I nearly fell off my chair. I can't remember the last time that I met a client so obviously delighted by their building. Zero defects sounds like a fine idea, but it's one that still roosts in cloud-cuckoo-land, next door to the British Wimbledon champion and subcontractors that get paid on time. Usually a vital piece of plant has been commissioned wrongly, or the building manager has been bewildered by lots of shiny new pieces of kit, or some absent-minded contractor has left a spanner rattling around in a fan casing. So, what went so terribly right at this particular building?
There's some ready answers to this, of course. The building in question is deceptively simple, with architecture that unostentatiously allows the users the freedom to do what they wish within the space. Acoustics are controlled by the use of attractive wooden panels that form part of a well-considered palette of materials rather than being ad hoc afterthoughts. There's evidence that the design has really gelled, with engineering integrated with the architecture to give a refined solution to the age-old problem of housing office workers. And the building services team went through a "soft landing" process with the facilities managers, to make sure that the systems were understood. This care has clearly worked, and the payoff is that the occupants are happy to tell all and sundry about how happy they are with their new home.
It seems a shame that this kind of positive feedback is such a rarity. All too often, construction teams are berated for some tiny teething problem, with little recognition of their achievement in completing a project. Grumpy clients nitpick about the colour of the tiles (forgetting it was their choice) or the brightness of the sun (sorry, would you rather relocate to a cloudier climate? Alaska?), and neglect to say "thank you for completing my building". It doesn't cost anything and yet it can make a huge difference. No project is without its difficulties, and the fact that so many projects are completed within budget and programme – or at least within allowable tolerances – is a tremendous tribute to teamworking. The team will have suffered late nights, lost weekends and a litany of headaches to get the job done, and yet they are quite likely to conclude two years of effort with a quick beer down the pub before moving on to the next job and the next set of stress-related illnesses.
A client that bothers to acknowledge the effort is a client that understands that they will get more out of a team that feels appreciated. Distant commands, filtered through an unsympathetic project manager, are likely to be met with sulky reluctance rather than enthusiastic compliance. Even a remote thank you is better than none at all. One recent success was rewarded by the client sending a case of wine to the project office – much to the surprise of the team, who had rarely met this self-important and astoundingly busy man. But still, he managed to instil a sense of loyalty in an otherwise disparate group of people with this gesture.
Loyalty can buy quantities of unpaid overtime. And loyalty can buy an ally, where cash can’t
Tanya Ross is an associate of Buro Happold in Bath.