Achieving results-based tenant improvements

The right design firm will ensure successful and lasting results
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
by Christopher Pollard

More than a tenant improvement project, a workspace renovation is an investment in a company’s future. Insisting on results-based design decisions will make for better workspace transformations that last.

A successful workspace design solution will address the goals of the business, brand attributes, the type of business, employee profiles and help drive creativity and innovation. CEOs who intend to optimize a key asset, their workforce, will want to challenge them to be more productive, creative and innovative. To achieve this, the workspace design solution must last and be results-based:

  1. The design of the physical space has a direct impact on stimulating ideas.
  2. Providing visual and acoustic privacy supports employee cognitive processing and idea development.
  3. A safe, supportive and empowering workplace creates the social environment in which collaboration and cross-pollination of ideas thrive.

Employers need workspace design solutions that provide a variety of options and are directly suited to varied work style requirements. Your workspace design plan should address the challenges of the modern office with consideration for the tension between public and private workspace. This means creating space for collaboration while allowing for focused, task-oriented space. For example, consider how to control visual distraction and accommodate for a diverse workforce including introverts and extroverts.

Choosing a design firm

Choosing a results-based design firm to help with a tenant improvement project means they will work to understand your company values and what is important to your customers. From the first meeting they should develop an explicit understanding of what your organization is trying to achieve with your workplace transformation.

Of course, workplace change is a profound adjustment for employees. Your project may require a designer who is well versed in change management strategies. A designer who works collaboratively with your team and incorporates strategies such as visioning sessions and peer engagement will minimize employee stress and resistance. The right design partner will ideally communicate and work with you through all project phases from programming and design through procurement, construction administration, and post occupancy analysis. During the construction phase, a full service design firm works as your advocate, reviewing work on site, proactively managing changes and vetting contractors’ progress draws. All of this ensures a well-coordinated design and construction process, resulting in a successful workspace project.

Keeping business operational

Companies undertaking tenant improvements in operational spaces should be aware that renovations typically cost more, take longer and come with some disruptions. Setting expectations early with all stakeholders, having everyone involved or aware of the solid business case supporting the changes being undertaken (spending capital now to improve business, working environment and customer experience); and clear, early communication where unforeseen circumstances arise is vital.

Discuss expectations early and understand project timetables. A results-based design firm can employ tactics like the following:

  • Choose contractors based on their experience working closely with clients and end users. Your design firm should be very experienced in knowing what to look for and how to set expectations with contractors before any work is undertaken.
  • Ensure, where possible that the majority of noisy/dirty/disruptive work is done after hours, often through the night.
  • Have your design firm liaise with contractor to obtain a detailed phasing plan along with construction schedule showing all major progress and benchmarks. Your plan should be updated with any changes so notifications can be provided to your team for critical work or changes to the plan.
  • Your design firm should ensure the project is cleaned up at the end of every night shift. The site superintendent will be responsible for ensuring the space meets the ongoing operational needs of your business.
  • If a temporary space is available for all or part of your operation, this can be used to conduct business while another part of the space is under construction.
  • Communication is key; you and your design firm need a contractor with people skills. This can’t be overstated.

The goals of the business, the type of business, employee profiles, and definition of success all feed into the design of a successful workspace tenant improvement project.

Ten tips to ensure a results-based tenant improvement project:

  1. Choose a design partner who has expertise in change management.
  2. Build an internal project team for decision-making.
  3. Involve your design partner early on – ideally before the lease decision is made.
  4. Select a design partner that can provide a start-to-finish solution. The process should start with information gathering and analysis: everything from current workplace environment, operational efficiencies, overarching corporate goals for the future, marketplace competitors, and brand.
  5. Engage a value-driven design partner who brings leadership, creativity and project management to the project.
  6. Design with flexibility in mind so workplace can easily evolve to changing needs.
  7. Leverage sustainability benchmarking to ensure a healthy work environment.
  8. Get clarity on the goals of your tenant improvement or renovation.
  9. Evaluate the disruption to your business to mitigate negative impact.
  10. Use best practices for workspace design that includes considerations for productivity, flexibility, competition, collaboration and workplace health into the future.

So, how can employers create space that serves the diverse needs of worker demographics and culture while inspiring creative collaboration and productivity? Be clear on your tenant improvement objectives. Leverage the experience of a design partner who focuses on understanding and gathering insights first for better results-based design decisions.


Christopher Pollard, B.A.I.D, NCIDQ, R.I.D., LEED AP is a principal at RATIO, a Vancouver-based architecture, interior design and planning firm.



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