Can architects be strategic partners in real estate portfolio management?
How a new AIA Contract Document on facility support lets architects and owners speak the language of non-traditional architecture
Traditionally, architects follow age-old practices, representing the owner while providing solutions that serve the occupant. But what if an architect could not only envision a new building but also contemplate serving employees without constructing additional facilities? What if an architect could reimagine existing spaces, allowing users to move and live more effectively while saving valuable resources, time, and money?
With new technologies, speedier communication, and near-instant document transmission, architects must expand beyond projects to strategic services. We’ve seen this happen with accounting firms morphing into consulting firms; real estate and leasing companies moving into client services and maintenance management; banks expanding into financial services experts; and hospitals focusing on wellness centers. These expansions focus on what benefits and sustains our lives and resources, as opposed to pure transactional consumerism. As a result, consumers receive more meaningful services, while the professionals who provide those services expand their practice and provide more value.
AIA’s new B210-2017 document, Standard Form of Architect’s Services: Facility Support, provides architects and owners with the ability to speak this new language of non-traditional architecture. No longer are owners beginning with a traditional project in mind. The first step is to evaluate the existing environment, better understand what works and what prevents employees from performing at their highest potential. Then, architects make strategic decisions to repurpose existing spaces or create new ones, all with the employees’ needs truly in mind.
The following are key services, benefits, and areas of expertise included in the B210-2017 document that architects can use to provide enhanced value to their clients:
- Workplace strategy. This has now become a policy: Does your organization support assigned seating, seat sharing, free-address, or a mixture of all? There is no right answer, but not having a strategy is an answer by default. Know what your employees need to work at their highest capability and provide it for them.
- Integrated workplace management system (IWMS) / technology. You can’t manage what you don’t measure: If your organization has finance software and HR software, it warrants workplace management software. IWMS solutions can provide portfolio and occupancy information, and can act as the launch point for other technologies that provide critical real-time space utilization and building performance data.
- Occupancy planning. Change is constant; change is progress. Occupancy planning is about preparing for future scenarios that may or may not happen. What would you do if the C-suite bought a company and your workforce doubled? If the economy went south and your workforce was decreased? If the C-suite decided to decentralize all corporate functions? Anticipating change allows one to act quickly and confidently in response to any future challenge.
- Engagement versus project. A traditional architectural project has a beginning and an end. The new services identified in B210-2017 are considered consulting engagements. An engagement has a scope and completion, but the end product is not the built environment; it is all of the elements that both support the built environment and effectively meet their business purpose.
- Portfolio versus building. Very rarely does a building stand on its own; it is usually a part of a real estate portfolio. When a portfolio is adequately studied, more strategic issues may be resolved. For example, can a central cafeteria encourage collaboration? Can an underutilized floor become touchdown space for sales associates? Occupancy solutions can lead to creative design challenges that positively impact the entire company and portfolio.
- Culture management versus mandates. Most people don’t like to be told what to do. When change happens—even good change—it is critical that employees are included, informed, trained, heard, and engaged. It has been proven that organizational or environmental change without engagement spawns negative results. A robust change management program should be in place early to guarantee successful results.
- Employee recruiting and retention. Technology has provided flexibility; flexibility has stimulated employee independence. No longer can an employer provide a desk and a computer terminal from 8am to 5pm and expect the employee to be content. Studies have shown that current employees are looking for interaction, mentorship, and varied work environments to satisfy their varied work functions. Employers that respond appropriately will see rises in creativity and employee commitment.
- Sustainability and wellness. Over the last century, architects have incorporated sustainability into our built environment. The next step is our journey into wellness facilities. Whether one believes in rating systems or not, we must make it a priority to increase the health of our facilities and their occupants.
- Cost avoidance and savings. All too often, projects begin abruptly and are put on a fast track for move-in. This often seems to be the most cost-effective route. However, prior occupancy planning and workplace strategy development can provide abundant cost avoidance through shared workspace, eliminating additional leases, and shared amenities that improve collaboration. Stop and think; plan ahead and save.
AIA’s B210-2017 document provides increased communication between architect and owner, allowing supporting services—beyond those listed above—to be scoped, scheduled, and priced. As architects, we need to stop thinking in terms of “projects” and start thinking about how we can be strategic partners to property owners in the management of their real estate portfolios.
For more on AIA Contract Documents, visit aiacontracts.org.
Susan Meridith Hensey, FAIA, is a Partner and Studio Principal in Little’s Newport Beach office. As a leader and founder of Little’s FM Strategies team, Susan works with clients to develop a strategic direction for their workplace and real estate portfolio. She has just completed her ten year service on the AIA’s Contract Document Committee.
John Sutton Photography