Not surprisingly, the first element of the best client-centered strategy is . . . the client. To get a holistic (or 360-degree picture) of the client, I investigate many distinct but related elements of the client. Five are worth exploring here. First, what is the client’s current approach to working? Second, what is the client’s internal culture? Third, what is the client’s external brand? Fourth, what are the project circumstances? Fifth and most important, what are the client’s goals and objectives?
In my role, I judicially employ a mix of information-gathering techniques. This thoughtful discovery process helps clients better understand and sharpen their business goals and objectives.
My, and my firm’s, approach to the client discovery phase has two preferred elements – depth and timing.
A “deep” discovery process is one where a variety of employees are engaged. Depth of engagement has several benefits. When more and more varied employees are engaged, a more accurate understanding of the client is obtained – a more robust understanding of the client’s ways of working, a more authentic view of their culture, etc. Moreover, when more and more varied employees feel like their voice is being heard, they are more likely to embrace workplace changes.
An “early” discovery process is one where a senior workplace strategist, such as myself, is engaged at the very beginning. For example, I see big dividends when IA assists the client, its broker, and project manager evaluate lease renewal or office relocation options. Even more impactfully, I can help the client uncover and sharpen the “why” of the project, the business case.
Industry Best Practices
The second element that enables me to develop client-centered strategy is leveraging industry best practices. Although workplace trends have always been evolving, the rapid pace of technology development and the unique expectations of the millennial generation have accelerated workplace transformations.
As an early pioneer of benchmarking, I understand the value that it brings to my clients.
Working proactively with my clients, to merge their business case with such criterion enable us to work together to develop a superior end result.
As a result of my, and IA’s extended research, first-hand knowledge of, and leadership in, best practices, I provide insight and expertise on:
• Workplace flexibility and mobility (e.g., remote working)
• Attraction and retention of top talent
• Wellness (work life balance)
• Activity-based work spaces
The client is the ultimate beneficiary of IA’s deep involvement in best practices. IA’s unique approach empowers clients to make and communicate (especially with financial decision-makers and other C-suite level stakeholders) evidence-based rationales.
I have been an early practitioner and disciplined “change management” communicator. By helping client’s share upcoming design changes with relevant stakeholders, we find that clients are able to not merely communicate change but to “make it happen” by uncovering and addressing the inevitable concerns of those affected – from the top of the house to back office support.
Finally, having worked for many years in a large, global real estate firm, I know first-hand the importance of forging real and lasting partnerships between design and real estate firms, including the brokers and project managers. While every partnership has its unique features, my distinctive mix of corporate design, corporate real estate, and commercial real estate, has afforded me a unique ability to turn friction points into synergies, long-term partnerships and friendships.
Marita Schardt is a director of workplace strategy at IA Interior Architects, New York, N.Y.