Theory into Practice: How BWBR+ Makes an Impact on Real Projects

In our previous episode, senior strategic facility advisor Brandon King, AIA, MBA, explained the high-level approach of what drove the initiation of BWBR+ advisory services. This week, he and principal Jason Nordling, AIA, continue the conversation with a deeper dive into how these services can be applied on a practical basis.

With 26 years of experience, Jason understands the unique elements associated with designing and implementing medical facility projects. During his 19 years at BWBR, he’s devoted 90% of his time to healthcare projects and has forged long-term relationships with major regional healthcare systems throughout Nebraska, Minnesota, and South Dakota.

BWBR+ in Action

Often today, architects are asked to do more than just design buildings, with clients turning to us for support outside of traditional project scopes and timelines. To meet this need, BWBR created BWBR+, a collection of services focused on human performance and building performance that bridges the gap between architecture and traditional business consulting.

To illustrate, Jason offers a real-world example: “Recently BWBR completed pretty significant remodeling for a healthcare client in western Nebraska. At the outset of the project, we asked for their existing facility information and were handed many, many sets of drawings ranging from the original building that was constructed in the 1970s all the way up to their most recent addition in the mid-2000s. Faced with this treasure trove of disorganized material, the project team suggested a comprehensive updated CAD background to bring everything up to date. Then, when the new project planning and design was complete, it could be easily incorporated as well.” By advising the client to consolidate the plans in a consistent, simple way, BWBR was able to help them approach their portfolio in a consistent, organized fashion.

But the story doesn’t end there. Jason continues,Actually that same client called a few years after we finished the build and asked about statement of condition drawings for the facility for their reviews. And one of our code gurus was able to walk into their facility in a day with the backgrounds that we had, and he created the documents they would need for the State Department of Health and other facility reviewers. He could see where code requirements had changed over time and it allowed them to understand places where they could maybe downgrade some of the construction. Now, there’s less to be checking and certifying on an annual basis and that saves time and maintenance. All that documentation we did on the front end paid dividends.”

All Facilities Great and Small

It’s not only large, complex systems that can benefit from additional support like this. Smaller or more rural facilities may not have the staff to fully address some of these issues, and even when staffing resources are available, their focus can be split among many competing priorities.

Jason explains, “I do most of my work in rural areas and I’ve seen that clients, especially in rural or independent facilities, can benefit from a lot of the things BWBR+ offers, whether that means putting facility documents together or providing equipment planning or facility activation services. Those things are needed on every project.”

“Our clients have very talented facility staff, but they all have day jobs that are related directly to their expertise. Anytime we can come in and assist with those things that are not the highest and best use of their time and abilities just creates a stronger, more cohesive whole.”

Jason Nordling, AIA

Brandon added that in the face of staffing shortages or transitions like those which many organizations are dealing with as a result of the pandemic, “We can absolutely come in and bolster departments to help facilities and organizations ramp back up to full speed in support areas like design and construction, engineering, and facility support. We have the experience to help clients bridge the gap.”

Equipment Planning to the Rescue

Another example of BWBR+ in action is providing equipment planning support. Many client facilities house complex technical equipment, and while traditional design includes understanding the size and purpose of that equipment, as well as mechanical, electrical, and plumbing needs, BWBR+ goes further. Brandon explains, “We can offer assistance with a comprehensive equipment planning process, which is more than just equipment on a floor plan. It’s a process of inventorying and understanding existing equipment. It’s meeting with critical stakeholders and subject matter experts, including end users and department managers, but also the sourcing departments who are actually buying this equipment.”

This in-depth discovery process helps the project team and, in turn, the client, understand the full picture: Are there new standards that are coming out for this equipment? Does it make sense to change manufacturers? Is there new training required for the staff? In some ways the project team becomes an extension of the purchasing department, helping to coordinate the whole process while integrating it with the parallel design process. Brandon adds, “We also ask ourselves what the user experience is in a room, really taking a close look at the finishes and how a person feels in the space. We can provide a holistic approach that goes well beyond just swapping out a piece of equipment.”

A True Full-Service Experience

Taking a closer look at the people and processes involved in projects can provide huge benefits to clients. These builds are incredibly complex and very expensive, so supporting clients in making well-informed decisions and recommendations to senior leadership is actually an integral part of providing excellent service and serving as a trusted advisor before, during, and after a given project.

