A Detroit-based insurance company designed its new office to incorporate team
structures, ergonomic furniture, improved privacy, and state-of-the-art environmental
systems. Pre- and post-occupancy evaluations showed a 137-percent decrease in
time required to process client paperwork, a 9-percent drop in errors and defective
claims, and a drop in absenteeism to 1.6 percent, from 4.4 percent, as documented
in The Impact of Interior Design on the Bottom Line, American Society of Interior
Designers (ASID), Washington, D.C., 1997.
With the cooperation of five leading manufacturers, ASID launched an industry
initiative to study the relationship between performance and office design.
Facilities professionals are discovering from this effort and other ongoing
research that high-quality design is an important tool in facilities management.
In his book, Liberation Management, Tom Peters wrote: Physical location
issues are neither plain nor vanilla. In fact, space management may well be
the most ignored and most powerful tool for inducing cultural
change, speeding up innovative projects, and enhancing the learning process
in far-flung organizations.
According to Internet search engine Yahoo! Inc., 100 million Americans travel
the information superhighway every day. Considering the rapid proliferation
of the Internet and related businesses and the shrinking landfills to hold unwanted
commercial building materials, the impact of thoughtful interior design has
taken on greater importance. Good design can greatly influence the overall performance
of a facility, improving end-users satisfaction and enhancing operational
savings. Increasingly, facilities professionals are discovering that effective
interior design can be a key to business success. Asking the right questions
and holistic planning can help organizations create high-performance interiors
that complement their strategies.
What are We Here For?
For 30 years, the Buffalo Organization for Social and Technological Innovation
(BOSTI) Associates, Buffalo, NY, has examined the concept of how the physical
environment impacts productivity, satisfaction, learning, and creativity in
the built environment. Early on I got very interested in ways of making
decisions about design other than what it looked like, says Michael Brill,
president, BOSTI Associates. Through research and consultation, the organization
has compiled a vast database of consistent and comprehensive results from enlightened
The strongest element of information gleaned from the BOSTI research is that
the two primary needs of most individuals in office environments are to do distraction-free
work and to have easy access to other individuals for learning and collaborating.
Brill encourages facilities and design professionals to consider both crucial
functions when creating spaces, especially the need for privacy and sound control.
Adds Brill, Weve become so enamored with cappuccino bars and atriums
and other things we think make an open office, only to discover
that in some situations people spend the bulk of their time in their workspaces
doing quiet work.
According to the BOSTI research, design strategies of the physical environment
should be tailored to each organizations unique mission. Brill urges facilities
professionals to design workspaces that, through lighting and acoustics, support
individual work. With furniture and related equipment, a workspace should also
encourage small, impromptu meetings. You really want to create a design
strategy that allows you to have both, says Brill. Separate spaces for
teaming activities and larger meetings are also beneficial.
To uncover the way individuals work and learn in a given space and address
how to improve their performance, Brill recommends conducting a framework interview
to understand an organizations cultural climate. The framework interview
process with senior executives is followed by an end-user questionnaire process
(usually conducted on-line) to determine how the current environment supports
their needs and how individuals actually spend their day. Adds Brill, If
you just ask someone what kind of office they would like, it would be a large
corner office with lunch sent in every day.
Where you want to invest your money is in those things that affect peoples
performance, satisfaction, creativity, learning, and teamwork ability,
says Brill. By pinpointing areas that greatly affect workflow, facilities managers
can make economical choices that will not hinder performance. The last step
of this three-prong strategy is focus groups to understand the physical environment
in-depth. Detailed design guidelines are drawn from the information generated
from the framework interviews, questionnaires, and focus groups.
What Do People Really Need?
