with or indeed, live in for an extended period of time.

Let’s focus on the commercial office fit out.Depending on the size of your business, it’s function and the experience that you’d like clients and team members to have, the number (yes that number) that you’re searching for, might leave you surprised, shocked or even relieved.It depends on your expectations.

Understanding goals, managing expectations

Let’s start by thinking about the size of an office – the “floor plate” if you like.How many square metres will you be/are you occupying.That may have the largest bearing on both your budget and your budgetary expectations.We have delivered many beautiful office fit outs in the region of 1500-2200m2, some larger than that, some smaller, but let’s look at this range for the purpose of discussion.Let’s first understand that this is a large area.You might see these sorts of dimensions when considering, corporate head offices, operations and multi-purpose facilities.Typically, they will feature:

A reception area with wayfinding devices or signage

Multiple meeting rooms with various purpose specific requirements and fittings

An open plan work area (honeycomb-style, private offices seem to have fallen from favour across a number of business sectors)

Facilities including bathrooms and perhaps showers

Kitchen area(s) that range from smaller conveniences to bordering on commercial-style arrangements

A range of mechanical (air conditioning) considerations

Informal meeting areas suitable for small get-togethers as well as larger, “townhall” gatherings

You’ll notice at this point, that we haven’t yet scratched the surface of colours, textures and fittings.These are the elements that come rapidly to mind for people, especially those with not much fit out project experience, and this is where they typically begin their thinking.Yet it’s those 7 points that actually represent the tip of the project iceberg after considerations around purpose, functionality and brand aesthetic have been fleshed out.

Furthermore, it’s at this point that clients start making mental calculations around cost/m2.

So, when is the right time to think about cost?

Immediately.That may fly in the face of some of the things I’ve just said but consider this: we have to start somewhere and at the end of the day, establishing a client budget (with or without tolerances) is a solid starting point.That said, there’s no point in going into a meeting with a solid idea of the available budget without knowing what you want to achieve with it.In terms of thinking about how to properly prepare for a first meeting that will lead towards creating a suitable brief, review our post that provides 6 very important tips on this very important stage of your project.

After considering what the fit out needs to achieve for your team, your business and its stakeholders, you will start to understand what type of figure is realistic and what type of figure is unrealistic.

Tip: If a particular fit out company responds to your brief or initial discussions with a raft of documents detailing required works, due diligence activities but presents a higher then expected number, while another presents a threadbare proposal with a very low number, rely on the documentation. At worst, it’s a better basis for discussion around cost and what that may include.Remember, sound, easy to follow, well laid out documentation is, and always should be the tie-breaker.Peace of mind doesn’t always come cheap but you’ll be glad you have it.

What about a ball park estimate?

Ballpark estimates are dangerous.They are dangerous because they are usually requested at the outset of discussions.Very little is known about the project, the client and the requirements of the space.And yet, there are those that will offer a per square metre “guesstimation” but based on what?It’s like coming with a cost to surface a soccer pitch versus preparation of a 14-lane bowling alley without knowing which is which?Vastly different uses, requirements, materials, conditions, treatments, durability – the list goes on.

Therein lies the folly of blurting out an average cost/m2 when the undiscovered factors will absolutely influence the cost and the timelines.Instead, why not invest time in preparing and consulting with seasoned professionals that only have your satisfaction in mind.That won’t cost you much at all and the experience of walking into an office you love is (as they say), priceless.

 

should we stay or should we go?

Monday, June 11, 2018

 

How do you arrive at the best decision for you?

Chris Deering, managing director

Rosemary de Lambert, general manager

There’s always room for panic.  This rings true when it first occurs to you that a lease expiry is looming just around the corner.  Has it really been 7 years already, you might ask.  “Nearly”, replies the letter from your landlord or agent.  Reading further into the letter will tell you if a new lease is in the offing, whether you’re going to have to find a new home for your business or whether the rent will be dramatically increased (no, it never decreases and yes, dramatic increases usually mean you’ll be moving on).  There are a number of things to think about though and here are just 4 to get you thinking about heading for greener pastures or staying put.

