Published October 23, 1998 in the DENVER BUSINESS JOURNAL
Get the Most Out of Lease Space
by Warren Kieding
AT LEAST EVERY FIVE YEARS a number of concrete planning issues creep back into a business owner’s mind. The lease is up and it’s time to make decisions. Time to move the office or renew the lease. Time to begin the tug-o-war over space: can’t lease too much for anticipated growth and blow the operating budget, or too little and strangle potential growth, and profits.
Facilities programming is the process of determining what may or may not be required for office space. In short, a facilities program is a spreadsheet quantification of all the components of any given business space, including offices, workstations, conference rooms, and so on. Determining the sizes and quantities of these components forms the subtotal of usable square footage required for the space. That’s the down-and-dirty platform of the facilities program, but it’s certainly not all.
Within the framework of space requirements is what’s called the circulation factor. This is the amount of space allotted for corridors and aisles —common areas within the office that everybody uses. A conventional office with fixed walls requires about 35 percent additional square footage for circulation. An "open" office plan with workstations, like a call center, for example, can require as much as 45 percent of additional square footage. Now tack on an additional eight to 15 percent for the pro-rata share of the building—like public corridors and lobbies—and the total sum is an estimate of rentable square feet for the office. That was the easy part.
CULTURE AND JOB
Perhaps the most difficult challenge in facilities programming is trying to determine the difference between how people operate now, and how we think they might operate in two or three or five years from now. Believe it or not, most business cultures tend to support and justify maintaining the status quo. There is comfort in leaving things the way they are. The written version of this thought process is a culture mandated by policy known as corporate facility standards.
These standards traditionally establish office or workstation size according to pay grade or rank, but have lately come under criticism from an efficiency standpoint. A private office with a guest chair and conference table, for example, does not necessarily represent higher efficiency, or even better communication. In fact, facilities case studies have indicated that many private offices don’t require privacy at all. The need for confidential meetings or telephone calls was incidental; the work being done neither confidential nor so intensive that complete quiet would be required.
Furthermore, in-office conference tables often are used to stack stuff—an overflow for desk and filing—rather than for a true meeting place.
At the other extreme, administrative assistants, as low-ranking workers, typically occupy the smallest open area workstations. The point here is that the modern office is still largely a function of the corporate culture in which it exists, even if it is grossly inefficient.
As a result of these case studies, more and more attention is being paid to individual job requirements, and the corporate workplace standards are changing to fit those requirements instead of the other way around.
Every business should have some element in its marketing plans that projects staffing requirements based on that firm’s ability to hit particular revenue goals. These staffing figures applied to an established set of corporate facilities standards then form the facilities program requirements for the business over the period of the office lease.
Once established, the facilities program can then be backed into projected operating budgets to test its economic feasibility. If the price is too high, the corporate standards can be readjusted to eliminate "wish list" items and to seek a balance between cost and efficiency.
PLANNING FOR THE "UNPLANABLE"
While the facilities program is methodical, it is not science. Even the best facilities program cannot predict what might happen to a business over the period of the lease. So the final function of the facilities program is to plan for the unplanable.
This may be accomplished in part by determining what aspects of the office facilities must be "fixed real property improvements": reception area, conference rooms, break rooms, computer rooms, executive offices as so on. Given these fixed parameters, the rest of the space may be programmed for flexibility.
For example, existing conventional file cabinets can be converted over time to off-site filing, or electronic compact filing or scanning systems.
In the end, a facilities program is worth only as much as the quality of the information it eventually digests.
That is, regardless of the skill of the programmer, it is the responsibility of the growing business to offer up any and all facilities information that may assist the planner in forecasting what will happen over the lease period. It is one of the few ways the business owner can actually have a voice in shaping the firm’s facility costs.