Office Buildout – It never gets old for me

I just completed the buildout of BrightWave’s new office in the heart of Buckhead (Tower Place 100, Suite 400, Atlanta, GA). It’s a phenomenal space that I’m extremely proud of, and I hope the team, our clients, vendors, and BW friends & family will enjoy using for many years to come.

This is technically my 8th office buildout (see list below) and although I’m very comfortable executing projects like these, I learn more than I expected each time and have a deeper appreciation for the talented team that execute these buildouts.

Buildouts for me are a lot of fun, it’s a way I can express my creative side, while still getting into the technical details which I also love. Each office I’ve built has been very different, with its unique opportunities and challenges (team makeup, financials, culture, etc.). I have to constantly challenge what I already know in order to improve the space for our people and learn the changes/trends that have shifted from the last time I did a buildout. It’s fun as you can see from the mixture of various buildouts I’ve done.

  1. BrightWave Atlanta Office – 2018 – 17,800 RSF
  2. Moxie Atlanta Office – 2014 – 65,000 RSF
  3. Moxie New York Office Expansion – 2013 – 10,000 RSF
  4. Engauge Columbus Office Expansion – 2011 – 10,000 RSF
  5. Engauge Atlanta Office – 2010 – 22,000 RSF
  6. Spunlogic Atlanta (Promenade) – 2006 – 14,000 RSF
  7. Spunlogic Atlanta (Zonolite) – 2003 – 8,000 RSF
  8. Spunlogic Atlanta (Colony Square) – 2001 – 4,000 RSF

I thought I’d share some considerations when embarking on projects like this.

  • Give yourself 4 to 8 months to search for the right space and negotiate a lease, and 5 to 8 months for a buildout (assumes the space needed is 15,000 to 80,000 RSF). So if you are not planning at least a year ahead you are already behind.
  • Have a clear vision of the space you want, how it will be used, how it will get the most out of your people, tell the right brand and positioning story for the agency and empower your culture and values. Most design firms can take you through a visioning exercise, even if you know exactly what you want, go through this again with the design firm as it will align your vision with the design firm, and with your management team.
  • Hire a third party project manager to handle the day-to-day, vendor management, master timelines, risk mitigation, communications, procurement and budget management. Don’t put this on yourself or one of your staff members who also has another job. Trust me, this role will pay for itself and give you peace of mind. Even if you assign someone internally as well (office manager as an example), they’ll appreciate the third party PM as well.
  • Interview and hire a design firm and a general contractor (GC) that aligns with your vision and the style of space you want, the budget constraints you might have (Tenant Improvement dollars vs. cash you’ll invest into the space). Hire these firms early, before you select and sign a lease. The design firm can help you with test fits to ensure the space will work from a programming stand-point (workstations, conference rooms, flow, the efficiency of the space, etc.). The GS’s can help determine rough costs to build, based on the building and test fit. This can help in final negotiations with the landlord.
  • One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is ensuring there is good chemistry between the design firm lead PM, the GC’s lead PM, and your own PM. These three roles are often what makes or breaks a buildout. Look for there ability to challenge each other, have respect for each other, the level of respective domain knowledge they have, and the style in which they communicate together verbally (in meetings) and via emails/calls).
  • As you get close to signing a lease, engage and hire a vendor to handle furniture and AV/Networking/Cabling early. Bring them in as part of the core team with the Design firm and GC’s. Most offices being buildout these days come together based on soft furniture choices (Not just workstations or conference tables) and mobility and AV are critical for a space to come together. Bring these folks early will allow the design firm and GC to engage with these folks during the design phases and provide value in early value engineering. Not to mention accurate and more detailed construction drawings.
  • Bring your internal management team and the whole company into the design process, or at the very least expose them to what’s happening and why. Create the narrative you want to build excitement and evolvement throughout the process. The worst thing you can do is not share or listen to your people. This is going to be there space after all.
  • Spend as much time as you can early on during the design and construction documentation phase to understand the details, but rely on your team for there expertise and opinion. Another important lesson I’ve learnt is that sometimes your vendors will have a hard time challenging you (your leadership style, you are the client, whatever the reason); pay attention to this and give the team permission to challenge you and ask them for there point of view (POV). At the end of the day, they are the experts, so rely on there advise and experience. Take a step back and realize your role and the vision you have, don’t get into the weeds of the details and allow the team to select and make choices based on your vision. In other words, know when to get out of the way.
  • Change orders (CO) are your enemy, but they can’t be avoided. The CO’s that can be avoided are design changes you are making after the fact. This goes to my point above, nail down the details before the actual construction begins, if you start changing things afterward, it’s going to cost you triple if not more, affect your timelines, and can create a negative snowball effect, however small the change is. Having said that, CO’s will happen, but hopefully, they are happening for the right reasons; value engineering, unforeseen issues with the space, materials, labor, etc.
  • Don’t underestimate material lead times and permitting/inspection delays. They both happen more often than you think. A good GC and PM team will anticipate this and plan for it all. If you have long material lead times, then ask for alternative options early on, especially if it’s a critical item that has other dependencies. Often times the GC’s won’t challenge the design team on material choices and won’t speak up, so help with this dialog when needed and balance the design intent with value engineering.

There is so much more I could say, but this blog post is already getting too long.  I’m happy to share further if you are about to embark on this journey for the first time or the 20th time, or are in the middle of it and are getting into trouble. I’m always happy to help provide some color on what worked for me and what didn’t. Comment and let me know.

I hope the folks who have seen or about to see (Open House 6/13/2018 for those attending) BrightWave’s new office (Tower Place 100, Suite 400) enjoy the space and find ideas and inspiration for there own space.

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