Office renovations are common in a down economy

Martin Greening opens a moveable wall to increase the size of the main conference room in the renovated offices of commercial real estate firm CBRE Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012. The company recently gutted its office and rebuilt it with an emphasis on improved usability and productivity. Design experts say open office layouts can encourage worker communication, collaboration and multitasking.

After 10 years in the same office near East Flamingo and Paradise roads, executives at CBRE decided it was time for a change.

Rather than leave the space that had seen them through the height of Las Vegas’ boom and the depths of its recession, leaders at the commercial real estate firm decided to remodel.

“It was time for a renovation,” managing director Michael Newman said. “We spend so much time in the office. You want to have a comfortable environment around you.”

So for four months, CBRE’s 50 employees moved to a temporary space in the same building while work spaces were moved, new carpets and lighting were installed and furniture was updated.

“We tried to create an enjoyable workplace, with lots of sunlight, lighter colors and the ability to communicate back and forth across the office,” Newman said.

Whether a business is growing, shrinking, trying to improve efficiency or just looking for something new, an office renovation can energize a company and the people who work for it. Retooling a work space layout can improve employee communication and productivity, and a fresh coat of paint can boost morale, local architects say.

Renovations have been especially prevalent in Las Vegas’ business community as companies recover from the recession and try to adjust to smaller staffs and new ways of doing business. A glut of available commercial real estate means good deals can be found, and landlords may be willing to help tenants improve existing spaces.

“When you renovate, it energizes the whole workplace culture,” said Dwayne Eshenbaugh, principal architect at Novus Architecture. “Everybody’s excited about it. It can happen in a large space when you’re blowing out walls. It can happen in a small space, by painting or adding some new furniture, new lighting or artwork.”

Remodeling doesn’t come without risks though. Larger projects often mean displacing workers, and without careful oversight, costs can quickly exceed a budget.

Executing a successful remodel depends on good planning from the start, said JF Finn, principal at Gensler, a Las Vegas architecture and design firm.

“There should be some form of strategic plan in place (to determine) where (the company) is going to be three or five years from now,” Gensler said. “The first thing we always ask is, ‘Does the office space support the business effectively?’”

Businesses also must decide whether it makes more sense to stay in their current location and renovate, or move and remodel a different space – an increasingly attractive option given the availability of commercial real estate in Las Vegas, CBRE’s Newman said.

“There’s a significant amount of vacancy, so you can get into a little higher-grade building than the one you’re moving from at a competitive price,” Newman said. “Landlords are more willing to consider tenant improvement allowances for credit-worthy tenants”

Good planning should include employees from all levels of a company, Eshenbaugh said. Workers know best what they need to do their jobs effectively.

“It used to be you’d hire an architect, blow out a space plan and that’s it,” Eshenbaugh said. “I think it’s a great idea for the business culture to start engaging within an organization, be collaborative as a group and flesh out the goals.”

Businesses also should consider how employees interact with clients and what kind of image the business wants to present when planning a redesign, said Jonelle Vance, executive vice president at Ed Vance and Associates Architects.

“You can tell a lot about a company from its working environment,” Vance said. “An advertising agency might have a hip, cool, modern space. That’s what they’re trying to promote with their employees and the outside world. It’s very different than maybe a doctor or a lawyer’s office, which needs to be more serious and professional.”

Vance said she has seen a trend of clients moving to more open office layouts, which can encourage communication, collaboration and multitasking.

Many businesses also are adding lounges or common spaces where employees can take breaks, relax and socialize. Some are adding flexible, shared space for workers who telecommute but still want to spend a few days a week in the office.

“We’re seeing more teaming,” Vance said. “People are interacting more. Even if it’s over the computer, (employees) still want to be close to each other and have this feeling of family and community in their workspace.”

During its 10-year existence, Nevada State College’s offices have been spread across a series of leased buildings around downtown Henderson, with one university-owned building several miles away. College officials are now undergoing construction to renovate several new spaces to bring the workforce together.

“I have individuals who work downtown who really ought to be next door to each other,” said Buster Neel, senior vice president for finance and administration at the college.

Remodeled space in a leased Henderson building will soon house 18 administrative employees. School leaders had considered more extensive demolition but settled for a fresh coat of paint and removing a single wall.

“It’s going to give us an ability to have a lot more informal interaction with each other, which is where a lot of things get accomplished,” Neel said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that communication will be improved.”

College officials tried to limit the disruption of the construction on employees by scheduling most of the work after hours or on weekends. But workers have still had to contend with noise, odors and dust.

“There’s no way it’s not going to impact some people,” Neel said.

So officials concentrated on letting employees know in advance what was going to take place and when it would happen – a good strategy, according to the experts.

The college plans to spend about $45,000 – a relatively modest sum – to remodel its new office.

Renovations don’t have to be costly. Businesses have plenty of options to keep expenses down, including reusing furniture, Finn said. And a series of small, incremental changes over time, such as removing clutter or rearranging desks, can have a similar effect to one large construction project.

Ultimately, companies that understand their needs and the needs of their employees will have the most success.

“If you’re going to make an investment, it needs to have a pay off,” Finn said. “Does your office space reflect your core values and your culture? Does it create an environment where employees can thrive?”