“This isn’t exactly what I thought it was”, is a common thought shortly after purchase. Marketing experts call it “cognitive dissonance” or “post purchase dissonance”. It’s how you feel the day after you’ve made a big ticket purchase and you start to realize you may have wanted that special something a little too much and over- rationalized the purchase. New car buyers get it when they discover the leather seats are actually leather inserts with vinyl trim. Computer buyers get it when they find out their dream machine’s processor bus is inadequate to relay the processor speed. Homebuyers get it after they move in and discover little cracks in the drywall or chipped paint.
For office leases, the commitment is far greater financially and much longer term chronologically than the average computer purchase. However, in a rush to complete a lease, or in the excitement of locating a new facility, some seemingly minor issues can be overlooked. These minor issues later become major headaches.
When I was a framing carpenter working my way through college, one of my site bosses used to say, “Measure twice, cut once and you won’t look like a dunce”. Use this checklist of often-disregarded building characteristics to measure-up potential problems before you cut a new lease.
1. Ambient noise level.
You never fully appreciate how noisy open office space can be until you have worked in a space that has no noise reducing features. Building standard ceiling tile and wall coverings are acoustic ping-pong paddles bouncing the smallest sounds around the room. Higher quality, more expensive ceiling tiles and wallcoverings can reduce ambient noise by as much as 50 percent. Look for lease space that already has it in place so you don’t pay for it from your remodeling allowance.
2. Restroom capacity.
Those with small children know that when you have to go, you have to go. Nothing reduces productivity quite like having to go to another floor or across the building to find an open restroom stall. As today’s business increases the number of employees in a limited space and cubicle farms replace 15 by 20 foot offices, the demand on sanitary facilities is outstripping availability. Make sure your supply of restrooms will meet the demand.
3. Air-conditioning capacity and control.
Many buildings are being converted from traditional office to open space; from low-density to high density; from people intensive to equipment intensive. This is great for the modern work environment, but it wreaks havoc on air-conditioning systems. Open spaces require different control system applications. The increased number of employees occupying a fixed space requires additional cooling and air-circulation capacity. Ever increasing racks of computer and networking equipment, along with the ancillary printers, fax machines, scanners, copiers and modems, places substantial demand on air conditioning systems that were designed for less of a load.
If you are moving into a building or facility that is being adapted to your use, it will be worth the expense to have a mechanical engineer review the existing system and provide advice as to the necessary upgrades to accommodate your intended use.
4. Elevator size capacity. Perhaps the most overlooked features of a building are the elevators. Under the best circumstances, the building will have a freight elevator with doors that have a 5-foot opening and a cab at least six feet deep and 12 feet high. Some buildings were constructed without consideration for 10-foot equipment racks and 12-foot long conference tables.
5. Elevator passenger capacity.
Many buildings were constructed from the 1950s to the late 1970s with elevator trip traffic and the number of elevators installed based on one employee per 200 square feet of office space (a 1:200 ratio). This was great until modular furniture flourished and hard-walled offices were relegated to use by only high-ranking executives. This cube-farm transformation has increased the ratios to 1:100 and some even lower.
This increased occupant load has increased the elevator trip traffic, in many cases doubling the load and thus the trip time. Elevator response times of less than 12 seconds in 1975 have now more than doubled to 30 seconds in 2001 because of the increased occupant loading. Multiplying those lost seconds times 600 employees can mean your company is losing 30 man hours a day or 7,500 man hours a year. Your organization can afford to take the money it might waste on lost production time and spend it on additional rent to get a building with the appropriate elevator service.
6. Above-the-ceiling clearance.
If your organization uses substantial cabling, you may already be familiar with this issue. It most often occurs in buildings with poured-in-place concrete superstructures where the ceilings are barely eight feet tall and the elements of the HVAC system are suspended between the concrete deck and drop-in ceiling. If there is not a good workspace between the drop-in ceiling and the concrete deck, it becomes very difficult to install an adequate cable routing system. It is also difficult to work on above-the-ceiling mechanical equipment. You should look for at least 30 to 36 inches between the deck and the ceiling to give your cable systems and mechanical systems adequate space for repairs and expansion.
7. Fire suppression.
If you have ever lived through a fire sprinkler installation while you were occupying a
space, you already understand this problem. Many jurisdictions are requiring older buildings to install fire sprinkler systems. In some of those jurisdictions, the mandate is for completion by a certain date, which means pipefitters and plumbers will be climbing on your desk while you are trying to work. The installation usually does not take an extended period of time and probably won’t reduce productivity greatly. However, all things being equal, you should have a substantial incentive to move into a building that is already equipped, or have a clause in your lease that will compensate you for problems that may occur in the event the space if sprinklers have to be added.
Do you ever hear the complaint, “The glare on my computer screen from the lights is giving me a headache?” That complaint becomes more and more common as our businesses cycle more towards computers and away from paper.
In pre-1990s office buildings, lighting was designed to provide 50 to 75 footcandles at the work surface. This was bright enough to permit easy viewing and reading of typewritten and handwritten documents. The light was specifically directed downward because light coming perpendicular to the work surface causes less glare.
Today, 50 to 75 footcandles is often too much light for computer work. Lighting that shines directly down on a computer screen can induce headaches and eyestrain. When evaluating a new location, set up a typical workstation as part of the short-listing process. Test the existing lighting to find out if new reflectors, lenses, bulbs or fixtures should be included in renovation costs to prevent productivity losses due to inappropriate lighting.