While professional experience and best practices continue to guide the decision making of today’s architects, designers and consultants, there’s an additional and crucial component that should always inform the design process: data from occupancy evaluations.
Pre- and post-occupancy evaluations are structured analyses of the physical workplace, measured by users’ opinions and experiences as well as an organization’s business objectives. A variety of measurement tools and methods can be used to evaluate these factors, including surveys, interviews, focus groups, observations as well as data pulled from office systems (i.e. key cards).
Data collection – before and after workplace design – enables interior architects to improve the design process. This journey results in evidence-based workplace environments that champion an organization’s mission, vision and core values.
By deploying the following measurement strategies, steps and tools for pre- and post-occupancy evaluations, design strategists can create spaces that deliver on a client’s business objectives, serve to increase productivity and satisfy an organization’s most important asset: its people.
The first step in design planning is to evaluate and document the before state to set a benchmark from which to measure the impact of a new layout. Known as a pre-occupancy evaluation, this process requires participation from the organization’s key decision makers and employees affected by those decisions. The level and depth of staff involved will, and should, be informed by the company’s business objectives.
Key components of a business environment to measure during pre-occupancy evaluations include:
Workplace Strategy: A design team should begin with identifying the needs of an organization based on its business objectives. These often range from increasing productivity, corporate wellness to employee engagement, etc. Design strategists also need to diagnose the company’s corporate culture to determine the design elements and work, collaboration and amenity spaces needed. To effectively uncover a company’s workplace strategy, culture and goals, consider leveraging organizational culture assessment tools as part of the pre-occupancy evaluation process.
Workplace Effectiveness: A crucial part of a pre-occupancy evaluation is measuring the effectiveness of the current office space. This evaluation looks at several components, including which elements of the space are working best and where improvements may be needed; employee satisfaction and engagement; and technology integration, mobility and targets for improvement through design. Other assessment areas of the physical workplace include thermal and acoustic comfort, air quality and lighting. However, the evaluation tools deployed to measure these factors should never be standardized. Rather, measurement strategies should be tailored to each organization depending on who they are, what they do and how they operate.
Once data is collected, design strategists should review, analyze the results and present key findings to the organization’s leadership team. This is often a moment when architects and designers show clients who they are today versus who they want to be and align on how to leverage this data to make informed office design decisions.
Performing post-occupancy evaluations are critical to bringing the design process full circle. These evaluations enable designers to determine if a new layout delivers on business objectives, balances form and function and supports employee needs. Post-occupancy evaluations should be completed a few weeks after move-in, when the space is new, and then several months later when the layout is familiar to employees. Each evaluation provides new insights to allow the designer to measure success and determine if adjustments need to be made.
A H. Hendy Associates case study includes work transforming an old storage space into an activity-based working environment for Yamaha Music. The objective: boost employee satisfaction, retention and increase opportunities for collaboration. A post-occupancy evaluation deployed weeks after occupancy revealed a healthy increase in employee satisfaction of the company from 56 to 85 percent. When the same survey was deployed months later, Hendy unearthed employee satisfaction levels to be even higher – nodding to Yamaha Music better understanding how to use the new space to their advantage.