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.

 

not-so secret sources of interior design inspiration

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Where do ideas that work come from? Pt 1

 

Taren Hura, interior design manager

 

“Necessity is the mother of invention”.  That’s not an uncommon saying.  But “mother nature inspires wonderful office interiors”, is a rare one.  Or is it?

Let’s go back half a step and ask a curlier more expansive question – where do great interior designs come from and what will be trending over the coming months and years?  Don’t worry, I’m not going to answer with a blithe, “depends” and leave it at that although, there are some factors that need to be considered when staring into the commercial office fit out crystal ball.

Elsewhere in our collection of powerhouse group articles you’ll find various pieces on things to consider before you consider which fit out company to use.  All of them will, at some point, talk about what is needed from the chosen interior design.  What role does the space have to fulfil and for whom and why and when and how?  Clearly the answers to these questions form the basis of the functionality portion of the brief but what of aesthetics, branding, feel?  They are also, very, very important and it is this aspect that either receives too much weight or too little depending on the client.  Understanding, establishing and then bringing to life that crucial balance is all about knowing where to place that design fulcrum.  Experienced teams will know where that goes and what the tipping point will be because they know that solving problems is the key to good design and that the placement of the design fulcrum (that establishes the correct balance) is high on the real priority list.  The argument is not so much about timber over polished concrete, primary palette over secondary or L-shaped workstations over rectangular sit/stand desks.  The focus needs to be on balancing elements to create a lasting, on-brief, design solution that works.

If all these factors form the skeleton of a well-wrought design solution, again, the question remains, where does the flesh come from?  And, to the point of this article, what will it look like?  Well, here are three points thoughts to ponder.

Ideas come from you, your brand and your business

Having sorted through the questions in the previous section, a perceptive and imaginative interior designer might then look to your brand, your logo, your reputation and aspirations.  Capturing the character of a business is certainly one of the keys to successfully creating a workplace that people will enjoy and feel at home in.  However, conveying the right message to visitors and customers also has its place.

A garish reception area flowing through to the staid confines of a business that prides itself on a measured approach to long term strategy would be at odds with the character and function of the workplace environment.  However, timber and stone, for example, may add a timeless air to a tenured company that pillars its engineering community.  Likewise, a progressive tech initiative may demand openness, transparent surrounds with an eye on the future and collaborative synergies – think glass, open plan, line of sight, innovation.  Adaptability and an openminded approach to design is key here.

Ideas come from a designer’s desire to ensure the “feel fits”

There’s nothing quite like putting on an exquisitely tailored jacket.  Forget for a moment what wearing a jacket might mean to you and or the perception of you within your profession or social set and think about the look and feel.

To achieve that look and feel, the tailor will have asked several questions based on expert observations they have made.  Which colour combinations might best suit your body type and stature, evening or day wear, social or business, style and so on, which materials and textures will accentuate your “look”?  When the finished jacket settles gently over your shoulders and the fabric falls just so, you’ll realise that it fits like a glove because it was made specifically with you in mind.  It will feel just right because it is right.  And people are very comfortable with people that are comfortable in their own skin and in their workplace.  That’s the result we’re looking for and so that’s the approach we take because making people feel at home while at work, is most certainly an emerging trend.

The natural world has solved a lot of design problems

Personally, I’m inspired by nature.  Not just the majesty of sprawling vistas, mountains and the oceans but also how various biospheres work within the environment.  It’s no secret that my passion is exploring and enjoying the natural wonders on offer across Australia and many of these experiences have inspired design and functional solutions used in much of my work.

A natural sensitivity and curiosity toward the environment are valuable assets to designers and as we continue to push the envelope, creating new, never-before conceived looks and ideas, nature will always serve as a muse.  Interior designs that bring us closer to the natural world as opposed to consistently striving to create a world that distances itself from it, are often successful at drawing people to the brand.  The not-so-secret secret is that we already acknowledge that for the most part, nature works.  Bringing nature together with functional and aesthetic imperatives within commercial interior design is a welcome endeavour, one which continues to find favour with a broad array of clients.

