At the Christmas season, it may be hard to believe that malls are becoming scarcer, but it’s a trend that has been going on for the better part of a decade. A combination of overbuilding, online shopping, and demographic shifts has led to the demise of nearly 1/3 of America’s malls.
But there’s a silver (or green) lining in the retail cloud. Rather than let these massive malls stand empty, owners are following the green re-purposing movement and transforming old malls into new housing, new offices, and new types of retail. Retailers are downsizing their storefronts as they change from their traditional ways of doing business, opening up space in the malls that can be reconfigured into new forms: healthcare facilities, off-campus university learning centers, government offices, libraries, and housing ranging from low-income apartments to chic upscale condos.
Transformation is part of today’s design vocabulary. Warehouses become lofts, malls become community centers, and even the furnishings in offices, like the popular Swiftspace workstations, are reconfigured into whatever form suits the needs of the user at that particular time. Designing and planning for transformation adds longevity to an investment in almost anything: buildings, furnishings, even people. How is your business incorporating transformation into its long-range plan?
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It has been a design trend for a decade or more – transforming old factories and warehouses into chic modern office space. These old buildings are often convenient to the city core and they make appealing workplaces for companies seeking to attract hip urban employees. High tech, fashion, creative services, and media are among the many businesses relocating to these upcycled structures.
While each of these vintage buildings is unique, they share one thing in common: high ceilings. The buildings’ former function required a lot of headroom which most of the service-oriented businesses of today don’t need. Designers often make a feature of the extra volume, as reviewed by Karen Kroll in “Building Operating Management.”
The in-town location and industrial-chic look come at a price, however, when compared to more mainstream commercial space. Those high ceilings represent a lot of wasted space when volume is factored into the square-foot rental cost. But there’s good news, in the form of vertical storage. Motorized storage lifts can be adapted to store almost anything, from documents to bicycles, in overhead spaces. Warehouse-style steel mezzanine structures add a second level within a large space. Both of these storage options are comparatively inexpensive, and they fit right in with the urban-industrial look favored by today’s tenants.
If you’re considering a move into one of today’s super-hip repurposed warehouse spaces, discuss overhead storage with your designer. You’ll keep your real estate costs on track, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the design aesthetic.
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We reported on this trend a few months ago, and it seems to be gaining traction everywhere: Law offices are downsizing. The vast acreage of partners’ offices is being reduced to something more human-scale, and associates may spend as much time in shared collaborative spaces as in small private offices. Why the trend, and how are practice managers coping with the reduced storage space?
Writing in National Real Estate Investor, Robert Carr points to market economics that encourage the downsizing trend.
- Mergers – when two firms combine their operations, they can achieve economies of scale in their practice infrastructure, including libraries and staff.
- Fees – downward pressure from competitors such as online legal services is forcing many firms to reduce fees by lowering overhead.
- Connectivity – many tasks can be performed at home offices or via distributed support staff, reducing the need for full-time office space and on-site staff.
But when a law office is jumping on the downsizing bandwagon, its storage needs don’t magically downsize too. In fact, some practice managers find that there are more documents to file, and more back-up hard drives to be stored, than ever before. Many of them are expanding their storage capacity with high density storage systems. These mobile filing systems condense large quantities of paper or objects into a small storage footprint, right on the downsizing trend. If you’re a practice manager considering smaller offices, contact a storage professional for advice on high density storage.
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It’s time for facilities management professionals to take center stage. Your work is vital to the smooth functioning of office buildings, hospitals, government facilities, military installations, retail operations, colleges and universities, and countless other public and private buildings and campuses. The general public rarely thinks about what it really takes to keep these facilities up and running, but your peers at Facilities Maintenance Decisions want to recognize you for your outstanding work. Entries for the 2016 FMD Achievement Awards are open, and the deadline is May 26, 2016. Submit your best work for consideration, and let the world know how essential you really are. It’s the Oscars of facilities management!
The statistics are surprising: commercial buildings account for 60% of U.S. electrical consumption, 30% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and 136 million tons of U.S. construction/demolition waste (U.S. Green Buildings Council). As the American economy continues to shift to office-oriented services housed in commercial buildings, builders and users are searching for ways to reduce these environmentally unfriendly numbers, and fulfill the promise of sustainability – a healthier environment and a healthier economy.
Technology leader Cisco, committed to “greening” its business, tested a sustainable real estate strategy in its San Jose, California, offices. Their facilities managers realized that traditional offices are often vacant 65% of the time, while meeting rooms were often overbooked. This usage imbalance was not just wasteful of energy, but also in terms of real estate costs. Cisco developed an initiative, The Connected Workplace, to house more people in less space. The number of individual workspaces was greatly reduced and collaborative spaces were increased. Electronic equipment – copiers, desktop computers, LANs – was consolidated and reduced.
Mobility and flexible space utilization became the foundation of Cisco’s Connected Workplace design. Quoting Cisco’s vice president of Global Work Place Resources and Enterprise Risk Management, Christina S. Kite, “A properly designed workplace requires less building infrastructure, which takes up less space, produces less heat, and consumes less power than traditional workplaces-while supporting employees more effectively.” The results of the Connected Workplace, released in a public case study, give any business a powerful reason to make its commercial spaces more efficient and sustainable with high density storage and adaptable mobile and modular workspaces.
