Changing spaces

Every business needs to expand, renovate, or relocate at some point, so make sure you understand the process of tenant improvement projects.


A new office space or renovation can be an exciting development in the life of your business, but it can also be a venture fraught with stress and uncertainty. When it comes time to expand, renovate, or build anew, small-business owners may not have the time or expertise to properly plan, manage, and execute a tenant improvement (TI) project.
Once a TI decision is made, what’s the first step? Most people would start by calling a contractor, but even before a space is identified (in the case of a new lease), a designer or architect should be your first point of contact. They can analyze a potential space and ensure you’re making the right decision with respect to the needs of your business.
You may think a particular location’s size and usable space are perfect, but issues relating to building classification, occupancy type, and code compliance can stand in your way. Leasing the wrong space can be a costly mistake, and not knowing what it will take for it to properly support your business before you jump into the process can easily blow your five-digit budget well into six digits.
{advertisement} If you have a specific budget in mind, be honest about what your expectations are. Set realistic, achievable outlines that work within your budget; if you have no idea what the costs might be, a design professional can work with you to outline a feasible budget based on the scope of work desired. To give you a general idea, TI costs can range anywhere from $75 per square foot for a very basic renovation to $350 per square foot and up, depending on the level of finishing and detail.
You should also analyze your existing space to identify goals and develop a project strategy for your new or renovated location, also known as the programming and planning phase. Without clarifying what you want to achieve, there’s no way to measure the success of the project. A well-planned space addresses many key areas that affect the bottom line of any type of business, including:
speed — increasing efficiency of work and information flow;
flexibility — creating spaces adaptable to future needs;
cost — controlling upfront spending as well as operational costs;
employee morale — developing spaces that work for the needs of a multigenerational work force (see chart, above);
new technology, connectivity, and mobility — a shift towards collaborative work, economic restraints, and sustainability.
Four distinct generations — traditionals, baby boomers, gen-Xers, and millennials — are active in today’s work force, due in large part to the delayed retirement of workers in the traditional and boomer generations. Each group has different expectations and needs regarding workspaces.
People just entering the work force are more mobile, have a strong work/life balance, and are keen to multi-task or collaborate. Boomers are used to private offices, plenty of “desk time,” and concentrated, focused work. The design of the environment that brings these groups together must maximize productivity and encourage transfer of knowledge.
As technology shrinks in physical size (computer monitors, phones, etc.), so does the amount of workspace required. Imagine a desk with a rotary-dial phone, non-network printer/fax, and a large humming monitor. That’s a big desk! Thus, a typical workstation has decreased in size by 35 to 40 per cent since 1980, from 81 to 48 square feet.
Increased connectivity through mobile devices has also created a more mobile work force. White-collar workers plan to increase their time working remotely by 50 per cent over the next five years, while 29 per cent of companies are considering mobile work strategies. Because people are spending less time at their desks and need less space when they do, the typical corporate office is becoming smaller. These more efficient spaces require more diligent space planning and design.
Because millennials and gen-Xers are less attached to the idea of the prestigious corner office, a more collaboration-driven design is emerging in today’s workplace. Removing walls and opening up spaces keeps different groups within a company connected and encourages a strong corporate culture. Lounge spaces for casual conversations are replacing more formal boardrooms, and more employees have access to natural light and views.
Economic restraints have been, and always will be, a factor in any business design. Modular wall systems allow offices to be reconfigured over a weekend with little to no waste and zero downtime. A focus on lifecycle costs, durability, and adaptability can more than compensate for the upfront cost of a build-out, especially for companies that do regular restructuring.
Finally, sustainability can’t be ignored. Still viewed by some as an added expense, using environmentally sound materials and practices should be considered an investment. Energy-efficient lighting, water-conserving fixtures, and low-emitting materials save money, create less waste, and provide a comfortable environment for staff.
Based on the answers to these questions and the goals formulated from them, your project is ready to move into the design concept and development phase. This is when pen goes to paper and the designer comes up with a solution to the problems identified in the programming phase. This collaborative stage for the designer and business owner is where solutions are worked out to meet aesthetic, operational, and safety needs.
Once a design concept is developed and agreed upon, construction documents can be created. These consist of plans and detailed drawings of the space and its components, along with specifications for all of the materials, fixtures, and equipment that will be used. At this point, mechanical, electrical, or structural consultants will be brought in to provide input and drawings. This package becomes the recipe for making your space into a reality, and is what contractors will use to bid on the project.
Getting three quotes is always recommended; choose a bidder based on their experience with the project’s type and scope, as well as their proficiency with the chosen design style. Choosing a contractor before coming up with a design leads to inaccurate pricing (either padded to account for the unknown, or too low due to an unclear expectation), which is unfair to both parties. Reviewing and comparing three detailed prices will help you obtain a fair price and the services of the best contractor for the job.
Moving into the construction phase, the architect or designer can be engaged to provide project management services. This can include review of shop drawings from suppliers, regular site visits, and review of contractor invoicing. Project management is a great asset to business owners as it allows them to do what they do best: run their business. It also gives them peace of mind that a knowledgeable third party is overseeing the project, ensuring that it stays on time and on budget, and turns out as planned.
Kyla Bidgood and Amber Kingsnorth own and operate Victoria-based Inoui Design Collective Inc.