Beyond the RFP: How BWBR+ Advisory Services Help You Get the Most Out of Your Facility

For many clients, it’s normal to heavily involve their architect early in the project planning process, but far less common to tap into their talent to support and optimize the ongoing use and performance of their structure, or indeed their entire facility portfolio. And while there is not always a new project being planned, clients use the facilities we design constantly and BWBR recognized a need for additional support outside of the traditional RFP process.

Brandon King, AIA, MBA is a senior strategic facility advisor at BWBR, with two decades of strategic and tactical experience working with healthcare institutions, commercial real estate developers, and organizations charged with building new facilities. He explains, “BWBR+ is our response to this need — a collection of services focused on human performance and building performance, whether that means enhanced programming services, statistical analysis to help support a justification for a project, or even just deciding if an existing inventory of buildings requires a new project in the first place.”

Bridging the Gap

Essentially, the idea is to bridge the gap between architecture and traditional business consulting. As Brandon says, “It’s not just about the places that we design, it’s about the people and processes involved in those places.” The goal is to help clients optimize their usage of the space and understand their true needs. In health care, for example, this might mean reducing the steps that nurses take on a clinic floor. From a science and technology standpoint, it could mean improving the utilization of workspace metrics and taking a closer look at how a given workspace is actually used.

BWBR is uniquely positioned to understand these issues at an early stage and assist clients with diving deeper into the portfolio facilities they have. These are complicated decisions that require a lot of forethought, and it makes sense to bring our experience to the table not just before a project begins, but after it is completed.

Supporting Smoother Transitions

Brandon’s prior industry experience gives him particular insight into some of the challenges that can come with a new build: “One thing I found as a planning design construction manager at health care organizations is that these are really complicated facilities. And many times, the people that use them have never been involved with a new build. While they may have dozens of years of experience managing a particular discipline in health care, they’ve never opened a new unit and yet we hand the keys over and our clients are expected to know exactly where everything is. One of the services that that we’re really excited to offer is activation planning management, specific to that transition period after a project where the building is done, but the owners are just beginning to open up.”

There are a host of important tasks and processes to walk through to help owners ensure that they’re using the building the way it was intended and that they understand how the building works. BWBR+ can help them simulate and confirm workflows prior to the first patient walking in the door and assist them with safely, effectively, and efficiently opening their building.

“As architects and planners, we have quite a knowledge base that can be applied to our clients’ work, even when they don’t have a project. Whether that’s workspace analysis or understanding the condition of a facility and looking ahead at when it might need to be replaced, we can assist clients with diving deeper into the portfolio of facilities they already have.”

Brandon King, AIA, MBA

Addressing Pain Points

There are numerous services incorporated within BWBR+ including facility documentation, workspace strategy, change management, equipment planning, and facility forensics. These are all services that BWBR had provided for dozens of years that we’ve found can assist our clients in between projects as well as during the course of a traditional engagement.

For example, in a large health care organization there is often a history of acquiring smaller entities, and that means dozens of buildings of varying ages and conditions, but also incredibly diverse construction documents and records. BWBR helps by coming up with a consistent diagrammatic approach to facility plans that provides a basis for clients to understand what they have. Our staff then help keep those documents up to date and easy to understand for regulatory and governmental entities.

We can also help diagnose building deficiencies to determine the root cause and implement a solution in order to extend the life of a facility. Brandon explains, “When there’s a problem with a facility, most often it has to do with air or water infiltration of the building, which we call the building envelope. That can be incredibly tricky to diagnose and create significant environmental concerns, such as mold and mildew, as well as ruining equipment.” By looking at old facility construction documents, getting hands-on at the facility asking questions, and understanding how airflow works inside of facilities, BWBR is able to help clients prevent and expediently remedy issues to keep things running smoothly.

Stay Tuned — More to Come!

This approach to advisory support is an evolving process, and one that BWBR is just beginning. To dig more fully into some of these issues, check back soon for a second episode diving deeper into the exciting world of BWBR+ and all the ways it can help our clients get the most out of their built environments.