Happily, I’m not alone in this thinking, which means that this idea will probably be an enduring one.  It’s folly to specifically, to attempt complete accuracy by outlining exact details of future trends but these ideas certainly point us towards the thinking that, I believe, will drive them.

 

discussing the road from idea to ideal office

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

What should we expect?

 

The powerhouse group project team

 

The fear of the unknown or the uncertain is often an unwanted addition to the workday, especially if that day involves responsibility for your office fit out project.  To help alleviate the anxiety that often accompanies high value, brand dependent endeavours, we put together a brief overview of what to expect when you’re expecting a beautiful office fit out.

A brief discussion

The success of this initial meeting depends heavily on one word: preparation.  Without it, the discovery phase can be quite heavy going as you, the client, try to corral disparate thoughts, needs and wants, while the fit out company you’re talking to, do their best to interpret.  It’s always best for both parties to come to this meeting prepared to discuss everything, ask anything and leave nothing left unsaid.

By the way, this is the first step along the journey to a wonderful new office, be it at a new location or a refurbishment at your existing locale.  Either way, be prepared.

Drawing on inspiration

Typically, an accomplished and experienced team will come back to you, having digested everything that was said, with some initial drawings.Images that demonstrate that you have been heard and your needs taken seriously.  Expect the beginnings of practical solutions to some of the functional challenges not met by your existing office to surface.  You will get a feel for how the layout might help alleviate bottlenecks, spatial issues and branding-related difficulties.

At this point, you will have a gauge on the approach and expertise being offered by the team tasked with transforming the environment in which you work.

Designing a home for your brand, business and people

At this point, you might expect to see beautiful renders, fabric and material samples, inspiring images, the works.And rightly so.  But don’t overlook the deeper and ultimately more important issue of solutions.  Remember, the primary role of a fit out, new or refurbished, is to solve problems.  Colours are important, so are subtle differences that might elevate bench-style desks over workstations but never lose sight of the reasons why.

Also, expect to cast an eye over some technical drawings as well.  What the eye cannot immediately pick up is most certainly just as important as what visitors, staff and clients see at first glance.Listen out for explanations relating to exits, egresses, statutory requirements in a word or two – due diligence.  If something at this point seems a little too easy, perhaps scenarios have been overlooked.  No harm in asking but an experienced team will furnish you with robust and in-depth documentation that covers everything.

Estimates, budgets and contracts

In that order.  Sign-off on initial drawings will give the experienced fit out company enough to present an estimate.  Only once the detailed drawings are done, due diligence has been taken care of and materials and so on have been agreed upon, will a budget be presented.  Once again, expect more from an experienced team.In this case more, might mean a fixed figure which automatically provides some peace of mind.

If a budget is presented before all the aforementioned activity has taken place, you may need to brace for wild variations in cost, time or both.  Remember, due diligence and robust documentation will save you pain, surprises and money.  Guaranteed.

Onsite and on your side

Here, relationships, trust, experience, expertise are all prerequisites for success in this, the most visible and impactful aspect of the project from the “client-side”.  To fully understand the importance of the relationship between the design team, project team and contractors, review our blog on how this group must work together to ensure the very best result.

So, while this is all coming together, what should you expect?  Expect constant, clear and concise updates on a regular basis, the opportunity to speak to your lead contact as and when you feel it’s necessary and be assured and reassured as your project comes to life.

All systems over to you

Upon completion you might be expecting a congratulatory note, chocolates, champagne, things of that nature.

This is not to say you won’t receive those things during handover but at the top of the list, expect to see, feel and be impressed by the innovative (but not necessarily complicated) solutions to all the challenges you faced prior to embarking on this journey.  It’s important that things not only look beautiful, but that they work just as you’d hoped, if not better than you imagined.

Aftercare

Once the streamers and the ribbons have been disposed of, the story shouldn’t end just there.  We’ve always felt that this business is not just transactional but relational.  Many of our clients have come back to us years later because they remember that we made things easy on them, were happy to offer advice and ultimately care about our legacy which was, and always will be, based on their satisfaction.

Expect nothing less on your journey between the initial idea and an ideal workplace you’ll love.

 

lack of experience is never a good look

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

What are the benefits of 25+ years in commercial office fit outs? Pt 1

 

Why is following instructions so difficult sometimes?  If you’ve ever had to follow a recipe, assemble a flat-packed pandora’s box from Ikea or carry out maintenance on any kind of vehicle named “Old Faithful”, you’ll know what I’m talking about.  It’s annoying because the step by step instructions are right there in front of you, numbered with parts and or ingredients labelled.  What’s the problem?  Well, maybe you thought it would be easy and got a little overconfident.  Maybe you thought you’d try something new.  Whichever it is, the fact remains – you probably didn’t have enough experience.

Tell tale signs you’re experiencing the frustration of inexperience

Okay, the thought of weekends lost trying to use that Allen key, transforming those egg whites into something edible or keeping an old car on the road can cause trepidation and frustration.  But at the end of the day, we’re just talking about bookshelves, pastries and cars.  What about a fit out that can cost your company hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars?  Tensions can escalate dramatically for both clients and fit out companies when inexperience rears its ugly head.  In this case you’ll find that: a lot more questions should have been asked early in the process instead of receiving blithe assurances; you’ll ask, why some of the stickier issues weren’t raised sooner; referees and testimonials were few and far between; and nagging doubts never really went away.

Let me be clear, as the client, inexperience in the world of commercial office fit outs should not stand in the way of your company calling a workplace you love, your home away from home.  Your expertise may lay in finance, primary production, marketing, pharmaceuticals, it shouldn’t matter.  If your fit out team’s processes and protocols are built on the rock-solid foundation of experience, your inexperience in this field shouldn’t matter.


5 important characteristics to experience with your chosen team

Unfortunately, it will matter if signs of inexperience are evident.  To avoid shackling yourself to a team that may make things a lot more difficult on your aspirations, your budget and your stress levels, look for a team that:

1. Asks open, leading and closed questions – when you speak with an experienced and successful team, you’ll get the sense that they want to know everything about what your organisation does, how and why.  It won’t be a set list of well-worn questions that steer you down a path towards a templated or simplistic solution.  Look for a team that wants to create a brand fit solution for your business.

2. Sets realistic, if surprising time frames – The most common misconception about office fit outs is that, just like home renovation transformations on commercial television shows, these things can be built in a couple of weeks.  Experience tells us that nothing could be further from the truth.  Due diligence and proper planning demand attention to detail, patience, persistence and time.  Anyone that tells you different is in for a bigger surprise than you are when everyone from private certifies to landlords start asking in depth questions that require equally well-documented answers.

3. Raises issues that you would never have thought of before saying yes – there’s a comfortable level of concern that should give you some comfort when talking with your chosen fit out company.  Why?  Because there are always issues, tricks and traps that need to be negotiated, overcome or circumnavigated.  Always!  If something seems a little too easy, it probably is.It sounds like a cliché but clichés are clichés for a reason, there’s always a kernel of truth in them.  Compliance, egress, additional air-conditioning.  Just some of the basic terms and conditions that are cause for pause during the discovery and planning phase.It becomes more interesting from there.  Happily, none of this is your problem.  An experienced team will quickly recognise and understand these challenges, will be noting and assessing the issues and thinking through solutions developed over time.  That’s just one of the benefits of experience – 25 years of it.


4. Have worked with people and brands you know – there’s nothing like a personal recommendation from someone you know.  But let’s face it, you may not have friends, colleagues or acquaintances that have had to lead an office fit out project before.  Next best is working with people who have successfully worked on recognised brands, businesses, companies and have produced work, of which both parties are justifiably proud.

5.Fill you with confidence – this one is critical.  Have you ever felt dread, stress or at the very least, a nagging feeling that this (whatever project you might be thinking of) might just end in tears?  Lots and lots of them?  Imagine feeling that for 6-10 months.  When you speak with a team that ticks the previous 4 boxes, you should feel assured that whatever comes, even if you didn’t expect it, will be taken care of by an experienced team of experts.  It’s a simple as that.  Understand that the previous 4 points are real and identify a team that fills you with confidence.

A final point, numbers like 25 and 1000 are nice, round numbers that are easy to remember.  But what I’d like you to remember is that our company has been successfully ticking those 5 boxes for over 25 years and we’ve completed over 1000 wonderful projects in that time.  We’re very proud of that, it makes us feel good and we’re keen to share the experience – with you.

