An Interview with Pierre Ferrandon, Research, Development and Client Relations at Studio DB

Pierre's role at Studio DB covers a few parts of Studio DB's client services delivery. With over a decade of experience in the industry, he shares vital knowledge on how companies should adapt to the upcoming changes in the New Zealand market.
23 Feb
Studio DB

Firstly, tell us about yourself and your role at Studio DB

The first part of my role is looking after the research and market trends, which is a big part of our offering. I am essentially exploring how we can leverage the multitude of data points that we capture from our client’s projects, and market trends both locally and internationally to enrich our data-driven approach to design and deliver at scale.

The second part of my role is about supporting our larger clients on their workplace strategy, utilizing over a decade of international experience to help them to transform how they approach the new world of work and how they align their workspace design with their people and business objectives.

On a personal level, I am passionate about transforming the office industry from being a necessary cost for companies to becoming a tool to drive productivity, increase staff well-being, and deliver sustainable outcomes.  

In my spare time, I enjoy sailing, surfing, and playing live music in a blues band.

What attracted you to work at Studio DB?

In my previous role, I was working as the managing director for the New Zealand branch of a large multinational. After ten years there, I suddenly realised that my personal values did not align with those of my employer at all. That realization led me to resign in January 2020 and as you can imagine, this was not the best of times to be transitioning to a new role. But serendipity, I had an interview in April that year and the rest is history.  

As much as the adaptation from a large multinational to a local family business was a challenge at first, the alignment I found between Studio DB’s purpose, mission, vision, and values with my own is what drove me to stay and push forward. Almost three years later, I can say this is the company I have enjoyed working for the most.

The commercial real estate industry is full of smoke and mirrors, and it is rewarding to be able to challenge that in a company that supports clients with true honest and transparent advice, whilst really focusing on delivering a return on investment for the companies we work with as opposed to just a solution that is aesthetically pleasing.

You have worked in the industry in multiple countries before landing in New Zealand. With your overseas hat on, what do you see as the biggest trends impacting the workplace in the next decade and how should companies adapt to the upcoming changes?

There are quite a few trends emerging at the moment, but they can all to some degree be consolidated into one: A drive for efficiencies. Now, this can be seen as a bad word, but I am not talking about efficiencies from a pure cost standpoint, I am talking about efficiencies around the topics of sustainability, staff engagement, workspace delivery models, and ROI.  

For a very long time, the office has been (and this is particularly true in New Zealand), a place where people come to do their work irrespective of what their work is. There was never really the question about the why: why do we need an office? Every company’s executives assumed that an office was needed and the approach to design was one based on the look & feel rather than a serious data-based / outcome-driven methodology.  

We are currently seeing macroeconomic forces driving a tidal wave of change: Flexible working is now not only possible but permissible leading to record low office utilization levels, on average just below 20%. Sustainability is becoming a key driver in talent attraction with the emergence of conscious quitting. Finally, economic headwinds are also putting pressure on CFOs to find cost reductions.

All of this combined, there is a fantastic opportunity to completely rethink the workspace and design solutions that are people, environment, and ROI centric, with employee engagement as a core focus. I often compare it to the car industry: In the second half of the 20th century, car design was about size, comfort, and looks. Now it is about efficiency to the point that even the car ownership model is in question. I think the same is happening to the office, with the competition of working from driving demand for office solutions that really address the question of ‘what is the role of the office in my organization rather than how many people I need to accommodate?’ The office experience needs to deliver real productivity benefits that the home office cannot do.

You mention record low office utilization as a result of the adoption of a hybrid work pattern. What impact will this have on the supply of commercial buildings?

I work in the office industry, but I advocate for fewer office buildings. I think when we witness such low levels of office utilization, we should be thinking about how to create buildings that are utilized more rather than building more buildings. In the US there is approximately 1 trillion US or 30% of the total office stock about to become obsolete due to the change in demand. If you were a CFO and you had leased assets with a rate of utilization of 20%, you would certainly consider that a horrendous performance from an efficiency standpoint.  

I think landlords will need to adapt and create buildings that really promote shared amenities like integrated serviced offices and co-working, shared internet infrastructure, and further integration in the fit-out delivery model.  

They will also need to ensure their buildings are sustainable and from that point increasing utilization is probably the factor that will have the most impact. If you can increase utilization, not by forcing more people into the office but by adopting an “as a service” model for a portion of the building footprint, then that means we will need to build fewer offices to accommodate the same number of staff, therefore less impact on the environment.

It is in some ways quite similar to the software industry. Nowadays no company would think about building a custom-made CRM, you just go to Salesforce and consume it as a service so the cost of the resources needed to build the CRM can be spread across multiple clients, therefore, improving efficiency.

It is a big piece of work that requires a mindset change, but I think as more and more climate-related challenges arise the change will happen faster and faster. As we say in French: “Necessity is the mother of all inventions”

You pointed out the obsolescence of 30% of office buildings as the change in demand is pushing for better quality, however, how can the average business afford the premium associated with quality?

Well, it is actually pretty simple. For example, if your company is currently paying say $600 per sqm per annum (rent, opex, fit-out depreciation) but only utilizing 20% of each sqm. By adopting workspace design solutions that enable this utilization to double, then you will need only half of the sqm you were using previously. Therefore, you could afford a workspace that costs $1,200 per sqm per annum. It is all about changing the mindset and working with partners who can innovate and help drive change.

To cap off our discussion, what advice do you have for business and property leaders to consider for the future of their workspace?

Invest time in understanding your people in relation to the office, understanding the why first before thinking about the how. Think outside the box and innovate, collect and use the data to inform design, and don’t be afraid to adopt bold strategies. A few years ago, no one was thinking that electric cars would be a thing, no one was thinking that space travel could be economical, and look where we are now.

Very exciting times are ahead indeed, and I am looking forward to being a part of this change.

Want to see more?

View all
Let's chat
Arrow in circle