How we work with Charities and Not for Profit organisations

With considerable experience of working with charities to help them make best use of their office space, Constructive Space has noticed a substantial shift in the way that charities and not-for-profit organisations think about their workspace.

Constructive Space has a long relationship with World Vision, the largest NGO in the world and American owned Christian Charity helping children in the third world through individual sponsorship. The company has fitted out the Charity’s London offices in Victoria as well as numerous projects in Milton Keynes and Stockley Park. They have also worked with Macmillan, The Vineyard Church and The Investment Association to provide them with workplaces that enhance staff well-being and ensure the balance is maintained between comfort and spend.

The message is that good workplace design can boost productivity, aid communications and foster innovation. Meanwhile research suggests that unpleasant surroundings can slash productivity by a fifth, as well as lead to an increase in employee stress levels. A well-planned office can support new and alternative ways of working such as hotdesking - where employees don’t have their own permanent desks - and flexible employment patterns. The interior design can also promote the corporate image of an organisation. These can be achieved by transforming space through use of colour, graphics, lighting, interior architecture, and furniture, to name but a few.

In short, workplace design can make a charity much more attractive to staff, stakeholders and visitors. It’s a must in today’s competitive market to attract and retain key workers, not to mention the need to stand out in an increasingly crowded sector. In the UK, there are more than 160,000 charitable organisations and having a distinctive workplace can help with brand differentiation.

Of course, there’s a careful balance to be struck. The vast majority of charities wouldn’t want to give the impression that too much precious funding has been diverted to pay for new deep-pile carpets, luxury Italian sofas and chrome-plated coffee machines. It’s about maintaining a balance between not appearing to be too opulent while creating an inspirational working environment. For example, when Constructive Space was asked to design new offices for the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), it had to create a workspace that was functional, attractive and motivational - yet with a standard of fit-out commensurate with CAF’s charitable status. A dynamic and productive ambience was created by effective use of natural light - which also helps to cut energy usage.

Investing in good workplace design can help to make best use of supporters’ money. For example, embracing new ways of working often means that less space is required. And less space means lower costs, in terms of rent and maintenance.

So, what should the effective workspace for charities look like? There are as many solutions as there are charities, but consideration should be given to a few common issues. The overarching question to ask is: What makes a successful working environment?

The answers to this are many and varied. However, most workspaces considered to be a success share similar features: They support an organisation’s business strategy, facilitate its functions while motivating and inspiring its staff. A successful workspace can reinforce an organisation’s vision and values, be flexible to change and make best use of supporters’ money.

One of the first questions to ask is how will the charity use their workspace. For most organisations, a hybrid solution is probably most appropriate, somewhere between a traditional, completely fixed, work-place and the other extreme of a totally flexible interior. Incorporating flexibility can make a real difference to how an organisation copes with short-term change.

For one London-based aid charity, massive fluctuations in the number of staff requiring desk space are a fact of life. The recent refurbishment of the charity’s workspace by Constructive accommodated this: When a disaster strikes, the number of office desks diminishes as employees and volunteers are sent to the disaster zone.

Moving to more open-plan and flexible space offers many benefits. Not only does it make better use of space but also supports better communication between staff, and the sharing of information. However, making the leap from traditional cellular office to open-plan space littered with bean bags can be a major upheaval for an organisation in the short-term. Such change needs to be planned and managed carefully, so that staff feel a sense of belonging to the new workspace, and know how to use it properly.

When planning a workplace, it’s important to get the big picture right. This means paying attention to “invisible” aspects of a scheme - such as IT and communications - as much as “visible” factors such as furniture and desk layout. With technology changing at an accelerating pace, and many charities working internationally with a dispersed team of volunteers and staff, it’s vital to incorporate the “right” IT and communications systems - and plan for expansion.