 

 

6 tips to help manage your office fit out

Friday, August 31, 2018

What do I really need to know?

 

Shane Deering – project director

 

The more we know, the less you need to worry about.  That, right there, is a standard rule of thumb that will help us create a beautiful, commercial office fit out for you while relieving the stress and worry that comes with large projects.  Here are 6 more things you need to know:

1) Know yourself, know your project

Um is not a dirty word… unless it’s followed by an extended blank stare and the words, “actually, we haven’t given that any thought.”  The consequences of this phrase can eat into timelines and budgets like a pack of wolves.  Especially, if you haven’t given any thought to what your organisation does, what it wants to achieve, what is does on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis, how and why.

We’re not saying that you need to fully understand all the design imperatives to help you get that done.  We are saying that if you know what you need to do, we’ll know what we need to do for you.

2) Tell us everything

Everything is relevant, everything helps, everything is what we need to understand about your work environment so that we can do everything possible to enhance it.  The interior design and construction of an office fit out in Sydney, or anywhere for that matter, can be fraught with complications but also, ripe with opportunities.  We often find that during the course of an open discussion with clients, during the initial phases of our relationship, they off-handedly mention something seemingly inconsequential.That something changes everything.  It can throw open the doors to new and amazing design innovations or likewise, shine a light on a solution that clears the path to creating an outstanding office.

3) Sharing is caring

Are your aspirations supported by supporting documentation?  Have you met internally about: how many meeting rooms you’ll need and why; mandatory or preferred branding; breakout and food prep/catering areas; staff numbers now and into the future; data storage requirements, that sort of thing?  If you have, that’s great.  We would love you to share it with us because we love making things easier for you.

We care about the whole commercial fit out journey which includes keeping tabs on how you’re travelling.  And yes, our rigorous documentation is invaluable to us, the process and the project.  That said, the fact that sharing information with you is a significant share of our way of working, also gives you peace of mind throughout the duration of the process.

4) Understand the process

When you realise that your end of lease is on the horizon and fast approaching, it will also become apparent that there is a lot of work to do before you move into your refurbished, brand-fit office.  A lot.  And even if you have no intention or need to move but your current fit out is no longer fulfilling its purposes, the process is still more involved than you may have imagined.

Thanks to home renovation shows and project builds on the small screen, the expectation is that an office fit out company in Sydney will be in and out in a matter of weeks – maybe a couple of months.  Maximum.  But that’s just the construction phase.  The success of your project rests in the planning.  The planning’s the thing and the myriad moving parts need to be set and coordinated in a logical order in order to successfully navigate everything from statutory approvals, technical drawings, permissions to scheduling.

5) Think outside your box

Speaking of planning.  When going into a future-focused, high value project such as a commercial office fit out, a lot of office fit out companies settle for a variation on a theme.  Either they or their client or both are thinking about solving problems that are right in front of them and go for the easy wins as a result.This certainly reduces the complexities – temporarily, but it may be the cause of longer-term pain when the current iteration outlives its usefulness.

Tip: focus on what you want the fit out to achieve without constraining your thinking to space restrictions, for example.Think about what could be achieved if only…That’s the headspace you want to be in when discussing plans to redefine the future of how and where your business does its best work.

6) Get comfortable

Patience and understanding are the keys here.  Think about ordering a new supercar - Ferrari for example (or other forms of private jet) - that takes your fancy.  You might know within minutes, days or weeks which one is right for you, but a year can pass before the custom hand-stitching is done and it arrives in your driveway.

That said, there is comfort in knowing that while you’re waiting, the very best practitioners of the trade are working through a tried and true process to deliver unparalleled quality.  Now, we’re no good at designing V12 engines but beautiful office fit outs? You can and should count on us.

Tip 6 is and should be a huge difference-maker when it comes to determining who you’ll entrust to bringing your office fit out aspirations to life.  Getting everything right and everything you need is an involved and lengthy process.  Our best tip is to find office fit out companies with experience, an expansive portfolio but most importantly, a reputation for trustworthiness, mutually beneficial relationship building and trust.  That’s what you need to know.