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All business managers look for overhead efficiencies, and legal practice managers are no exception. They’re reducing their real estate costs by thoughtfully combining new technologies with modern design styles and innovative space planning. Liam La Guerre, writing in the Commercial Observer, relates how several New York City law firms have successfully scaled back their office space footprints without creating a work-environment downside.
Among the space-efficient techniques La Guerre cites are:
- The wide-open floor design of newer buildings. The lack of columns permits complete use of all the area on a floor, so firms can accommodate more staff in less overall space.
- Flexible space utilization and furnishings. Common areas such as conference rooms and reception areas are used for a variety of purposes, and flexible furnishings are removed or rearranged easily to fit the immediate use. (See our previous discussion of reconfigurable furnishings here.)
- Tech-savvy millenials. The new generation of lawyers needs less tech support and fewer assistants, reducing staffing needs and their space requirements.
- Digital technology. Law libraries and legal documents are moving into the digital realm, and support functions like accounting are moving off-site into less-expensive quarters, thanks to digital connectivity.
Law firms will always have certain fixed needs for offices and closed doors to preserve client confidentiality, but with these new spatial efficiencies, some firms are already discovering they can downsize without any downside.
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Technology sector growth isn’t slowing down one bit. As venture capital drives up Silicon Valley rental rates, tech companies scramble for office space that not only accommodates their growing staff but reflects their company culture and attracts employees.
Even well-funded start-ups often find themselves working in less-than-optimal spaces. One new company had to settle for a room over a carwash, while others have turned live-work lofts into work-work lofts. Bay Area office space expert Jenny Haeg notes that tech start-ups are always on the move. If they’re successful, they outgrow their space and move to new offices; if they fail, another start-up will take over the vacancy.
Regardless of their prospects, tech start-ups have embraced flexible space utilization, installing mobile reconfigurable furnishings that adapt to a variety of work functions. And more than any other industry, the tech sector tries to inject a sense of fun into the workplace, even if it’s adjacent to a carwash. Writing in the New York Times, Vindu Goel reports in depth on the challenges of the Silicon Valley space race: http://nyti.ms/1Gm3e6x
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We’ve all heard the old saying, “Failure to plan means planning to fail.” This is doubly true in medical office management, where exam and diagnostic equipment, accessibility, patient records filing systems, and IT systems add extra complexity to the spatial requirements. Careful planning is the key to a successful move or expansion, as cited by Eric Kahn in Medical Economics.
Kahn lists questions that practice managers should address:
- What’s more important to your practice – price or image?
- What are your patients’ accessibility needs?
- How important is parking?
- How important is public transportation?
- Does location outweigh other considerations?
An important sixth question to ask: Will your current office furnishings and filing system adapt to a new space?
If your current practice space was built out with modular cabinetry, there’s a good chance the cabinetry and workbenches can make the move. High density filing systems, too, can often be re-installed in a new space. But just as patients should consult with healthcare experts, medical practice managers should consult with real estate, space planning, and furnishings professionals. Good planning will ensure success and save money.
Read Kahn’s full article at: http://bit.ly/1912VkF
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They say a rising tide lifts all boats, and as the economy continues to improve, one of those rising boats is commercial office space. Nationally, office rents rose an average of 3% in 2014, and in high-demand areas such as Texas and the Bay Area the increase was over 7%. As job growth surges, the already-low vacancy rate will continue to decline, pushing rents even higher. If you’re in the commercial real estate business, things are looking great for 2015, as Nadja Brandt reports in Businessweek: http://buswk.co/1DrjFOt .
However, if your company is trying to accommodate a workforce expansion without a corresponding office space expansion, you may be playing “Office Tetris” – trying to fit many more desks and filing cabinets into an already crowded office. Rather than renting additional space, some fiscally prudent office managers are turning to high density storage systems and mobile reconfigurable workstations to boost the efficient use of their existing space. This video shows “Tetris cheats” for fitting many workstations into a small space: http://vimeo.com/99738757. Now you can put down the game controller and get back to work.
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Are clean minimalist office designs actually stifling innovation? Famed organizational guru Barbara Hemphill said, “Clutter is nothing more than deferred decisions.” But Kathleen Vohs, a professor at the University of Minnesota, discovered that messiness may actually assist the creative process. She found that people who were seated in a tidy, orderly room made very conventional choices, while people seated in a messy room tended to make novel, innovative choices. She theorized that orderliness subtly conveys approval of safe, tidy thinking. Messiness, however, encourages people to think outside the box.
This has implications for the workplace, as Vohs points out in a New York Times article: http://nyti.ms/1AJxyX9. The minimalist modern designs and shared workspaces common in today’s office interiors don’t really encourage messiness. Yet those designs are the ones most favored by creative professions such as IT and advertising. Are modern office designs actually suppressing creativity? What’s your opinion?
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