Choice of colours and use of graphics can assist in reinforcing a charity’s brand identity. While largely “internal facing” to staff, this can also be used to communicate a charity’s vision, mission and culture to visitors and stakeholders such as supporters, institutions and trustees. This is becoming ever more important in a competitive - and increasingly design-savvy - market. Reinforcing the unique passion of an organisation in the scheme design can make a real difference to exciting, motivating and inspiring staff and visitors alike.

Even small details can make all the difference. Particularly in London, many charities have a young work-force, with many staff cycling to work. Providing somewhere to “park” cycles, as well as changing rooms with showers, can make a real difference as to whether a charity can attract and retain new talent.

Environmental factors are becoming an increasingly important design consideration - and not just for charities involved in “green” issues. For example, it might be possible to reuse existing furniture and fittings in a new workplace, recycling unwanted pieces and only disposing of items where absolutely necessary. Only after these considerations have been fully explored should it be necessary to think about buying new furniture. Or it might be possible to source sustainable alternatives for a wide range of products including carpets and wall finishes, perhaps using locally-certified products wherever possible.

Energy usage can also be reduced in many cases, using natural light, low-energy fittings and an effective facilities management system. At Constructive Space, we also believe that simple considerations for choice of products and functionality of a scheme can cut water usage by a third. Indeed, there are many options for the procurement of furniture and fittings. The solution can be tailored to provide the optimum balance between budget, function, sustainability and aesthetic considerations.

As well as green issues, broader considerations regarding corporate responsibility are increasingly important. Constructive Space understand that operations - and those of our clients - impact not only on the environment but also on the people employed and the wider community. It’s vital to ensure that these impacts are as positive as possible.

It’s by thinking of the bigger picture that charities can really benefit. And this usually means sourcing a complete turnkey solution to deliver a workplace design and fit-out project. After all, most charities don’t have the expertise - or a facilities manager - to make it happen.

What they say

We go the extra mile:

Simon Barker, CFO of CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project, runs the global disclosure system that enables companies, cities, states and regions to measure and manage their environmental impacts) had this to say about working with Constructive Space on their recent relocation: “CDP had an exacting brief that combined minimising cost with a tight timetable for our not-for-profit’s move. They avoided the hyperbole of others we asked to quote, went the extra mile to deliver exactly what we wanted, made valuable introductions and in addition found us some free furniture and carpeting. Highly recommended.”

Jack Knight, COO of The Investment Association said: “Constructive Space was an excellent partner to work with on our 10,500 square foot City office refurbishment project. First of all, they got the essentials right: the project was on time, on budget and finished to a high quality. Beyond that, they brought a wealth of design, technical and practical expertise and experience that has translated into very high levels of satisfaction for both our staff and numerous visitors. They carried out the work with great flexibility and little disturbance, while paying heed to economy and efficiency at all times. I would recommend them.”

Ian Turvey, Central Services Manager, World Vision UK said: “Many thanks for the donation of the unwanted furniture from your Holborn offices. Staff now arrive early to ‘bag’ one of your recycled chairs! World Vision is a Christian International Aid and Development Charity, and we Value our People. We come together regularly for staff meeting (weekly most of our 200+ staff gather) in this space, as well as hosting many peer agency meetings outside of London. We also have a Church that meets here at weekends and some evenings, who utilise this resource as well. So, thank you very much (The Investment Association) for donating these items, they will be very well used.”

Chris Lane, Senior Pastor, The Vineyard Church “A huge thank you for the carpet tiles. As you know we are in the middle of an exciting expansion program, to better serve our community. The flooring alone is going to cost us somewhere in the region of £60K, so your generous gift is most welcome, and will free up funds for other parts of the project.”

Constructive Space not only have a significant charity and not-for-profit client base but are fully committed to supporting charities in any way possible. The company recently announced its support of the MS Trust as their charity of the year. The MS Trust is a national charity dedicated to helping people living with multiple sclerosis across the UK. The aim is to raise £10,000 in the year. You can donate by clicking on the link on the Constructive Space website: