Monday, February 28, 2011

Hire a Space Planner Early In the Process - Broker Collaboration with Space Needs Programming Produces Great Lease Outomes

Understanding your space needs – now and into the future, is critical to making informed business space decisions. If you’re growing, changing or in a dynamic market, thinking fresh about your needs will avoid common pitfalls of simply extrapolating from your current situation. With help from a good space planner and programming firm you’ll be able to use a move to support your company in many ways more than just having a spot for each desk – and preventing problems common from just being reactive to your current space.

The involvement of an experienced space planner will aid you in finding great solutions and choices for your facilities layout, design and furnishings. They are terrific team members for this process. While many brokers will default to advising you to let the landlords’ space planners lay out options for you (it’s easier for them this way), you may want to ask some questions…

• What is the motivation of that planner? They’re paid by the landlord as part of a marketing process, not a needs assessment of what you and your firm require.
• If you use landlord’s planners you have to explain and educate each one, help them understand your company situation, culture and values to ensure they understand what you need from the space, and trust that they’ll reflect your objectives and values even though you don’t have a relationship with them and they are on contract to the landlord – how much time and exposure is that for you?
• Their scope of work is to lay out a space, not understand your short, intermediate and long term staffing and functions, or adjacencies, or corporate culture and values. Their job is not to really understanding of the values and elements needed for you to sustain and grow your company, it is to make it look like the space their employer is trying to lease look like it is the perfect fit for you – and they have many tools at their disposal to make pretty marginal layouts look quite beautiful if they need to.

To ensure the best outcome for you, the best approach is for you to select your own space planner at the front end. Work with them to be sure they understand your requirement – both objectively and subjectively. There will be some additional cost to you in this approach – but the value of the information and control in the process is well worth the investment. I’ve seen the difference it makes over and over again. Often the landlords will agree to pay the tenant’s space planner what they would have paid their contracted provider anyway, offsetting some or much (it’s all negotiable, of course, so sometimes it’s all) of the cost. You will be well served if your leasing broker understands how to work collaboratively with and leverage the information from your space planner in the selection and negotiation process.

Objectively, there are current and anticipated staffing levels, by category, level and function. There will be ranges of space sizes to accommodate various functions. Storage, work space, conferencing and reception are all typical components to be incorporated. This approach is a rough baseline – a baseline that with the subjective attributes included in the thoughtful designers design for you will greatly improve functionality and your team’s satisfaction with the space.

The important subjective overlay includes adjacencies, potential growth or contraction, flexibility and values.

You want to have a layout that results in the support people being near who they support and work with, and their work areas and needs near that. By investing your time with a your space planner, and having them talk with your key people and your internal functional/logistics thinking people, the planner will help develop options of how to improve on the current situation and situate people and teams and divisions in ways that improves things. You can stimulate communication, encourage collaboration and increase opportunities for the whole firm to work well together.

Growth for most companies is difficult to anticipate – as is potential contraction. Take a look at customer acquisition history and goals, for example. If you have a lot of customers providing diversified revenue you’ll have a different perspective than a consulting firm with a few clients, or especially if one client is a very substantial portion of your revenue stream. Designing the space with the potential expansion or ability to sublease or give back portions is possible – it just requires forethought and a good planner on the team.

Flexibility is often needed not just in size of the space, but in the way the space is designed. You know many firms have ever evolving ways of getting things done – yours may be among them. Similar to LEAN manufacturing, office processes can be changed and modified to improve outcomes as well. Engineers that would have had private offices 10 years ago may be in open work studios and senior sales people may have small work stations since they’re out of the office most of the time. Virtual staff, flex time, seriously cross trained team members and flexible grouping of people for specific projects require a thoughtful approach quite different than organizing a group of lawyers and their staff. It’s all good for some companies, but each company can be very different – and that uniqueness needs to be reflected in the space.

The softer components are important, but often not explicitly addressed. What are the values of your company? If natural light is a high value, you can place private offices on the core with low height workstations along the window line, so everyone gets to see the sky (and trees if it’s a shorter building). It’s not uncommon to see very open space with even the executives choosing to be in an open, workstation type environment with scattered conferencing areas for privacy or team work areas. If privacy is a major factor then more traditional private offices are probably a better fit. It’s about your broker and space planner taking the time to understand your goals, objectives, culture and value to reflect in the process.

Corporate culture characteristics are supported or inhibited by design. Some examples of themes that benefit from very different approaches to their space layout include: deliberative, traditional, established, creative, intellectual property driven, dynamic and high growth. Different companies do well with different approaches, and ensuring your space is consistent with your culture. This fit impacts your people the entire time they’re at work, so you want to capture in the physical space what you believe will move your company forward.

A team approach produces the best results. A broker that can work collaborative and can coordinate and integrate the feedback and help of a good space planner into the process will be able to secure a much better overall deal for you. Hiring the space planner to be explicitly on your team, to really learn about you and your company, really addressing your culture and values, will pay off. The objectives and values that you can incorporate and create support for through thoughtful, experienced design help will pay dividends to you throughout the term of your lease.

Kevin Grossman represents businesses in leasing, renegotiating and occasionally acquisition of their business space. He believes strongly in working as an ally for his clients in making informed decisions, and encourages an integrated approach to achieving triple bottom line results with his clients.

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