Effective office-space design can play a major role in helping companies reduce overheads and optimise work processes. This is where interior design and build fit-out specialist Trend Group has carved a unique niche for itself.
A vivid example of this approach was a recent project where a client requested Trend Group to optimise its 1 800 m2 of office space. “When we analysed the workflow, and how the company actually conducted its work, we soon realised there were many factors that would ultimately impact on the workspace design,” Senior Interior Architect Marike Kleu explains. A major driver in this regard was technology, as a lot of staff worked remotely, and therefore were not in the office for long periods of time.
“The obvious implication is that the company did not need such a large number of desks as it had envisaged, which meant that the overall office-space requirement could be reduced substantially without affecting productivity. This represents a major cost-saving, as office space is one of the costliest overheads for any company,” Kleu comments.
What sets Trend Group apart is that its full turnkey capability is focused on both new build and refurbishment. “Our complete solutions are backed-up by a project manager and a designer. Everything is done in-house, which facilitates communication and problem-solving. The turnaround time is also speeded up dramatically, and the client is exposed to less risk in the process.”
While the interior design industry in South Africa has developed mainly over the past three decades, interior architecture – which incorporates workspace design and planning – is still relatively new. So much so that it is not yet open to out-of-the-box ideas.
“A key aim is to make our clients aware that a conventional closed-off office plan is not necessarily the best option. As designers, we are fairly in tune with internal trends and developments, but convincing our clients to embrace such innovation is a challenge,” Kleu points out.
Having said that, it is critical to adopt the correct approach for the project at hand. A law firm, for example, has a set typology in terms of workspace design that does not favour new trends such as agile workspaces or a co-working environment.
“In terms of our design approach, we determine the requirements of the staff first, which then allows us to determine the workspace settings, from meeting to board rooms and collaborative spaces. In tandem to this process, we also get a handle on the client’s mode of work, and what the specifics are here. Do people need to be grouped together in teams, or is privacy the main criterion?”
Such an understanding is critical before the actual workspace design even commences, as this information forms the basis of any optimisation or restructuring that may be possible. “We feel it is vital to be company-specific in our approach. Yes, there are overarching market trends, but adaptability and flexibility are key, rather than a cookie-cutter approach that does not realise the largest cost-savings at the end of the day,” Kleu adds.
Current thinking is based more on themed environments suited to the particular needs of specific clients. “The idea is to create smaller pockets within your office space that still serve to foster a sense of belonging. For example, seating can be assigned for groups rather than individuals. The teams themselves may be mobile, but still have fixed desk spaces at which to work.”
Another critical element is co-working or collaborative spaces, which relate to access to communal resources and amenities, as well as activity-based working. “Again and again, we see the key driver as being the way of working. What we do is take all of our learning and experience in order to present the client with an optimal solution.”
This solution also has to be in line with the client’s specific budget. Kleu explains the process adopted by Trend Group: “The project lead will brief us on the basic scope. From there, we sit with the client in order to understand the precise requirements. It is important to understand the company structure, as opposed to just compiling a list of items and then compiling a space plan.
All of this information feeds into a concept shell design, a space plan and, ultimately, a 3D model that is presented to the client to review. “We then embark on an interactive process in terms of the design focus and finalising it. Only once that is done are we able to cost it, which obviously has to take into account the client’s budget from the get-go. We will not opt for an overly complex design if we know we have a limited budget. Thereafter work drawings are produced, and the project is assigned to a project manager oversee the full project implementation.”
The workspace design market is not only being impacted by technology, with the advent of trends such as co-working and agile workspaces, but also the fact that new-build projects are coming to an end in Sandton in particular. “We are receiving a lot more requests for refurbishments as a result, which involves reducing a building to its shell, and then stripping-and-adding and making good. This poses its own challenges, but it is both a wide scope of work for us, and a major opportunity for clients to reduce their overheads by incorporating the latest thinking into their workplaces.”
Another major trend is collaboration, where smaller start-up companies effectively share a communal space in an incubator format, which then grow and move on to create their own offices. Renting such space initially is a much more cost-effective option that also gives smaller companies the opportunity to expand without incurring excessive overheads.
Kleu received her Master’s Degree in Interior Architecture in 2012 from the University of Pretoria, “Interior architecture is quite different in that it adopts a human-centred approach to space design, whereas architecture focuses exclusively on building design. Workspace environments also have a critical role to play in the wellbeing of employees, so it is essential that best practice is always applied in their design and fit-out,” she concludes.