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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

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.