 

 

building relationships for beautiful fit outs

Friday, August 17, 2018

How do I know if everyone’s on the same page?

 

Nathan Foti and Taren Hura

 

Confidence comes from trust.  A simple statement and one that applies to every aspect of a project.  Particularly, commercial office interior projects.  Even more so, if that office is where you and your team are going to spend the majority of your working lives for the life of your lease.  What many people don’t realise, apart from the actual depth of planning required, is that success hinges on a lot more than the due diligence and design.

Oftentimes, we are wowed by the potential that leaps off the pages as an interior designer or even an architect draws your eye to various points of interests.  With every emotive word spoken and flourish of the hand/cursor/pencil, the fit out seems to come to life, fulfilling your aspirations and seeming oh-so-real.  As fabrics, timbers, lighting features are approved, the relief is palpable.  And yet… nothing has been built yet.  If we’re being harsh, the client has secured a cache of very valuable and (hopefully) comprehensive documents and nothing else.

This is where the story ends for many architects and designers that are not part of a project team that gladly takes responsibility for end-to-end project management.  There’s a natural disconnect that occurs between architects/designers who work independently of project managers who, in turn, may or may not hand off to builders they may only have heard of – or not.

One more reason to go with one integrated team

When there is an established, long-term relationship in play between the project team and the building contractors, your fit out project is at an advantage.  Leverage a long-term relationship between the designer, project management and contractors and the seeds of confidence are sewn.

At Powerhouse Group, relationships with our hand-picked suppliers and contractors have stood the test time.  Okay, the numbers will tell you that we’ve completed well over 1,000 projects during our three decades in the industry.  But those numbers, and the numbers that other teams can no doubt share, don’t necessarily speak to the experience of working with a truly integrated entity.

To explain: confidence is contagious and because we have enjoyed successful working relationships with our contractors for up to 22 years, the rare but precious commodity called trust, allows us to focus on your experiences.  We can truly communicate with clients, update them more regularly and with total transparency because we know what has happened, what is happening and what will happen into the short, medium and longer term.  All this based on having worked with people we know and those that successfully dedicate themselves to meeting the exacting Powerhouse Group standards.

Interior design, management and construction teams working as one

Easier said than done but a lot easier than you’d think when all parties are on the same team.  With the project team working so closely (both proximally and conceptually) with both the interior designers and contractors, efficiencies, expertise and experience are optimised.

There’s a freedom in solving problems with our designs, knowing that our project team will have no problems bringing those solutions to life with the team we’ve assembled and relied upon for so long.”  Taren Hura, senior interior designer on the team’s source of confidence

Like all great solutions, our process for ensuring that our contractors perform like an extension of our Powerhouse Group team is a simple one.  We focus on:

  • Setting expectations – from the beginning, our mission demanded dedication to quality, service and the client.  Pretty straightforward but that’s the Powerhouse way of working - transparency, trust and ultimately, performance that produces outstanding results and yes, we love it.
  • Two-way consultation – in other companies and industries, trades are often told what to do and how to do it, hounded and watched like hawks, suspicion and worry fuelling speculation as to the quality of the final result.   Our trades know us and know what’s required.They know how to achieve what our design team has created and do so in the most efficient and expert manner.  All of this is due to our ability to talk openly and honestly about how best to achieve a wonderful result together.
  • Examining inputs regardless of the source – everyone gets a say because everyone on our team and our team of contractors are bona fide experts in their trade.  When they speak, we listen and vice versa.  Our clients benefit immeasurably from this and that’s what brings us back to the idea of confidence and trust.

These three points alone allow us the confidence to eagerly embrace accountability, which reduces the pressure and stress on our clients.

 

Accountability counts

Everything centres around the success of the clients’ projects, that’s common sense.  However, we also take into account the clients’ experience.

An office fit out is a journey and as many will know, there are comfortable journeys, bearable journeys and ones that will be forever remembered by the clients as simply harrowing.  The last two are usually a by-product of a disconnected team, still feeling their way around protocols and ways of working that may be foreign to them.  It’s a shame.  In those cases, the project may well eventually be delivered and some of those that work in the office may be none-the-wiser. But that’s not the picture of success that we envisage.  The quality and longevity of our professional relationships insulate us, the client and the project against such uncertainty.

