Office Insights from the Perspective of a Tenant

Darren Bilsborough New Office News

I am fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to work in the property industry for over 25 years. I’ve worked with both architects and engineers and on behalf of industry bodies associated with commercial property and green buildings. Throughout this time, I have been involved in all aspects of commercial office property, from design and development through to leasing, energy auditing, refurbishments and retrofits, and, most importantly, as a tenant myself. This background provides me with a unconventional perspective on both the technical advantages and disadvantages of various buildings systems and how these systems, together with the rest of the office’s eco-system, affect the day-to-day performance of staff and business.

My career began as a building services engineer, responsible for those animated services within a building that give it life: the air-conditioning, light and power systems, elevators, telecommunications, and fire and life safety systems. Over that period of time, I transitioned to become an owner of the business, responsible for managing offices all across Australia, Asia and North America. Importantly, I was also responsible for choosing office locations and their fit-outs. Initially, my thought process went along the lines of: What are my space requirements likely to be over the course of my next lease? What opportunities do I have for expansion? What am I currently paying in rent, both in real dollar terms and as a percentage of turnover? And what am I able to pay for rent going forward?

Over time, I’ve also had the opportunity to think and reflect upon my office choices and, in particular, how they may have affected my business and my staff – in relation to their effectiveness in producing quality work on time and within budget, and whether they were attracted to what I was selling in relation to their new home away from home.

The two greatest learnings I’ve had in relation to my experience as a tenant would be:

  1. There is an ‘atmosphere’ associated with an office that is influenced by a number of factors, including the view, a feeling of ‘airiness’ (the opposite of stuffiness), the quality of furnishings and fit-out, the opportunity to chat casually with workmates (the ‘drink cooler’ conversations), and the ability to concentrate on the tasks at hand (your job) without distractions.
  2. Most people spend some 40 to 80 hours per week at the office. In a week that consists of a total of 168 hours. When you consider you should be spending 50 to 60 hours of that time asleep, it represents a lot of time spent either travelling to work or being there. In fact, it probably forms the majority of your waking life. Therefore, to quote an old real estate adage, ‘location, location, location’. The more useful, convenient and also prestigious the location is in the eyes of your workmates (not just to suit their work, but to suit their lives), then the better it will be for their overall well-being and likely productivity.

To build upon these learnings as a tenant, I also had the privilege of being involved in the design and delivery of commercial office buildings that promised more – office buildings that took the above learnings to another level, office buildings that were at the leading edge of the green building revolution in Australia in the early 2000s. In this regard, I had two different roles that both proved to be revealing and instructive.

The first was as a business owner looking for new office space that would change the way in which the market was to view the business that I was running. This was primarily an exercise in ensuring my office reflected the business I was in, promoted and enhanced our brand, and was attractive to both staff and clients.

The second was in the capacity of a member of the consulting team for what is still widely regarded as a benchmark commercial office building. My personal involvement in this building was not only in the design and delivery of the building services engineering, but also in being responsible for the green building ratings. I was intimately involved in the process of selling the concept and the advantages of the building to various tenants looking for new office premises within the marketplace. It was during this process that I came to realise that very few corporate real estate professionals really focused on what was most important to prospective tenants in making a decision about whether to lease or not to lease. The question: “How will this decision affect my business?” was rarely the focus of the conversations. This was despite the fact that all of the presentations and sales pitches included answers to the great majority of each prospective tenant’s central concerns, such as location, access to services, property management, design, engineering systems and, of course, leasing costs.

We were successful in engaging the tenants in a story of how our building might go some way to contributing to the success of their businesses. We were able to follow this up with the design and the delivery of a building that attempted to reflect all of the above attributes, took stock of some of my own personal learnings as a tenant, and then delivered to the new tenants.

My real insight however came some years later, when all of my previous rhetoric regarding the benefits we thought the building would deliver eventually came home to roost. It was at this point that I really understood how all of the elements come together in choosing an office that can absolutely contribute positively to the performance of a business. I can say this with a significant degree of both authority and authenticity as, ten years after first being involved in the conceptual design and selling the benefits of the building, I got the opportunity to be a tenant in that very building. I was therefore able to reach my own conclusions regarding its effect on the performance of its occupants.