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Architect's role expands in real estate decisions.

As corporations search for new, more effective ways to improve productivity and profitability, work processes are being redefined and alternative officing options are being introduced. Decentralized business units, shared workplaces, flexible hours and advanced technology are some of the major results of these new business strategies. In implementing these changes, architects are being asked to stretch beyond their traditional role as designers in three important areas:

1. Strategic programming to support organizational restructuring; 2. Training of the workforce; and 3. Integration of advanced technology in the workplace.

In order to design office space which accommodates the significant changes occurring in the workplace, more work must be done up front, often even before a space search is undertaken.

One recent example is the 100,000 square,foot regional headquarters relocation for a Big 6 Accounting firm in Boston. The client's goal in planning for their new facilities is to reduce their overall space requirements by approximately 20 percent. Significant numbers of their staff, such as salespeople, auditors and accountants, work outside of the office a substantial amount of their time. Their permanent workspaces are left vacant when they are out, resulting in an inefficient use of expensive real estate. Management recognized that a "virtual office" can exist wherever the staff member happens to be - at home, in a car, an airplane, a hotel room, or a client's premises with the use of a lap-top computer and modem, a fax machine and a cellular telephone. To accommodate these people whenever they do need to be at the office, the company had previously test-piloted the concept of "Hoteling" and found it to be a positive response to their restructured work processes.

With this non-territorial office space concept, a worker makes a reservation for the use of an office or workspace for a particular amount of time, typically from a full day to a week. Arrangements are made through a concierge-style administrator to reserve an office into which the individual's project-related mobile files are placed. Since permanent offices are no longer required for every staff member, the net result is a significant reduction in real estate quirements.

Strategic Programming to Support Organizational Restructuring

Our client also recognized that there was far more at stake than simply saving space across the board. They had to be sure their new headquarters would adequately meet the needs of each individual department, and they had to have the full support of the staff. Our role as architects in developing a program for the space was clearly not just a quantitative exercise, but one that would incorporate the following tasks:

* Identification of the business units which are candidates for alternative officing;

* Exploration of new organizational structures which respond to the team-based, customer-focused approach so prevalent in today's marketplace;

* Participation, along with alternative officing consultants, in focus group meetings to inform the staff about the process and to secure their buy-in at all levels;

* Development of workspace standards for all staff positions which meet the needs of the workers, support new high-performance work processes, and accommodate advanced technology;

* Coordination with the client's telecommunications consultant to accommodate the advanced technology which supports the new organizational structure;

* Planning for sufficient flexibility to accommodate future growth and change.

This evaluative process tends to take longer than the traditional programming process because it is so integrally involved with understanding the client's new business structure and determining the best ways to support it. At best, we can develop a "snapshot" of the overall space requirements in about 30 days, but usually much more time is required to explore and evaluate the various options.

It is important to recognize that one can go too far in attempting to reduce space requirements. These new planning concepts require an increase in conferencing areas, filing and support space to accommodate the workforce. It doesn't pay to simply shrink the space and crowd the people in. Morale and productivity suffer. These concepts are radical in nature and require time and training if they are to be successful.

Training of the workforce

Corporate executives are recognizing the need to better understand the concerns of their workforce. In addition to organizational restructuring, other changes such as demographics, technology, environmental and health issues, and economic conditions, are affecting the way people work. For our accounting firm client, we established a program to get the staff involved up front. Through a series of focus groups, educational seminars and a monthly newsletter throughout the project, we listened to their concerns and demonstrated various solutions. With the involvement of a representative employee task force, we looked at each user group to determine the way they worked, allowing areas for coordinative, contemplative and communal work processes.

Integration of Advanced Technology in the Workplace

Part of the process included consideration of the technology needed to support the new work processes. Advanced technology requires extensive wiring and cabling for power and communications, sophisticated lighting, and increased ventilation and air-conditioning. These infrastructure costs now represent a large percentage of a company's construction dollar, so it pays to spend the time to investigate the most cost-effective options.

Technology integration within the furniture specified for the workstations also received special attention. With the assistance of engineers and telecommunications consultants, we developed a series of workstation mock-ups for testing by the employee task force. For instance, we determined the necessity for providing access to power and cabling at the "belt-line" of the workstations, and only considered manufacturers whose products met that need. One of the solutions for this client was a series of convenient "touchdown offices," which are small rooms with a simple shelf where transient staff can simply plug in their computer and work for short periods of time before moving on to their next appointment.

The extra effort required for programming and strategic planning up front not only results in a positive long-term impact for the client's business, but it is also the key to successful office leasing and office design in today's changing marketplace.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Architecture Design & Construction
Author:D'Elia, Alfonso
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:May 17, 1995
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