Technology has unhinged the traditional concept of the office. Increased mobility,
hoteling, videoconferencing, the Internet, and more have all changed the way
people use commercial facilities. With the open concept, you dont
feel the barriers. There is a framework of openness and teamwork, but still
some privacy, says Thomas Rodden, vice president of operations and finance,
Strategic America, Des Moines, IA. As a public relations, communications, and
database marketing firm, the company has explored how interior design can improve
After a recent move and redesign, Rodden faced the challenge of excessive noise
in his open-office plan with carpet and acoustic ceiling panels. Conference
rooms support teamwork and a new garden café area provides a favored
amenity, as well as additional meeting space. To handle the difficult balance
of privacy and openness, the facilities and design professionals used Trendway
Contrada wall panels and paid close attention to layout. Adds Rodden, I
feel higher workstations and the use of windows [in wall panels] gives us a
bit more flexibility and a bit more privacy.
Strategic Americas previous site was overcrowded and lacked sufficient
meeting room space. Now in light of the redesign, end-users morale, interaction,
and performance have greatly improved. Its amazing how they have
taken to it, says Rodden. An abundant use of task light supplements the
ambient lighting from natural daylight and overhead indirect fixtures. In response
to staffs needs, the company continues to experiment with lighting to
achieve the optimum environment.
I remember the days when a lot of things were centralized; everyone used
one centralized filing cabinet. Now, the staff wants everything at their fingertips,
says Rodden. To accommodate the way the use of computers and the Internet has
changed the workplace, this company has become more responsive to end-users
needs. Our business is fast-paced. We dont spend all day in our
cubes working; were up and talking, were in other departments, were
in meetings, were looking at graphics, says Rodden. Instead of hindering
continual movement, the companys office redesign supports the firms
overall corporate culture and renewed vigor.
What is This Going to Cost?
Taking a holistic approach to commercial design, which encompasses ergonomic
and functional concerns, can also be cost effective. Using whole-building design
strategies, Steven Winter Associates helps building owners create energy-efficient
green facilities. In terms of interiors, according to William Zachmann, director
of communications, Steven Winter Associates, Washington, D.C., a soundly designed
building that responds to its environment can support its end-users and deliver
a solid return on investment. What if we built this building eight degrees
to the left? How would that impact our daylighting? People often dont
grasp the value of simple, good old-fashioned passive solar strategies,
The firm usually collaborates with the building team in the pre-design phase.
Depending on location, climate, the different strategies used, and other factors,
typical savings range from 30 to 50 percent in most facilities. What we
try to do is balance all the different components of an energy-efficient building
in such a way that is most advantageous for the client, says Zachmann.
In addition to saving energy costs through proper use of natural lighting,
considering the interplay between the natural and the built environment and
how it affects end-users is on the rise. We are very cognizant of the
bottom line, what it is going to take to get people to adopt these techniques,
says Zachmann. Research has shown that school childrens test scores improve
in daylit educational buildings. In the corporate realm, absentee rates decrease
with increased natural light and fresh air. And the impact of volatile organic
compounds (VOCs) in adhesives, textiles, carpet, and paints can make a dramatic
change in correcting future indoor air quality issues and possibly lowering
health insurance costs.
San Francisco-based U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit coalition, has
developed a comprehensive rating system that provides definition for sustainable
design and construction called the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design
(LEED). The new buildings being designed using this new whole-building
design concept are really showing themselves to be incredible performers in
terms of productivity, says Zachmann. At a recent awards ceremony in Washington,
D.C., 12 exemplary projects from around the globe were recognized as the first
buildings to ever achieve LEED certification. The projects ranged from a Fortune
500 company headquarters to a community food bank warehouse to a palatial hotel
perched on a mountain ridge.
Plans are already under way within the next 18 months to carry over the success
of this program by developing guidelines for green design interiors. Adds Zachmann,
You dont have to be a tree hugger to appreciate the research that
has been coming down the pike recently. Sustainable design inside and
out is also becoming a major component of being a good corporate citizen. In
the near future, guidelines will be created to manage the operations of facilities
at their optimal level.
The aim of the U.S. Green Building Council, building owners, and concerned
design professionals await the day when energy-efficient guidelines become as
commonplace as todays building codes. Sustainable design is really
the future. More and more people are making the connection between energy efficiency,
productivity, and profitability, says Zachmann.