We happily hold ourselves accountable not just in terms of the eventual look and feel of the new office but the service we are able to provide and the comfort in which our valued clients arrive safely at their destination.  That is, a workplace they love.

 

engaged vs energised

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Are office interiors designed to tip the scales in your favour?

 

Powerhouse Group interior design team

 

Two buzzwords, one commercial office fit out, something has to give.  Or does it?  Let’s go back half a step.  Throughout a number of industries and commercial entities you’ll hear people talk about having an engaged team, engaged staff, perhaps, on the right day, week or month, you might encounter a “fully engaged” team, individual or business unit.  Since most of us are comfortable that being engaged in your work, the project or pursuit of outcomes is a good thing, most of us would similarly give the nod to an engaging workplace environment that kept teams engaged.

But what does it mean to be engaged and more importantly, what does a commercial office fit out need to feature, in order to engage people and keep them engaged?

Obviously, a lot of this has to do with syntax and yes, there is a bit of wordplay at work.  If engaged means to be busy and focused, great, that sounds like a recipe for momentary, workplace nirvana.  But as a business, as a workplace, how do we turn an office into a destination?  Somewhere that people will eagerly return again and again to do their best work and feel good about it?

Energy keeps you engaged

Well as mentioned, “engaged” suggests “focused, in the moment, on task etc”.  But without being energised, can one really be expected to give all they have or all that’s necessary again and again?  The work itself, plus the conditions and benefits, would establish and secure a degree of engagement but the built environment can often fuel, aid and maintain ongoing engagement.  In other words an energising environment.

And so, we arrive at a discussion on what sort of environment would be considered energising.  When asked by clients for an engaging or energising environment, we start by leading a discussion that zeroes in on:

  • The business – what is it that you do and how does your built office environment contribute to or enable your efforts?
  • The purpose – why does your business need the space that it uses?
  • Key roles – the people that will occupy the space, what do they work on, what works on/for them and why?
  • Core functionality – what does this space have to achieve vs what would you like it to achieve?

Without this information, it would be pointless moving onto location (tenant advisory) and design discussions.  Pointless.

 

Your new workplace can be both

Good team members will stay engaged with tasks that form part of their core duties – for as long as they can, but you know what else engages people at work?  Frustration, overcoming obstacles that shouldn’t be there in the first place, work arounds, ad hoc temporary solutions, double-handling – all negative aspects of work that slow productivity by redirecting positive energy into non-core/profitable pursuits.  Conversely, achieving goals, seeing progress, making breakthroughs actually create energy.

Many of us have witnessed, heard about or indeed been part of a built work environment that sucks the life from employees.  The law of diminishing returns has become part of the culture and yet the people stay engaged with the task(s) at hand – because they have to – there’s not a lot of energy there.  Debilitating.

As successful interior designers, keeping our eyes and designs firmly fixed on enabling better performance by solving problems through inspired, brand-fit design is imperative.  Removing impediments to high performance through thoughtful design, actually allows teams to create and perpetuate energy.  And like apathy, fatigue, burn-out and dissatisfaction with environments that simply don’t work, energy, positive energy is contagious.  Again, the work that drives your commercial enterprise must drive the engagement but a fit out, wherein form and function meet and work together, can be both engaging and energising.

Generally speaking, briefs that feature basic functionality, location and, in some cases, colour palette requirements are often given to us and we feel, returning with commercial interior designs that engage and energise, should also be a given.  It shouldn’t have to be a choice between one or the other.  You, your team and the wider business deserve both.

 

 

rows of fluoro's shed light on lost productivity

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

What is the latest on lighting?

Mark Perry, design director

To be fair, that’s not the extent of fluorescent lighting’s usefulness in the workplace.  And before I go any further, it should be noted that in some circumstances, rows of fluorescent lighting may absolutely be the best solution in a workplace but as a default choice, well let’s just say interior designers can and should do better by their clients.

