Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Triple Bottom Line Business Space Decisions

Lease expirations are like the calendar year end – a perfect time to reflect on creating and supporting your company in being what you want it to be. While dealing with the facilities issues is seldom on the list of things you want to have to deal with, lease expirations open opportunities to have your business space better reflect your company and where it’s going. For many of my clients the path forward is around more of a triple bottom line approach – people, profits and planet – and working to ensure their new lease moves them forward on all three measures.

Since many articles only focus on the financial aspects – and of course you have to be financially sustainable or the other considerations become irrelevant – I’m going to make an assumption that you are already very mindful of this part of the triple bottom line. The People and Planet aspects, however, do also impact your bottom line in a less direct way – so what are some of those aspects and how do you leverage that through your business space lease decision process?

For your people, the location (transportation and area amenities), aesthetics and layout of the space, as well as air and lighting quality all impact their quality of work-life. The level of input you solicit from them can also influence their buy-in to the decision.

Before they even get to work the transportation access – whether it’s mass transit or flex-car or easy parking – and the commute impact their state of mind and productivity during the first part of the day. Your decisions around location and specific property have a big impact.

When your team gets to work, business space impacts thier morale and productivity. As you go through the layout and design process, taking the time to work thoughtfully with a quality space planner will result in spaces that better support your people’s function and use of space. Generally a good reflection of you and your team’s input to the designer in a well executed design process provides for smooth workflow and increased productivity, and seldom costs any more than a poor design you’ll be frustrated with for the duration of the lease. Common sense things like grouping the spaces of the people who work together is a planning not a cost issue – it requires being alert to what matters and having your space planner and broker paying attention to ensure the homework is done. Working with people that know that this is important doesn’t cost more money, and it supports more content and productive people.

Light and air quality are key to your company's quality of work-life also. Use of natural light, task lighting and illumination appropriate to the tasks being done in a given area really impacts the quality of work your team can consistently provide. Air temperature and freshness in the ultra-tight buildings that make up most of the properties built in the last 20 years is worth consideration. If the heating and cooling zones are too large you’ll have overheated people on the W. or S. side while the people on the N. and E. sides are too cold, so be sure your broker or planner is getting this information for your consideration as you narrow your choices to a negotiating short list.

You want to consider the level of input you want from your senior people and team regarding location, qualities and functionality. The right level of participation can pay benefits in developing ownership of the process. To clarify, I’m not advocating abdicating the decision, but rather being inclusive to ensure your leasing team has all the relevant ideas and input for a good decision making process. The final decision is still the responsibility and choice of the senior person or owner, of course.

Many of the People elements of your bottom line are closely related to the Planet and Profit elements of the triple bottom line. Transportation options, lighting, heating, walk-ability – these are all related to productivity, quality of work-life and environmental impact of your company.

Some items that affect your bottom line and the Planet that you may want to give some weight to include:

• Energy use - lighting and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) approaches and systems – natural light, task lighting, light as needed/required

• Water systems – rain water for toilets, low flow fixtures (required in all new properties in most communities), low impact landscaping for suburban complexes

• Transportation options – mass transit, proximity to your employees’ homes, building or project incentives for single occupancy vehicle trip reduction

• Re-purposing of existing space or buildings – the greenest building is generally a “re-used”, renovated or repurposed building

• Build-out and renovation considerations – paints, adhesives, carpet and furniture materials – air quality, local content, environmental impact of producing or using the materials, life cycle impacts

• The building and/or solid waste vendor program for recycling

The great thing about the People and Planet portion of the bottom line is that in today’s world most of the considerations are cost neutral and often productivity enhancing, so “doing the right thing” turns out to be good for you as a business owner whether you talk triple or traditional bottom line.

There are some incremental branding benefits for some firms, depending on who they sell to. I recently worked with a light manufacturing client in completing a lease for what will be the first LEED certified light industrial building in Whatcom County (and one of only a handful in Washington State). Because this firm sells to large, publically traded companies with sustainability goals, the sustainable aspects of his new facility gives him a small edge in future contracts over his competitors who don’t have a good story to tell about their manufacturing processes and building.

Be sure the team you have, and of course I always emphasize the broker, is up to speed on how to incorporate the broader perspective of bottom line into your business space decision making process.

This broader perspective of benefit from an informed real estate decision will produce results for all three of your bottom lines!

Kevin Grossman represents businesses in making informed real estate decisions for leasing, renegotiations and owner-user acquisitions to meet strategic facilities requirements. You can contact Kevin at kevin@kevingrossman.com.

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