How has your current space served you and your business?

Here’s a hint.  If this question causes an almost involuntary pursing of the lips and a shrug of the shoulders, followed by an, “aw yeah?” or “it’s fine”, think again.  When something is right, when the layout, design, branding and aesthetics have come together to help the business’s team “punch above it’s weight” in terms of efficiency and productivity, you’re literally in a great space.  If you have reservations.  If there are things you have long since learned to put up with, there is a very real opportunity to make some changes for the better.

The problem is that commercial office space leases are usually reasonably lengthy affairs.  Yes, some range in the vicinity of 3-5 years but 7-10 may be closer to what we would call typical – particularly in the 800-3000m2 CBD or business park scenarios we’ve dealt with over the past 27+ years.  During the duration of that lease, you can get used to a lot of things – even integrate them into a new way of working.  That’s not always for the best.  It’s not surprising when wasted space, slightly smaller-than-needed kitchens and lack of storage space become “just one of those things”.  In reality, these are things that should be considered on a regular basis however, many tenants simply get over it and get on with it.  Often, and in varying degrees, to their detriment.

What does your market and/or your business look like in the near future?

There are of course many examples of businesses flourishing in harmonious surrounds: all is well with the commercial office fit out and how it envelopes and enhances productivity.  This is music to our ears and to the ears of any skilled interior design professional.  But every silver cloud has a dark lining (not necessarily true by the way).  The danger here is that while enjoying this workplace nirvana, business can tend to lose sight of what’s next, what lies beyond the horizon.  Not necessarily in terms of trends in the marketplace, competitor activity and the like.  No, more along the lines of how any and all of those fluctuations and possibilities might alter the requirements of their physical workplace.

An upswing in market position, supply and demand or unforeseen opportunities may point to growth in terms of both business activity, the number of staff, pieces of equipment or storage.  Of course, these developments don’t always spring out at you from around the next corner without warning.  It is worth reminding yourself however, that 10, 7 or even just 5 years is a very long time in commercial enterprise and organisations alike.

Setting aside commercial soothsayers and futurists, it may be quite difficult, if not impossible to predict what will happen in your company’s field of endeavour half a decade or more down the track.  But what a forward thinking commercial interior designer can do is make provision for flexibility and adaptability within your current workplace.

Does your current space or even your current landlord, offer the scope and flexibility to adapt to changing demands?  Could you add 10 more operators to your call centre?  Could co-working or meeting areas be created if needed?  What happens if right-sizing three years from now meant decreasing team numbers but demanded more hot desks?

All things to consider.

Are we happy with the adjusted terms being offered?

More often than not, a new lease will mean a rent hike in one form or another.  After occupying a space for a number of years, it has to be expected.  However, thinking about the previous two questions in depth, and in relation to commercial considerations, the new asking arrangement may seem palatable if not agreeable.  Conversely, you may find that too much is being asked in terms of rent, terms of use and other factors.

It’s wonderful when you happen to see eye to eye with the landlord and have maybe even built a long-lasting, mutually-beneficial relationship and understanding but…

If not, what can/do we do?

This may not be the end of the line for your business and your current location.  You may want it to be, you might be very comfortable with moving to those greener pastures mentioned earlier but it doesn’t have to be a foregone conclusion.And here’s more potentially good news.  There really is such a thing as a “Stay Go” analysis or feasibility study which is part of a broader service – tenant advisory – that clarifies and shapes rational thinking so an informed, savvy decision can be made.In short, our tenant advisory services ensure that you are first in, the best address, for your business and its core functions.

