Operations Flow & Occupant Experience

by F. Josh Millman, AIA, LEED AP, CFM | Vice President, NTD

The new project started as most others had over the last ten years. I would typically receive a phone call, usually at 5:55pm, with the caller saying “This is Ms. Fuller. Can you please hold for the VP of Real Estate?” I knew these people as Genia and Ron, but that phone etiquette was very much their corporate culture. 

Ron would then pick up the line, and sixteen months later we would be at a ribbon cutting ceremony at a new manufacturing plant somewhere in the US.

Sitting in my office two weeks after the most recent phone call, we first set where we would dine that evening, and then discussed the next project. With obvious discomfort, Ron started to describe the new facility, but much more hesitantly than usual. By the third time he said, “This will be somewhat different than the norm,” I finally understood that we were talking about an R&D facility, and not another production site. Lots of offices, large server room, a few labs, and the usual amenities needed by about 120 researchers.

As I quickly started down a list of questions, Ron became much more relaxed, even jovial:

How will employees flow through the facility?

Will you want a tour route for visitors?

What level of security is needed?

What is the overall impression visitors should receive upon entering the facility?

What experience should the employees have?

I asked why he was now smiling and he responded that these were precisely the same questions I asked every time we did a new manufacturing project together. He then conceded that, as always, these were also exactly the right questions to ask. I agreed, of course. While we would eventually start talking about the number of workstations, rather than pallet positions, fundamentally buildings are designed based on operations flow and occupant experience.

I then observed with exaggerated irony that his answers to my questions were about the same as they would be for a production project:

Our employees will be flowing through a welcome/security space, past finished products, and quickly to their workstations.

We love to show off our facility to current and potential customers as well as prospective employees, with a focus on our process without showing what we are producing.

Security should be the minimum required to keep our employees honest and make our visitors feel welcome yet restricted on what they can see.

Our willingness to invest in people and technology must be evident, although not appear to be flashy or extravagant.

Our salaried employees work long and often irregular hours; there needs to be amenities that make them look forward to coming to work, and comfortable to work as much (uncompensated) overtime as they want.

I next explained that, whether we were commissioned to design a manufacturing or R&D (or office or retail) facility, Ron’s company’s strong corporate culture would pervaded the building design, much more than any building’s particular details. This consistency of experience was as much a part of the company’s brand as the logo and tag line created by its marketing consultant.

Then we left for dinner.