What Do Post-Pandemic Employees Need to be Successful? – Part Two

During part two of my conversation with Jennifer Stukenberg, NCIDQ, LEED AP, WELL AP, she shared more about what to expect with the hybrid work model. But first, she imparted some insights on how the remote environment has helped employees and businesses thrive in some areas while other aspects of traditional work have taken a hit.

There’s No Place Like Work from Home?

In the early stages of the pandemic, Stukenberg was surprised to see that productivity and wellbeing scored relatively high in workplace studies, and have remained fairly high ever since. However, she also observed a drop in engagement, with indications of workers feeling disconnected from their coworkers and company culture. Learning and skills development activities also significantly decreased, further pinpointing the value workers get out of physically going into the office.

While many companies have already modified their training programs, with a particular emphasis on transforming their onboarding strategies, it’s difficult to account for the loss of the informal learning that happens when workers are in proximity to one another. With the BWBR internship program, for example, the team compensated for this lack of in-person interaction with Zoom sessions aimed at recreating the effect of working side by side with more senior staff. Besides creating closer connections, this approach came with the added benefit of accessing a talent pool from anywhere in the country, rather than being geographically limited.

Putting People First

Continuing to take the people-first approach spurred on by the pandemic will be key in the newly tightened labor market. Many organizations put a huge emphasis on flexibility, empathy, and well-being, and took great care to communicate and stay connected with their people during the pandemic. In return, employees did more than their part to stay productive and keep the business functioning, and now expect that people-first approach to continue indefinitely.

A one-size-fits-all strategy is especially ill-suited for those hit particularly hard by the past year, including younger workers and families, yet companies can’t afford to miss out on those talent pools. A flexible, hybrid work model that lets employees choose how and when they work has become a powerful and popular option, and Stukenberg suggests that companies should start moving in that direction now if they haven’t already.

Flexible Workspaces, Flexible Schedules

After contending with many distractions over the last year of working from home, employees also want more control over their environments, especially factors like environmental stimulation and ergonomics. “I like a little bit of busy-ness around me on certain days when I’m feeling drained,” said Stukenberg. “[And] I think a lot of people miss their nice sit-to-stand desks and their good chairs. Even temperature and lighting–I like the fact that my office isn’t freezing at home!” Employers will likely need to offer a range of work settings with more individual controls, plus access to varied spaces such as private focus rooms and areas for collaboration. The classic sea of cubes may become a rarity now that workers know better than ever what they need to succeed.

And the office schedule of the near future? The power of routine is that it lets people focus on the work, but the old 9-5 routine went out the window while workers were in survival mode. One result of the pandemic may be a greater sense of consideration for others–flex environments will require advance planning in lieu of the casual desk drop-in of the past. The new etiquette may be to send an instant message before popping by your colleague’s workspace to make sure they’re in the office and that you can find where they’re sitting in an unassigned seating plan.

Emphasis on Equity and Diversity

An important consideration (and potential benefit) of a hybrid work is that it forces a greater emphasis on equity and inclusiveness, since companies must adapt to ensure team members can all equally share ideas and participate in project work regardless of location. Tools like Miro and Microsoft Teams can help teams collaborate without being in the same room, and creating company guidelines around hybrid in-person/ virtual meetings can help create a more consistent, accessible experience for everyone.

As Stukenberg puts it, “We all want equity and diversity because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it makes us all better. A diversity of ideas has been proven over and over again to be the key to success.” Pursuing equity can’t be just a passive thing—it requires commitment and action in order to impact employees’ experiences. “Everyone can see when you’re being inclusive, and they feel that as part of your culture.”

The Future is Flexible

One recent study by Leesman of more than 840,000 employees revealed that 83% said their home enabled them to work effectively, compared to just 64% who said the office enabled them to work effectively. If companies want workers to come back in-person while retaining the productivity gains realized while working from home, thoughtful changes to office spaces may be in order. Companies will also likely see a benefit from offering employees the choice to work from home while still encouraging them to use the office for in-person collaboration. Finding that balance will help bridge the gap between employee expectations and the environments that best support their work.

“I know offices that are made for work are not working the way [companies] want [them] to … if you don’t have good office space that supports the tasks that people need to do now, then people won’t want to come to the environment because their home offices will likely be performing better for them. So companies are going to have to make some modifications in order to adjust to this evolving way we work.”

Jennifer Stukenberg, NCIDQ, LEED AP, WELL AP