The advantage of independent tenant advisory services

That’s only part of the tenant advisory picture.  This service involves working with you to fully understand your needs now and into the future as well as consulting with owners, landlords and or agents to get what you need.  Our independent service ensures that our clients have the option of renegotiated terms or solid, documented evidence to suggest that the right location for them is waiting for them elsewhere.  That’s how you’ll know whether to stay or go - so don’t panic.

 

 

character versus caricature

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

How fine is the design line between too much and too little?

Powerhouse Group design team

 

Just don’t ruin it.  That’s a familiar refrain heard by amateur artists, chefs, writers and designers of all ages.  It’s an admonition not to take things too far.However, as discussed in a previous article by Taren Hura, a good interior designer, a designer worth their salt, will indeed take a brief and see it as a useful starting point rather than a final set of instructions.  It was said that if your designer can add nothing to your own suggestions, maybe you need another designer.

But where do you go when, as either a client or interior designer, your creativity and zeal for the brand begins to get the better of you.  Frenzied, free-form brainstorming, if left unchecked, can create a jungle of corporate mahogany and brass or a morass of beanbags and “funky” astro-turf floor coverings.  Only then do you realise you’ve overstretched the imagination and you’ll be hard pressed to find your way back.  Rather than characterising your brand and bringing it to life in your workplace, you’ve caricaturised your commercial entity, mortally wounding your brand’s credibility.  It’s a very real danger with seemingly innocuous origins.

The effect of cause and effect

When constructing a business plan or commercial strategy piece, savvy leaders with an entrepreneurial bent will draw a straight line between the starting point and the end goal, marking off milestones along the way.  Deviations are eliminated or at the very least minimised because the idea is to reach the goal while minimising costs.  Again, focusing on the achievement of the goal is key.

So, keeping the following few questions and, importantly, the corresponding answers in mind can keep the designer, the project manager and client on track and on the same page.

  1. What should our brand convey to the target audience (be they external/internal stakeholders, customer/clients etc)?
  2. What does the office fit out need to do in terms of form and functionality to help our people accomplish this?
  3. What are the structural, physical impediments within a workplace that could negatively impact our effective/pursuit of our goals?

 

This is a reasonable start to a rudimentary marketing plan but in terms of office fit outs, these questions can act like bumper bars in a bowling alley, preventing your design from drifting off line and dragging your brand into the gutter.It happens… often… we’ve seen it.

Aside from being a bit loose about the tie-in between brand and workplace form and function, another more emotive threat lurks just beneath the surface.Personal preferences.  Truthfully preferences are both necessary and omnipresent. Fighting this basic truth puts you on a hiding to nothing however, to assess the value of those preferences through the prism of brand imperatives is, well, imperative.Statements and thoughts to recognise as “unhelpful to dangerous” include:

  • We promote openness and a flat organisational structure but managers should have mezzanine level, private offices
  • We’re a progressive company with a sunny outlook, selling fun products but dark timber and rich leather is a must have
  • Fund security and our hard-earned reputation as conservative money managers has built an impressive legacy but we feel convinced that arcade games, fusbol tables and beanbags might just modernise our clients’ experience

It is often said that the word “but” also means, “ignore everything that was just said and listen to what I’m about to say…”  Dangerous, if the business’s corporate brand/identity was being discussed.

Obviously, these are exaggerated scenarios, however real-world variations of these themes do exist.  The danger is that designers, clients and project managers will see an opportunity to please, appease and secure a quick sign-off.  A sign-off that may well do a disservice to the brand.

Finally, becoming infatuated with an aspect or area of a design in isolation from the overall effect can lead to incongruous results: the reception area is a triumph but somehow seems at odds with the adjoining open plan contact centre; the atria clash with the meeting rooms; instead of a thematic flow from offices through to breakout areas everything seems to… clash.

Again, how was the overall fit out supposed to enable the client (and associated employees) to further their collective progress towards the organisational goals.  A fit out that achieves this in both form and functionality will inevitably add to the character of the enterprise.  Less than that navigates the ship dangerously close to the rocky shores of design caricature.

