Efficiency runs central to the success of every work environment. The occupied space needs to be capital-cost efficient, deliver on required performance requirements, while considering annual running costs and environmental impacts. With so many strands to consider, sometimes fresh eyes are required to solve the conundrum of how to achieve that desired goal of efficiency.
This is the space that Cogent Associates operates in. Established in Dublin in 1999, the award-winning company has become a leading property and construction consultancy to clients in Ireland and across Europe, with facilities management an integral part of the service provided.
With development and cost expertise across the many facets that feed into how buildings are put together and how they operate day-to-day, the firm is uniquely placed to ask the right questions and present solutions that go beyond established and often outdated traditional models.
“What we try to do is bring the accountants along with the facilities management teams and the operational teams, and look at the building holistically,” said Anthony McCarthy, director of Cogent Associates, recognising that the capital expenditure of a project will have direct long term impact on the operational costs of cleaning, maintenance and repair.
This strategic analysis takes many forms – including life cycle modelling and cost in use analysis – informing clients of where spending a little more today will reap long term dividends. For example, a recent client followed their recommendation to spend more on a CHP system that reduced energy consumption by circa 30 per cent. It is now in the enviable position of selling spare capacity back to the electrical grid.
But over the past year, it has been Cogent’s skill set in strategic review and forward planning that has come to the fore, with clients keen to ensure their buildings are not just Covid-19 compliant, but future-proofed against possible future pandemics.
McCarthy said: “Covid a year ago was reactive maintenance, but now it’s not, it’s proactive. Clients planning new projects are asking: ‘How do I design pandemic parameters into the scheme without overburdening it?’
“There’s a lot of analysis going on. One key thing is the access and egress to the building. We’re looking at one-way systems through buildings so you don’t have crossover routes, thus minimising points of contact, trying to avoid lifts by introducing an extra stair core in the building (where feasible) so that if you have to implement pandemic procedures in the future, you have the means of doing that.”
The core goal of efficiency remains the same, but the advent of Covid-19 has brought a fresh set of demands on how buildings can achieve that efficiency.
“One of the things that will be with us into the future is the issue of remote working,” McCarthy said. “If you have 50 per cent of staff working from home and the remainder in the office, the facilities management team has to be able to accommodate that change of working arrangement into the future and the only way to do that is to build flexibility into your systems.
“For example, you need to have mechanical systems that can accommodate 100 people or that can be stepped down to accommodate 50 people efficiently. IT systems need to be able to support greater mobility: if everyone has moved to a laptop/tablet, then the environment changes, you’re into more collaborative operational spaces as opposed to fixed working stations.”
The workplace changes introduced by Covid-19 raise questions about whether existing accommodation requirements will reduce as some staff continue to work from home and there is greater mobility in the workplace.
Current analysis suggests that office spaces will be less densely populated, but with more space given over to collaboration spaces and well ventilated meeting rooms for video conferencing, and that staff returning to the workplace will be looking for a welcoming work environment that is seen to be safe. These return-to-work policies will not simply be a matter of changing the workstation arrangements to increase the space between staff. They will have a direct impact on the configuration of services within the ceiling and the floor voids that needs to be planned.
“That’s all part of the facilities management,” McCarthy said. “To allow people to work the most efficient way possible. And, for offices, it has changed fundamentally.”
The pandemic has also prompted more clients to look at the environmental side of the decisions they’re making. “At the end of the day what the pandemic has really done is make people more open to the idea that there is a more efficient way of working. That could mean fewer people in the building, and therefore: ‘do I need heating systems or cooling systems that are oversized because I employ a thousand people but only 500 are going to be in the building at any one time?’.
“These are complex propositions. You’ve got to know how a business works, the various ways of designing spaces to accommodate them, then facilitate the servicing of the space as well working in capital costs and operational costs, while considering the environmental impact.
“All CEOs, CFOs and COOs should be asking how we will operate more efficiently and implement those facilities management changes in their organisation, in the most sustainable manner.
“It’s not an easy question, it’s very complex when you start pulling the various strands and it’s a bit of an art form. But we always say to clients, this isn’t only a facilities management exercise, or a sustainability or an environmental one: they’re all parts of the same equation where you are seeking to secure maximum payback.”