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Putting spare space to work

It’s often said that, in business, time is money. I would argue the same could be said of industrial and office space, which is a highly valuable commodity, particularly in popular commercial areas. For example, the price of office space in central London can range from £70 to £150 per square foot in the most desirable areas.

With prices like these, it makes economic sense to use every spare inch of space. However, in my experience, this is something many businesses fail to do. In fact, many large companies have sizeable chunks of their buildings sitting empty

I would argue the same could be said of industrial and office space, which is a highly valuable commodity, particularly in popular commercial areas.
I would argue the same could be said of industrial and office space, which is a highly valuable commodity, particularly in popular commercial areas.

or only being used occasionally. These neglected spaces often have signifiant potential for development.

Vacant space may arise for a number of reasons: staff downsizing; outsourcing of departments; new (more compact) technology; or simply earmarking for future expansion. In some cases, companies move to a new location and decide not to utilise the extra square footage that comes with the address. In others, it’s the ground flor of a high street location that’s required and usage of the upper flors is never fully considered.

Weighing up the options

So organisations are often faced with the question of what to do with blocks of unused space that, for the moment, are empty but may be needed in a few years. Is it worth renting them out to another company? Possibly not on a short term basis. And there’s certainly no benefi in taking on staff to fil the space just for the sake of it.

However, one cost-effective solution that has proven popular with clients is turning such areas into training/ presentation space. This creates a valuable additional resource within an organisation and can also be a rewarding fiancial investment.

According to the UK Commission’s Employer Skills Survey, the UK workforce spends 115 million days each year undertaking training. Many of these training days involve a car or train journey to a different location, a paid for lunch and associated hotel costs, either for room hire or overnight accommodation. These extras really add up and in many cases cost more than the training itself.

Although Toolshed specialises in creating exhibition and event stands, we have noticed increasing demand from companies that want to make more effective use of spare space by transforming it into training facilities. Many clients report that they have been able to reduce training costs by up to 50% by staging events in-house. However, others are deterred by the thought of potential disruption during the conversion process – or by the initial cost involved.

Meeting changing needs

The good news is that these projects can usually be managed quite easily. One we did recently for the National Grid involved converting a sizeable area that had previously been used as the emergency gas supply control room.

In the decades since its original installation, the equipment needed to do the job had shrunk and, as each piece of equipment was replaced, the amount of space required went down. Eventually, the equipment was relocated to a smaller, completely self-suffiient space, with its own power and water supply and suffiient supplies to maintain operations in the case of a natural disaster or nuclear strike.

This left 255 square metres of free space and nothing to go inside it – until the company decided to transform the space into a training venue able to accommodate up to 180 delegates seated theatre-style. Flexibility was a key part of the design; none of the seating was fied and tables could be moved around easily to suit a variety of requirements.

From the initial approach to the ‘grand opening’, the process took just under fie months, including the initial concept and layout stages. Planning around the structure was carried out by architects and consulting engineers Pick Everard. We also worked with Demark Building Services, who were responsible for all physical changes to infrastructure including any electrical work.

After the space was completed, it was used on a daily basis mainly for internal training, including health and safety, technical updates and customer service. The room was also used for social events and departmental awards ceremonies, saving the company hundreds of thousands of pounds in hotel room hire and associated costs. Despite the fact that from the outset the conversion had been planned as a temporary solution (the site was later demolished to make way for a totally new construction), the company felt that it represented great value for money and fulfiled a defiite need.

Identifying areas for development

Every organisation is different and has specific requirements, but if you are looking around your property portfolio for suitable spaces to develop, there are some key points to consider:

  1. The space can be in areas where you wouldn’t normally base staff. We converted an underground area that would have made an unpleasant offie but worked perfectly as a training room complete with sophisticated AV equipment.
  2. Ideally the area should be clear of pillars or obstructions to enable clear views of speakers and to facilitate communication.
  3. Consider parking. Is there enough or is public transport available nearby? The space might be perfect, but if nobody can get to it easily then it may not be viable.
  4. It’s better to have a large space that can be broken down into smaller spaces (such as breakout rooms) than lots of small rooms off a corridor that will only ever be that. Flexibility is always a valuable commodity in developing space effectively.
  5. If you have a choice of areas, go for the one that is closest to your other sites. If you are a national company with staff working all over the UK, it’s better to have a smaller space in the Midlands than a huge space in Aberdeen.

The decision whether or not to convert an unused space (even for a few years) must always be a fiancial one. But if you work out the potential savings from reduced journey times, hotel room hire, accommodation and catering, the time it takes for a new in-house conference facility to pay for itself could be surprising. Plus, you will have created a valuable asset for your staff and your organisation.

David Priestley is Managing Director of Toolshed Communications. When he’s not converting disused buildings into conference facilities, he’s travelling around the world setting up exhibitions and conferences.

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