 

 

a measured approach makes a marked difference pt 2

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

What goes into, behind and underneath a great interior design?

Chris Deering, managing director

 

The fruits of our interior design labours and the actual delivery phase of project management receive all the headlines and rightly so.  The visible elements of an interior design for a commercial office fit out should be aesthetically pleasing, tactile and confirm to those that interact with it, all the attributes of your company.  But there is so much more to a project than the final presentation.

The fact is that we are going to create an environment within a pre-existing structure.  In other words, a client’s optimised workplace that addresses all aesthetic, functional and brand requirements will be made to fit within predetermined dimensions.  Dimensions that were present and literally set in concrete perhaps decades before the client’s arrival on the scene.  That area could be a modest office fit out of around 400m2 in the CBD or something more expansive, say 3000m2 over two floors in an outlaying business park.

In all cases, the handover day will arrive and it will be our pleasure to show the key members of the client group around their brand new office fit out.  We enjoy this part of the process immensely as visions are realised and the hand drawn sketches, rendered over a coffee during our initial exchange of ideas and briefs are fondly remembered.  But as we walk through the comfortable ambience of an air conditioned, office, reception, foyer or boardroom, occasionally, I’ll pause and remember what we went through to ensure the sustainable practicality of a particular aspect of the fit out.  It’s likely we had to address and overcome issues such as:

  • Cooling and accessibility to the data room for proper care and maintenance
  • Sourcing fresh air for the mechanical (air conditioning) systems
  • Increasing the density of floor plates to adequately accommodate increased loads

There are so many aspects, items and issues that demand serious thought and planning beyond the “look and feel”.  Many of them fall into three categories:

  • Mechanical – refers to air-conditioning and factors associated with it
  • Hydraulics – essentially means plumbing and its many, many complexities and sensitivities
  • Engineering – covers designs, statutory approvals, floor plate density…

You can help yourself to more detail on this in my article on project management from back in November last year.

If these walls could talk…

It is safe to say that behind every major feature or purpose-built interior structure that looks very much at home in your new office fit out, has been the subject of intense discussion, investigation and sometimes, negotiation.  As a matter of course, we, as a project team, routinely consider and deal with statutory approvals, issues concerning water loops and cooling towers, people ratios and access and much more.It can be time-consuming and challenging but it is necessary and save money, effort and face in the long run.

But it’s not so much a case of understanding what will work but more pointedly, how it will work.  This is why we favour a measured approach that includes, inspections, investigations and due diligence that goes beyond a cursory glance around the site, tape measure and sketch pad in hand.  To us, a measured approach means that well before drawings, boards and concepts are compiled, we can identify solutions that will allow us to construct the brand-fit office fit out your company requires to help achieve your goals and do your best work.

As we see it, there is simply no other way to ensure that the environment we create for you can remain pristine, attractive and functional for the life of the lease or until the time comes to thoughtfully refurbish the workplace.  There’s always more to a wonderful workplace design than meets the eye – the difference-maker is the experience, expertise, problem solving and planning that goes into it before you ever set foot inside.

 

 

the complexities of simply managing

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Who should be in charge of our office fit out?

 

Chris Deering, Managing Director

 

“Okay, who’s got their head screwed on properly, can get things done and has a little bit of time up their sleeve? That’s who we need to manage our office fit out project.”

WARNING: This method will cause frustration, confusion and perhaps time and yes, money. But in our industry, we see it all the time. And these client-side project management appointments are by no means made with malicious intent. Nobody is trying to torpedo the project but self-sabotage is often an involuntary act – the result of simply not knowing. Knowing just how important choosing the right project manager is, to the successful completion of the fit out.

Let’s go back half a step.

 

How important is a new office?

