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Today’s economic climate presents opportunities to make smart business decisions. Many law firms, for example, have decided that moving is too expensive and disruptive and have renegotiated their lease for a more favorable rate. But deciding to stay put doesn’t mean that you have to continue working in an outdated or uncomfortable environment. There are many ways to make your office smarter: renovating and rearranging, buying new furniture and office products, and coordinating building services. Creating an intelligent workplace offers tremendous benefits for the firm and the people who work there. What is an intelligent workplace? An intelligent workplace is the right size and configuration for its purpose, economically responsible, comfortable, and conducive to productive work. It is not too hot or cold, not dark, chaotic, or cramped. It is flexible, efficient, and productive. It expresses and supports the culture of its occupants, and integrates technology to increase productivity for everyone: attorneys, staff, clients, and guests. An intelligent workplace reflects the mission and business strategy of the firm. Don’t let your environment remain stagnant because you’ve decided to stay there. An office should be regularly re-evaluated and adapted to changing realities, just as you regularly revisit the firm’s long- and short-term goals. As technology, competition, globalization, practice areas, and the economy all influence and redirect firm strategy, the intelligent workplace adjusts to reflect those changes. How can you recognize a workplace that’s not intelligent? • Vacant legal assistant offices or secretarial stations.As the ratios of lawyers to secretaries and legal assistants change over time, offices may sit empty. Secretarial stations often become repositories for stacks of boxes and homeless files. • Multiple reception areas.One local law firm had a reception area on each of its eight floors. Getting rid of 500 square feet multiplied by seven floors, at a cost of $40 per square foot, over 10 years equals a savings of $1 million. Having just one reception area also increases security. • Unoccupied outside offices.Instead of reserving these for lawyers, shouldn’t all employees get to see the light of day? • Rows of empty library carrels.Most research can be done at one’s desk, these days. Who can help you evaluate your workplace and make it intelligent? At any stage in a lease term, interior designers, architects, and real estate advisers are valuable partners in identifying realistic opportunities to make your workplace smarter. Your business mission and strategy should determine the project scope and focus. Design is the link between the firm’s overall strategy and its implementation into an intelligent workplace. Your design team will need to understand how you will make decisions so that the project objectives and functional requirements represent your true needs and constraints. DESIGN SOLUTIONS Here are some ideas, used successfully by some law firms, that may help you get more from your existing space and make your workplace intelligent. • Adopt furniture solutions that can be reconfigured for secretaries or legal assistants to accommodate staff changes easily. One law firm chose a secretarial workstation that could be converted to a legal assistant station in two hours. When they evaluated different manufacturers, they required the vendors to do a timed demonstration in their offices showing how easily and quickly the stations could be converted. Because they wanted to increase their ratio of legal assistants to attorneys, this solution will provide great flexibility as they move toward their goal. • Consolidate large blocks of internal space to accommodate support functions. Support functions, equipment, and work processes change constantly. Larger blocks of space or spaces that can be joined by doors allow you to reconfigure rooms to keep them efficient and productive — at little cost. One firm was also able to take the legal assistant offices that they no longer used and combine them to make larger connected support spaces. File areas were connected to satellite copy rooms, storage areas were located adjacent to case rooms, and collating and production spaces were created near copy areas. The result was that the staff could do their work more efficiently because they didn’t have to walk to another space (or in some cases, another part of the building) to complete a task. The tools needed for the work process were where they needed to be for employees to be highly productive. • Provide data and power ports for all conference areas. Furnish reception areas, training, library, and break-out areas with data, (wireless) network access, and power. Make sure your telephone access allows your clients cell-phone and Blackberry connectivity. Technology-compatible furniture can turn any area into a useful workspace. A London-based firm responded to unusual spaces that were “left over” because of an architectural feature by providing lounge-type seating that accommodated laptop computers and provided network connectivity. Initially, there was some concern that this was just using furniture to fill up an awkward space, but these areas became popular for informal meetings and working areas. Their adjacency to reception areas also accommodated visitors and break-outs from the conference area. The benefits for this firm were a creative use of seemingly unusable spaces (saving real estate costs) and an increase in cross-selling (collaboration leads to new business opportunities). • Use resources responsibly. Sustainable design is about the responsible use of buildings, materials, products, and resources. Most people understand that being “green” means using carpets that can be recycled and paints that don’t produce fumes or vapors. But sustainable design is also about the smart use of resources like natural light, to reduce lighting demands, to contribute to employee morale and productivity, and even to reduce absenteeism. One firm recently painted its entire office using low-VOC paint (which doesn’t smell) while the office was occupied. Not only could employees work without interruption, it was healthier for them, as well as contractors. • Support the business strategy of the firm. Analytical tools developed by designers, such as scenario planning, can model office occupancy and square footage requirements based on variable growth or contraction into the future. These tools can determine whether it makes sense to sublease space, or how long an existing space will last before 100 percent occupancy is achieved — and to help firms reconfigure if they don’t move. Analysis is also useful for benchmarking purposes. • Look to the future. A large international law firm is using “found” space (found by an analysis) to build a Practice Evolution Lab to test ideas about the evolution of the legal profession and the future impact on design and work process. So, just because your firm has decided to stay put for several more years doesn’t mean that you can just repaint and call it a day. The world is exploding with new technology, new communication tools, and new products and services. Now more than ever, your business strategy and workplace need to be aligned in order to work intelligently. Tama Duffy, ASID, leads the law firm consulting practice at OPX, a global strategy and design firm based in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at [email protected]. OPX members Marcia Hart and Steve Polo contributed to this article.

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