The dotcom boom. The dotcom bust. Trendy offices with foos ball tables have been replaced with classic design that lasts and delivers higher productivity and greater flexibility. “Clients feel it is the designers’ responsibility to make a design timeless,” says Kim Sacramone, senior associate, HLW, New York City.
“A few years ago when the new media stuff came apart, clients told me they didn’t want their spaces to be trendy. That was a big deal to a lot of companies,” explains Susan Boyle, HLW managing partner. Currently, many facilities managers insist on flexible, multi-functional spaces. At the same time, they expect commercial spaces to be more conducive to high-tech capabilities, such as wireless LAN. “They want to get the most out of their space,” explains Sacramone.
The economic downturn our nation has faced since September 11 has besieged the business community, with New York City businesses being some of those hit the hardest. In the last year, the number of construction projects in New York City has dropped 29 percent (from 3,603 in 2002 to 2,545 in 2003).
Prior to the financial downfall, HLW, a 118-year-old New York City-based architecture, design and engineering, and consulting firm, had established a unique business model to weather most economic climates and industry changes and thrive. HLW’s structure provides unparalleled expertise in areas like strategic facilities planning, workplace management, and design-led design/build.
Now the focus is on flexibility, technology capability, and the need to fit more people into a space or employees using a space part-time. Particularly in areas, such as Manhattan where real estate is so expensive, facilities design professionals are very conscious about designing spaces to maximize usage. “Maintainability and longevity have always been goals. Clients expect a lifespan,” says Boyle.
With many construction projects taking longer than estimated and significantly exceeding their original budgets, HLW operates a design/build practice that provides design-led management of the project from concept to completion and guarantees budgets. This has provided a clear advantage for the firm in the public sector where government budgets cannot accommodate increases during the span of a project.
Recently, HLW began a benchmark study on corporate flexibility and open-office plan environments, focusing on maintaining flexibility while delivering much-needed privacy. For example, demountable partitions are great for flexibility, yet they may not always deliver high-quality acoustical properties. HLW will also collaborate with acoustical engineers to examine sound issues and furnishings, flooring, and ceiling properties.
Many design concepts are more cost-effective in the long run vs. initial installation. Examples include raised flooring with underfloor air, cabling, and power distribution, which allow for greater flexibility and faster, less expensive moves. This is especially true in high-tech environments.
For example, SAP Global Marketing headquarters in New York City, a recent HLW project, needed to accommodate multiple functions: first, as a workspace for the marketing team; second, as a hoteling environment for satellite offices around the world; and third, as a public space for clients. For instance, the software giant’s facility features a 100-seat theatre for visitors with an accompanying area for the press. To make the most of the space, the theatre can be divided with an operable partition and transformed into office workspace.
For in-house employees, an innovative design shaped the workstations as cylinders with walls that can swing open or closed. The facility also features a number of different types of support spaces to allow employees additional privacy. When there are client events, each workstation can accommodate two to three additional staff members. In the past during large events, the added personnel would overwhelm the space. Now, they can be accommodated with ease.
“If it’s not a laptop environment, it is not as flexible as an open plan – not in terms of openness and privacy,” says Boyle. The reason why the open floorplan works so well at the SAP facility is because it is a laptop environment. When the workplace is too noisy, end-users can transfer their landline to a cell phone, pick up their laptop, and move to a more quiet space.
By creating spaces around the needs of the organization and the needs of the people working in the environment, facilities managers and their designers are making cost-effective, highly functional buildings. Increasingly, employers are also appreciating how good ergonomics can translate into higher employee attraction and retention rates.
“They are discovering that the physical environment has a tremendous impact on their employees, which empowers us to make the most out of their space,” says Sacramone. Another trend is companies empowering a doctor or ergonomic committee to investigate the benefits of ergonomics and seek solutions. “It is not about rubber stamping what a office should be or what a school should be; it is about understanding the particular organization, its culture, and how it navigates its business,” says Sacramone.
The firm has done significant research on how natural light benefits end-users, and has an in-house lighting consultant that specializes in commercial interiors. The ability for end-users to customize their workstations is one of the best ways to achieve a healthy, productive work environment.
“For us, value is a given,” says Boyle. “How the design supports the work process is the most important thing.
“Make people more comfortable; they become happier, they work more efficiently, their bosses are happy, and their bosses’ bosses are happier. And, if it looks good, then everyone is happy.”
Regina Raiford Babcock (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior editor at Buildings magazine.
The Cost of Comfort
“When your employees feel better, they reflect that to the customers,” says Dennis Kilian, corporate facilities manager, First Interstate Bank System, Billings, MT. By creating a good ergonomic environment for the company’s bank tellers, First Interstate achieves its goal of excellent customer service – and saves money in employee retention and worker safety.
With over 15 years of experience in facilities management, Kilian currently oversees 60 facilities for this rapidly growing banking chain in Montana and Wyoming. Before Kilian joined the organization one year ago, First Interstate did not employ a facilities manager.
“I am just now gathering up information and doing a standardization of what we need to use,” says Kilian. The banking institution and its design team – CTA Architects, Billings, MT – are collaborating to create design standards for many building components, including heating, air-conditioning, and ventilation systems; digital controls; and lighting programs. Together, they conduct research on new products for the bank’s facilities.
Generally in banks, tellers stand on uncushioned carpet over cement flooring or small cushioned mats while on duty. Kilian, however, did not believe these options gave First Interstate employees enough support as they moved to different areas. There were also concerns regarding the carts used behind the teller line, as well as slip-and-fall issues with the industrial mats.
“We wanted a material that was spongy but durable,” says Kilian. The bank chose ECOcomfort Commercial Flooring System by Lancaster, PA-based ECOsurfaces Commercial Flooring. Recently, First Interstate Bank System built a new branch in Missoula, MT, and installed the flooring system, which is bio-mechanically engineered to reduce fatigue and injuries, over the entire teller area.
While in the past, standing or using awkward teller chairs produced several complaints, the bank tellers at the two new flooring installations in Missoula love the new flooring, citing greater leg comfort. Kilian is pleased with its ease in maintenance and slip- and stain-resistance. He has high hopes for the system’s durability.
“Keeping your employees in a comfortable environment – whether it is the flooring or the seating or heating and air-conditioning – is important to employee retention,” he explains. The facilities management team is also concerned about preventing health problems, such as leg discomfort. Adds Kilian, “It is really nice to work for an organization that does care.”
First Interstate is also concerned with green design issues; especially energy conservation. In addition to ergonomics and durability, Kilian is researching commercial interior products made from recycled materials, such as ECOcomfort flooring systems, which are composed of recycled SBR tire rubber and colorful EPDM flecks.
Always committed to cost-effective design, the financial organization will complete modernization projects in White Fish, MT, and Cheyenne, WY, as well as a new construction project in Bosun, MT. All will have the ECOcomfort flooring system behind the teller line. “I am always looking for new products that are durable, gathering literature, and meeting with design teams,” says Kilian. “It is an ongoing process.”