One of the problems is that return briefs are often dominated (and in many cases, rightly so) by furniture selections, choice of materials, space allocation, colours, form and function – all critical to the effectiveness of the office fit out design.  Lighting is sometimes an afterthought except to say, “natural light is good and should be maximised.”  Agreed.  But before we get to the flouro’s versus LED’s versus downlight debate, let’s first define ‘natural light’.

What is natural light and how can we get some?

Firstly, let’s understand what natural light isn’t.  There was a time when bathing an office area (let’s use call centres as an example) with bright, white light for the duration of the work day and beyond was an acceptable substitution for sunlight.  Understanding that every square metre of a 100-seat call centre or even a 400m2, CBD, creative hub can’t always be bathed in natural lighting pouring in from floor to ceiling windows, alternatives have been put to good use since the 1950s.  These alternatives include the aforementioned, elevated legions of flouro’s, banks of the humble heat-emitting, halogen globe and… that’s about it.  The advantage was that every detail, spot or mark on a page, screen or person’s face was easily identifiable to the naked (and by now, sore and watering) eye.  As a handy enabler of sleep deprivation, these light sources were ideal however, productivity and quality of work life suffered.

In an attempt to alleviate this suffering and return key personnel to the land of the living from the land of migraines, eye-strain, moodiness, mid-afternoon lethargy and the like, downlights, dimmers and skylights, where possible, were introduced.

But that was then (80s and 90s) and this is now.  We’re about two decades into the 21st century so it should come as no surprise that we are thinking differently, exploring new notions and arriving at interesting sources of inspiration.  In terms of natural light, that means contemplating more deeply the original and most reliable source of light as far as the known environment is concerned – the sun.  The very embodiment and definition of natural light has sat by patiently for countless millennia, waiting for interior designers to arrive at the conclusion that since man has effectively and productively adapted to the sun, any replication of its life-giving rays could/should help create an ideal office environment.  I do see the problem though.  We can’t bottle sunshine, not yet anyway.  We can however, replicate the sun’s effect in the built commercial business environment if we properly recognise what we’re looking at.

Have you seen the light… changing?

From what you’ve already read here and from what you’ve doubtless come to understand about office lighting through experience or from the garnered experiences of others, some hasty and harmful assumptions can be made.  There are many but here are just three culprits for consideration:

1. People will stay awake and alert longer if their work is bathed in bright light – just like the sunshine outside.

2. Only moody people become moody at work.It has nothing to do with the lights.

3. The relatively low running costs of banks of commercial fluorescent lighting will benefit the bottom line regardless of the crippling cost of buying “Visine” eyedrops by the pallet-load.

Not to make light of them (moving on… rapidly), but these assumptions have not crippled industries, led the masses to ruin or humbled economies.  They have however, made things more difficult than they need to be for those that would spend 6-10 office-bound hours per day trying to maintain or increase productivity.

To be clear, being bathed in white light for hours and hours on end is not helping.  Working under various shades, intensities and hues of light is.

How do we know this?  Because we as humans have been doing just that since man first set about the task of being productive.  Perhaps, that explanation is a bit blithe, but the alternative explanation and more comprehensive explanations includes terms like photoreceptor cells and intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglia so… blithe it is.

Further, we know that circadian rhythms, the natural biological rhythms of our human bodies that predetermine the secretion of serotonin, melatonin, testosterone etc, take their cue from the detection of changes in light colour and intensity.  This is why blanketing staff in white light or yellow light or orange light for hours at a time will do nothing in and of itself to increase productivity.  Working with and within the dynamic spectrum and patterns of light that our bodies have been programmed to excel in, is the natural solution.

Having the contacts on hand and the vision to incorporate these solutions into workplace interior designs as a stand alone answer or as part of a hybrid solution is part and parcel of the modern designers creative and practical arsenal.  Each client and their respective set of circumstances demands the deployment of various combinations of critical and creative thinking and lighting options are proving every bit as important to productivity as space planning and materials.

As interior design professionals we are tasked with conceiving and creating workplace environments that allow you, our clients, to achieve more and fulfil your brand’s promise.  We need to think about what works for the individual and collective alike.  This is never an easy proposition but staying on top of research, innovations and developments within and outside of our field helps us to think about and address solutions.

Remember, lighting (fluorescent or otherwise) may not be the problem with productivity but it can be part of the answer.  Naturally.

