You’ve built your office and handed it over in all its pristine glory, but whether those actually working in it are happy – well, that’s not your business is it? Oh, but it is.
Is it too cold at your desk and too warm in the meeting rooms? Is it too dark in the middle of your huge open-plan office? Can you really concentrate in those rows of regimented benches? Do you find you cannot escape to a quiet meeting room because they are all booked up, yet half are empty?
If this rings true, it is probably affecting your performance at work and ultimately the profitability of your company. Each year businesses spend millions of pounds building and refurbishing their workspaces, yet very few ever bother to check if such expensive changes result in a happier, more productive workforce. This is why all those involved in the creating, building, acquiring or occupying of office space need to raise their game and start assessing the effectiveness of workplace design.
Recently, Swanke Hayden Connell Architects and the British Council for Offices collaborated to produce the Guide to Post Occupancy Evaluation. A POE is the process that enables us to measure how a building or workplace is performing, whether it is fit for purpose and whether the staff feel that the it is helping them to work productively. The guide has been designed to make the processes involved with POEs accessible to the occupier, developer and designer by providing practical advice on how to conduct their own study.
In the past there has been too much caution about conducting these surveys; clients in particular are wary about asking for end-user feedback in case they open a can of worms that may be costly to dispose of. But professionals need to encourage user feedback for the simple reason that buildings and workplaces are designed for people; unless we ask them how they like their new office, how are we going to assess what constitutes best practice in the design of workplaces? We need to understand what works, what does not, and learn from our findings to continually improve design and educate professionals.
It never fails to amaze me how many architects and designers do not design with people in mind; they design around them
When SHCA conducted a POE of Visa’s London headquarters fit-out, we found that the project was very successful in its objectives of improving staff satisfaction and using space efficiently. The whole staff was surveyed before and after the relocation so that results could be compared; we found that staff satisfaction with the overall facility had increased from 74% to 92%. This is clearly good news for Visa, and the project team learned some unexpected lessons that would not have come to light if a POE had not been conducted.
The function of a good workplace design is to provide an environment that supports productive working, expresses the unique flavour of a business and is a stimulating place to work. It seems obvious – but it never fails to amaze me how many architects and designers do not design with people in mind; they design around them and are happier when their projects are photographed before the client moves in: empty, unpopulated, and pristine. But for the people who spend at least eight hours a day in our workplaces, it is the air quality, the lighting, their personal space and access to fit-for-purpose support spaces that become their priorities.
The ubiquitous drift to large open-plan floorplates means we all have to work harder to design with people in mind. If we do not actively evaluate how design responds to the needs of the people who work in our buildings and workplace fit-outs, we will continue to repeat the mistakes of the past and produce sub-optimal design that ignores worthwhile feedback. POEs are informative and can clearly link good design with outcomes that add value to our clients.
Sharon Turner is principal of workplace consulting at Swanke Hayden Connell Architects