In the grand scheme of things, a new office fit out can fall all the way past number 7 on a business’s commercial list of priorities. Any upper management team would be forgiven or even congratulated on prioritising objectives as follows:

1.Achieve market leadership by (name a year or date)

2.Achieve a turnover of (insert a large number here)

3.Bank profits of (input a number that’s only slightly smaller, here)

4.Cut costs to (that’s right, another number)

5.Secure business that ensures the sustainability of the business

6.Foster a culture of (insert aspirational behaviours representing the corporate ideal)

7.Boost/maintain approval and/or customer service ratings to…

8.Get our people a better office

It’s no wonder the best and brightest within a company are tasked with items one through 7. Things go pear-shaped pretty quickly if they do not receive their due attention. However, for those that agree that the look, feel and functionality of an office environment has a direct correlation to performance against that list, the successful achievement of number 8 may well be critical. Especially if:

a)Your lease has or will soon expire or

b)You can see a time in the not-too-distant future when your collective commercial efforts will be hampered by your current environment

It’s interesting that many (but not all) organisations revert to the general approach represented in the quote at the beginning of this piece.

 

Why can’t we just hand our brief to one of our better people?

Well, you can. And many do. And of those, a number of them actually succeed… somehow. But if it’s best practice that helps you sleep better at night, you’ll need to understand what you’re actually asking of someone who may have little or no experience in office design and construction.

Being diligent, thoughtful and hardworking will earn you kudos in many commercial situations. However, it’s very clear that a project management background is front and centre when it comes to the necessary experience and skills to chaperone an office fit out along the path to success. But there’s more than that required. (At this juncture, I will say that some companies actually have project managers on staff or contract who are perfectly suited to moving the project from brief to completion. Some - I don’t believe they are in the majority though.)

 

Project management essentials (the office fit out edition)

When you are casting an eye over members of your team, looking for someone to be your project’s driving force and intermediary between the design and construction company and yourselves, look for:

  • Awareness of the complexities – this is not going to be a simple task that only requires a tick sheet or gantt chart to be glanced at over afternoon tea. There will be a lot of moving parts, each with their own moving parts. That is to say, there may be up to half a dozen teams working on the project. All of them wanting to keep you informed and up to speed on the issues they are solving and the opportunities they are looking to take advantage of for you.
  • An understanding of the process – staying ahead of the game and knowing what is waiting for you around the next corner is key. It keeps you proactive, and well-placed to deal efficiently with any unexpected circumstances.
  • Comfort with authority and responsibility – your person of choice is going to want to keep things moving at a pace that will allow you to maintain business as usual. This means that when contacts from the design and construction company are looking for approvals, within reason, your project manager needs to have the authority to make calls and maintain momentum. Without this, circumstances both unforeseen and planned, may bring the project to a grinding halt while higher-ups are contacted, signatures are sought, second hand conversations are conducted. If your lease it coming to an end, these may be delays you simply cannot afford.
  • Familiarity with the language – jargon is a by-product of specialisation, that’s the way it is. However, time can be saved and misunderstandings avoided when your project manager of choice is speaking the same language as your appointed design and construction company. Here are some examples of how industry terminology differs from generally accepted definitions.
    • Mechanical – refers to air-conditioning and factors associated with it
    • Hydraulics – essentially means plumbing and its many, many complexities and sensitivities
    • Engineering – covers designs, statutory approvals, floor plate density…

Of course, the project manager does not have to be a bona fide expert in all the details but a working understanding, will most certainly be of benefit to all parties.

 

Where can I find the right person?

If you now realise that the client-side project management role is going require more than what your original nominee can give (after all, they may already be very busy taking care of some vital functions within your business), there are alternatives.

When clients cannot find or spare the resources to fulfil the project management role, we will actively seek and identify, for your consideration, non-partisan, qualified, client-side project managers to take on the responsibility. This works because all parties come to understand that putting your business in the best space means securing the best skillsets for the right roles.

Simple.


 

this is not what I asked for… is it?

Friday, July 21, 2017

How can I get what I need from a “request for proposal”?

