No one discipline can provide complete or definitive answers to the questions that face management in the quest to achieve peak business performance. There are many interrelated aspects and there is an accepted balancing act to perform when it comes to looking after staff, customers, processes and, of course, the pennies. Everything must prove itself through consistent contribution to the business. Buildings and the workplace are no exception. How, then, do you evaluate the contribution design makes to business performance?
Measures of building efficiency are familiar, understandable and relatively straightforward to apply. Efficient building design and workspace planning save businesses money and, therefore, have a direct impact on the bottom line.
Architects have long been required to address efficiency in their work, and there is now no excuse for developers to provide anything less than excellent building performance in terms of health, safety and comfort.
These days there are also the demands of added value, community enhancement sustainability, and environmental impact to consider. The very concept of 'added value' can be like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow - we can't see it, we don't know how much it is worth and it is always just out of reach, anyway. As for the other requirements, a widespread lack of agreed definition and understanding makes it simple to pay lip service and tick the box.
However, real estate can do much more to support positive business performance than just delivering low occupancy costs. Investors, developers and occupiers alike will take notice if architects and designers talk to them in terms of potential business growth and provide the proof. No business leader can afford to ignore the potential of design in differentiating an organisation when presented with evidence that it supports commercial strategy, accommodates innovative work processes and broadcasts business values.
When a business forms its strategies and sets priorities, it determines the best way to use its resources (business levers) to influence business performance factors. These are then measured in terms of the degree to which the goals of the original strategy are achieved.
For good measure? Office design influences customers, staff, IT services, marketing initiatives and infrastructure, making it one of the most powerful levers available to businesses to affect change. It follows, therefore, that this influence should be capable of being measured in terms of effectiveness - the value added to business performance by design.
Increasing effectiveness in the office means using space in ways that improve the quality of the work being done there or, in other words, getting the most from people.
Not surprisingly, businesses already measure staff productivity, the cost of attracting, motivating and retaining people, levels of absenteeism and response times.
A post-occupancy study for Stanhope's Chiswick Park in May this year records the businesses located there, citing the physical space as a major factor in keeping key staff and their ability to attract new people.
New measurements that could be introduced are in areas such as:
l Knowledge management - where collaborative space increases the speed of knowledge-sharing, leading to faster learning curves for graduates and new starters; and broader personal knowledge bases lead to greater staff confidence and, ultimately, more professional time and skills being purchased.
UK law firm McGrigors claimed improved performance in its Edinburgh operation through better project management across specialisms on cases and transactions, supported by the design of its new office space in the city.
l Adaptability and flexibility - increased agility in response to business and technological change can give an organisation advantages in securing market share. At the University of Sussex, for example, the new Freeman Centre building, shared with the University of Brighton, is designed to provide an environment that allows everyone to access the appropriate resources required by research teams at any given time. This, and the collaborative nature of the environment, has allowed the universities to differentiate their approach and explore new and innovative ways of undertaking research, hopefully maximising their opportunities for securing research funding.
l Innovation and creativity - not just the quantity of ideas coming through but measurable improvement in the viability and the appropriateness of ideas. Pointing again to Chiswick Park, one outfit has created an editing booth, which provides a highly specified environment for one or two people at a time working intensively. The objective: to produce results that keep worldwide audiences marvelling at the company's ability to entertain them.
In addition to the direct guarantee of costcutting provided by efficiency, we are daring to reflect the impact that buildings and use of space have on profitability and, perhaps, even income. The power of measuring efficiency and effectiveness is boosted even further when you add a third dimension: expression - making the most of the brand.
Business values, brand values and cultural values are all expressions of what an organisation and its people believe in. They are proud and protective of these values but at the same time they want to share them and they want to be respected for them. The space that an organisation occupies conveys messages about it - not just internally but to a wide range of external parties, regardless of whether the messages are recognised and managed by the organisation.
Use of buildings and workspaces to communicate brand and corporate values will have to increase as the general public become more aware of the built environment and the design and sustainability issues that surround it. Buildings and workspace that express corporate and brand values well can serve as a constant reinforcement or reminder to an organisation's people, to local communities, to politicians and, importantly, to discerning customers. Internal expression can help facilitate culture shifts - agile business response to change - and external expression can attract and retain customers.
Building with the Beeb Today, the BBC's workplaces are far removed from those of a decade ago. The institutional corridors and outer offices of personal assistants that once hid the decision-makers from view and prevented the free flow of communication have gone. People are now taking ownership of their workplaces, experimenting with them and seeking maximum value for themselves, their work purposes and the business. The corporation's programme of new-build continues its tradition of contributing significantly to the built environment.
Both internally and externally, the BBC is reinforcing its worldwide reputation for creativity, integrity, leading-edge programme making, information sharing and trailblazing new media. It proves that it is commercially sound to its licence payers by measuring every aspect of its performance.
Business imperatives or business performance factors are grouped in four areas for the purpose of measurement, commonly referred to as the 'balanced scorecard'. They are:
l business processes; and l human resources.
By adding the three E's - efficiency, effectiveness and expression - we have a framework for evaluating the impact of design on a business' performance in these key areas.
The proof will come as more occupiers and tenants take on the responsibility for relating office design to the strategies for their businesses at all levels, and make that shift from thinking about individual workplaces to creating collective environments that are more appropriate for knowledge work.
Developers who dare to go beyond the direct cost-cutting implications of efficiency, by adopting design to support their tenant's effectiveness and expression, will lead the pack in creating the new model in building for growth.
Right now those who are breaking from the mould are focused on their business changes, but eventually they will get round to providing the material of case studies and sharing experiences. By that time, the gap between supply and demand could well be beyond repair. We need to be gathering the proof now.
Despina Katsikakis is group chairman of DEGW