 

 

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.

 

 

losing your way with wayfinding

Friday, December 15, 2017

Can arrows point to branding catastrophes?

Powerhouse Group design team

 

When your stunning office fit out is finally finished and ready to reveal, there are few better feelings than being wowed by the design as you’re shown around your new home away from home.  It’s amazing!

The lead designer, account manager or maybe even one of the directors will casually point out an exquisitely crafted feature here or a miracle of ergonomics over there.  Everything will flow as seamlessly as the descriptions that trip effortlessly from the lips of your tour guide.  In the hands of a skilful office fit out orator, a showing of even the most labyrinthine call centres will seem as familiar to you as your own home.  Access pads are punched as directions are reeled off, “there’s your office, second from the left, the bullpen, data centre entry beyond the second kitchen and breakout area, GM’s office is around this corner and past the fourth meeting room on your left.  “Got it”, you affirm confidently as you match your guide stride for stride and smile for smile from ear to ear.

After the aroma of sparkling wine and incense has been spirited away by near noiseless extractor fans, you might want to place yourself in the shoes of the tour guide, just to ensure that all goes well on Monday at the big reveal.

Is this a bad sign?

The problem isn’t so much that you couldn’t find your way around.  After all, you have the design docs and furthermore the signage is quite clear and conspicuous only… you wish it wasn’t.  Why?  Because the signs pointing the way to the amenities, the breakout rooms and/or the boardroom are jarringly out of step with your brand.  How did you not see this before now?  It’s not so much that that the corporate palette is wrong (it’s fine) but the choice of font, style, language and visual cues all miss the mark – significantly.

You didn’t notice it at the time because you were quite rightly concerned about the how the overall office fit out came together.  Did they remember the additional baffling to afford senior management the privacy they would need?  Yes.  Is the kitchen all you could have hoped for your 105 co-workers? Check. Did the mural in the foyer complement the reception area’s central theme of modernity and warmth as requested?  Yes, all of it is as you hoped as you gleefully followed your host from ornate pillar to cleverly positioned post, completely overlooking the slightly off-brand signage.

We see this a lot, but it doesn’t always register right away.  The recognition of subpar signage usually manifests itself in the form of furrowed brows, double takes or, more commonly, a subconscious dissatisfaction with certain areas of the workplace even though, on the face of it, nothing at all seems wrong.  These are all bad signs caused by “wayfinding” being treated as an afterthought, a footnote, a hastily cobbled together addendum as opposed to an opportunity to imbue every aspect of the workplace with your brand’s best attributes.

Why wayfinding warrants more work

Once you’ve inhabited a workplace for a certain period of time, and the duration varies from person to person, you know where everything is.  You arrive at purpose-built projects rooms on time, you present yourself promptly to the boardroom, expertly navigating the high-end tech – you are a study in unconscious competence, as are your colleagues.  You don’t need the wayfinding devices.

The problem is that those valued clients, engaged stakeholders and impressionable visitors tend to notice wayfinding because they need to.  Whether they are waiting for a contact to emerge from behind the reception area to welcome them to the inner sanctum or trailing an HR assistant to an interview room, these things get noticed and make an impression – good, bad or indifferent.

Bad wayfinding or signage of any sort might include:

  • Hastily prepared print outs fresh from the office printer displaying room names and arrows pointing the way
  • Overly ornate, archaic or extravagant filigree dominating signage in a fastmoving, progressive tech hub
  • Tech heavy solutions to directional challenges that merely require clear and concise instruction in keeping with a brand that spruiks simplicity
  • A convoluted, hard-to-follow muddle of arrows and icons
  • Staid and well-worn wayfinders that seem bloodless and dry against the conflicting office-based branding of an innovative hub or creative agency.

Remedial actions, particularly the necessary ones, are not always easy to execute.  Far better to incorporate the solutions into the planning than to retrofit them.  A solid return brief, will most certainly address wayfinding and the correct approach will also consider how best to assimilate the solutions with the brand.  A certain consistency of theme is found across most office fit outs and the ones that prove to be a cut above the rest are also those that find a way to incorporate all functional requirements under the carefully conceived umbrella of branding.

That’s the way to do it.