 

Rosemary de Lambert, General Manager

Panic, confusion, frustration. Just three typical responses to submissions/pitches/RFPs from fit out companies (or any other prospective service provider for that matter) that have little to no correlation to what you (think) requested. Instead of a salient collection of thoughts that provide confidence, a promise of clear understanding and some clues as to their suitability as a provider, there’s only the vague promise of a great result with no insight into approach and process.

 

If it looks too good to be true, it probably is

We have all heard that one before and to a degree it is the one common sense statement that stands between us and being completely taken in by submissions that read like fluffy advertising campaigns. Which can be unhelpful, to say the least.

But I want to be clear, advertising the positives of a service is not a bad thing, in fact, it’s absolutely necessary. Pitches that blatantly paint over the cracks (read: difficult parts), those are problems. Problems that in other circumstances, see whole weekends being swallowed up by misadventures assembling furniture and/or flatpacks because it had an “easy to assemble” or “set up in minutes” label attached. It’s hard, it can be tiring and most certainly frustrating because when that shelving unit falls over or the indoor sun-lounger collapses, you’ll tell yourself that you didn’t sign up for this. The same type of problems can and do occur in the world of commercial office fit outs.

 

What are you signing up for?

Okay, maybe you’re in middle management, perhaps an office manager or even a higher-up in finance and your company needs to move. Perhaps the company has outgrown its current address or, after a long lease, they need a new lease on life. Somehow, the project brief has landed on your desk and the success of a relocation, an office fit out or both, rests on your shoulders.

This is not an uncommon occurrence. Where do you start? How do you start? How do you know if you’re making a good start? Should I go and get a coffee and a muffin and think about it? Why am I perspiring? These are all valid questions but the most important one is “what do we (the company) want to achieve?”

We’re taught or convinced that answering a question with a question is impolite, evasive or just plain mystifying. That’s mostly right but in this case, it’s wrong. Oftentimes, being saddled with handed a brief that seems quite straightforward but becomes more complicated with each passing moment, means it’s time to find some answers. No! It’s time to ask questions – the right questions. This is important because you are not signing up to organise the acquisition of one of the beautifully appointed office images you just flicked through via a variety of google searches. You are signing up to:

  1. add value to your company’s brand
  2. cement and/or enhance its corporate identity
  3. create an environment in which your people can do their best work
  4. keep to a budget
  5. deliver within the timelines…

That’s just the start of it and that’s what you signed up for.

 

And now for some good news

The success of your project will come down to just two factors. The quality of the brief you put together and the selection of the company that best understands that brief. Okay, so I have made some assumptions here.

  • All commercial fit out companies know how to safely and correctly complete a fit out
  • All commercial fit out companies have design teams on board that understand that aesthetics only get you so far and that functionality can/will/must win the day
  • All commercial fit out companies are experienced operators, well versed in everything from zoning guidelines to workplace safety imperatives
  • All commercial fit out companies are created equal

If this is the case, then we’ll proceed (with caution).

 

Question everything

Strong briefs are built on the foundations of strong questions and even stronger (and therefore helpful) answers. As we know, the key to finding these answers is looking in the right place and asking the right people. But let’s take half a step back and identify the most helpful initial questions that must always be asked of the people that handed you this responsibility. They are important because they form the basis of the brief you are going to deliver to the abovementioned office fit out companies.

  • What do we need to do in our new office environment? (Hint: don’t just think about outputs, think about process)
  • What do we need in our new office environment?
  • What do we want people (can also apply to different teams and functions) to feel in our new office environment?
  • Who is going to see our office, how much of our office and what do we want them to see and feel about our office… and by extension, our Company?

Another assumption: you’ve already been given timelines and budget, although budget is not always required for the initial brief, particularly if you are vetting fit out companies.

