Lowest cost or best value?

James Geekie, head of design at office design and fit-out company Area Sq, looks at how to obtain best value from an office relocation or refurbishment

In these times of austerity everyone seems to be looking for 'best value' but is also under pressure to achieve 'least cost'. It is no different for those looking to relocate or improve their office. So how can a corporate occupier ensure that an office relocation or refurbishment represents 'best value' and maximises the benefits for its business?

I believe that for a corporate occupier value lies in a building being able to serve the needs of the business and assist the company in being profitable. In short, an office needs to be fit for purpose for it to provide long-term value. A 'lowest cost' fix is more likely to fall short when trying to meet a company's business objectives, and in the long term such an approach typically fails to provide best value.

The ancient Egyptians understood this when they built the pyramids; they were built without compromise and were clearly very fit for purpose as secure royal burial chambers for many hundreds of years. The pharaohs had established a very clear brief. Pyramids were modelled on a sacred, pointed stone called benben, concealed their precious contents and symbolised the rays of the sun; ancient texts claimed that pharaohs reached the heavens via sunbeams.

In many cases, building without compromise is not the case for business relocations. Where the objectives and working culture of a business are not clearly defined and then not incorporated into a project design, the end result can be an unsatisfactory compromise that will struggle to provide best value.

Although this may be stating the obvious, the first golden rule is to invest in the right building in the right location. For some, the right building will mean one that commands the lowest rent or is ready to occupy, thereby avoiding fit-out costs.

While relocating to a cheaper location might temporarily improve the bottom line, it may not be the best solution in terms of retaining staff. Selecting the wrong location may also hinder recruitment and increase the time it takes staff to get to and from external meetings.

A leading global technology company recently set up an EMEA headquarters where location was business critical. After careful consideration the company selected an airport location in central Europe to ease client and staff travel. It also decided to be the first tenant in the previously empty building, within a small business park, so it could influence the infrastructure and design of the building core to work to its own advantage. The facility was stripped back to a concrete shell so that Area Sq as designers could start afresh. On the back of this we delivered an R&D centre for the company for which staff retention was critical and so the choice of building location was essential.

The amount of usable space is key when considering an office move. Older buildings may not be as space efficient when compared with modern ones but in prime city-centre or town-centre locations the availability of new properties is often limited, and older buildings can be adapted to provide a suitable and efficient alternative.

Particular challenges often arise for occupiers from existing mechanical and electrical services. The introduction of executive offices and meeting rooms that typify a cellular operation can become costly if the building was fundamentally designed to be used as open plan. A client brief in which working practices have been considered and a carefully designed layout drawn up should reduce the costs involved and add value to the property by producing an office designed to work in harmony with the existing building.

Workspace consultants need to get involved at the very beginning of each project. By taking into account business projections, growth plans, staff data and work flow patterns, the project's design team can help define the business's needs and requirements at an early stage. Without accurately determining the project's objectives, the chances of adding value to the customer's business are low.

A project team that has fixed or unquestioning parameters may fail to provide the client with value for money. By challenging the status quo and asking difficult questions early on, the business's clear priorities will be identified. Every element of the project should be considered with these priorities in mind. There is no room today for designing just for design's sake.

Good design can bring value. Well-designed lighting within a building can reduce eye strain, increase staff comfort and help increase productivity. Investing in good design can also be environmentally friendly. Good-quality furniture, for example, will last much longer than lower-cost items that need to be replaced more frequently - but is your client in for a quick fix or the long haul?

A leading pharmaceutical supplier recently purchased a new UK building with the aim of introducing new work concepts into its business. In particular it wanted to use this new building as a catalyst to introduce new ways of team working and move the company from a cellular office culture to an open-plan community. To achieve this, pockets of spaces were created through intelligent use of acoustics systems, screening, storage and soft, collaborative furniture. Desks were arranged in clusters, with storage and break-out areas integrated throughout. By following a 'co-creation' philosophy a design company can work with the client and achieve 'change management' for its new vision.

Relocating a business or refurbishing existing space can bring major benefits to a business, but it also has the potential, if not planned and managed properly, to become a costly waste of time and resources.

Clients are now investing to protect their investment and brand perception. Choosing the right partner in terms of a design team to deliver this is critical to achieving this.

Lowest cost or best value? The choice is yours.

This article was first published in fx Magazine.

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