Once you have sourced the answers to these questions, you will have at your fingertips the basis of a useful brief from which (if all our wild assumptions are correct) you will receive well thought out, creative and on-brand submissions. Follow these tips and get what you asked for.

 

look before you lease!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

What if I haven’t considered council zoning and planning?

Chris Deering, Managing Director

Leasing a commercial space and securing a home for your family to live in are vastly different endeavours.  Regardless of how much we consider our workmates to be family and a workplace to be home, the rules (and the consequences of breaking them) are very different.  Unfortunately, many people assigned the task of searching for and finding the right commercial space for their business, fall foul of council zoning and planning.  The consequences range from inconvenience and disruption to expense and devastating interruption to business continuity.

Spotting a cavernous commercial space with sprawling views, tonnes of potential, room to grow and a budget-friendly lease is only part of the answer.  Here’s the problem.  Sometimes, not all the time but sometimes, you will find that the union between the property you are eyeing off and your business was never meant to be.  From the very beginning, council and town planners may well have assigned a specific use for the buildings and indeed the area that you are looking at.  This is where a problematic conflict may occur.  Understanding their plans is crucial to moving forward with yours.

Location, location, location?  Not really!

When sales consultancies, real estate offices and law firms see an enviable location, nestled in a purpose-built business park, appropriately zoned for general office use, I breathe a sigh of relief for them.  This is a classic case of the right business in the right “type” of location.  All things being equal, we would enter into the due diligence phase (assuming the location met the brief) feeling “realistically optimistic”.  However, there are a lot of businesses featuring “non-deskbound” jobs, involving racks of data storage, warehousing, call centres and training facilities – all of which will attract varying levels of scrutiny from town planning, private certifiers and council.  To establish a clear view of the likelihood that your plans will conform to zoning classifications you’ll need:

  • Experience – simply knowing that a site is zoned 5B for example, will not be enough.  Yes, zoning stipulates what can be done, but understanding what may not be allowed is best left to those with years of specialised experience under their belt.  Finding out about limitations and exclusions after a lease has been signed brings with it at least three types of pain: expense, time and lost expectations/relationships/reputation.
  • Recognition – Knowing who’s who in the commercial real estate zoo and what they do and for whom, is necessary for perspective and expedience.  Understanding that leasing agents are there to secure leases and solicitors will focus on contracts and conditions begs the question, “who’s looking after your interests?”  By engaging a party with expertise in both sourcing and fitting out your new space, you have someone onside with a vested interest in securing all necessary approvals.  They will be motivated to do this so that the design and construct phases of the project will likewise, progress smoothly.
  • Due diligence – This goes several steps beyond merely casting an eye over the brief, nodding enthusiastically at floor plans and making educated assumptions about the interpretations of zoning and building codes.  The thinking here has to extend to three, four, or five degrees of consequence: if the data centre goes here, where does the cooling unit go?  If the 150 seat call centre is located here, where will this huge team park their cars or is public transport a viable option?  As an RTO, have we chosen a location that is safe for the public to descend upon en masse?  These questions may just be the tip of the iceberg.

The complexity of industrial complexes

Industrial and technology parks or complexes are an attractive proposition for businesses drawn to wide open spaces and large offices all under one roof.  Typically, an opportunity might exist where warehousing and offices are offered as a package deal within an estate.  The floor space ratio might hover around 80% warehousing to 20% office space – perfect for an expanding operation.

However, with increased building size, operational scope and staffing come questions and complexities around egresses and access, workplace safety, facilities and ventilation.  All of these aspects of commercial space acquisition demand the expertise and experience to work with codes and zoning as well as working with council, town planners and private certifiers if required.

Great results can be and are achieved for clients who need to spread their commercial wings.  It’s just that the same enthusiasm for creating an environment that is both functional and brand fit is absolutely required during the research or “discovery” phase.

An open discussion on the needs of the business is always a great place to start but it’s just as important to make sure you are talking to people who know how to look after you before you take that leap.