Communicating through Surveys

By Vischer, Jacqueline C. | Journal of Property Management, May-June 1991 | Go to article overview

Communicating through Surveys


Vischer, Jacqueline C., Journal of Property Management


In corporate America today, there is a trend towards defining office space not just as the physical place for getting work done, but also as an active tool for increasing the efficiency and productivity of the organization. An important part of this trend is skilled management of the relationship between tenants, as users of office buildings, and the physical environment of the buildings themselves.

Tenants rely on good communication with budding management to control their environment and to take advantage of its potential to increase organizational efficiency. In response, managers are increasingly developing tools to manage the complex relationship between building occupants and their physical environment.

Among the tools available to management as they move into the "communicator" role is the questionnaire survey. The appeal of a well-executed survey is threefold. It provides systematic feedback on issues of concern to management in a form which can be organized and analyzed. Second, initiating a survey implies a proactive concern for the quality of occupants' experiences in the building, rather than one that is reactive. Third, and most important perhaps, survey results can open a door to a variety of communication possibilities between tenants and managers.

The rouge of survey options

What kinds of issues can be addressed through occupant surveys? Information from building users may be sought to assist and advise new tenants during tenant build-out of new office space - identifying work-group needs; anticipating power utilization and communications requirements; and planning storage, social, and other support space in the office. Survey data might also be applied to solving building-related problems, such as complaints about ventilation, noise, or safety.

Systematic information from users can help building managers determine what is wrong more precisely than a simple reliance on complaints. This knowledge in turn can help managers set priorities on how and when solutions should be implemented and how to spend repair and maintenance dollars for the maximum beneficial effect on occupants.

When it comes to negotiating lease renewals, building owners may use a survey to help tenants anticipate their future needs and to plan ways of accommodating them. In enabling tenants to make their requirements explicit, managers can determine how best to respond within the context of the building. From the tenant's perspective, information on space-use and environmental requirements can help identify new office space and allow for more effective lease negotiations.

Why surveys fail

Questionnaire surveys do not always live up to expectations, mainly because they are not carried out correctly. For example, questionnaires are often too long. This discourages people from filling them out and provides an unwieldy amount of data if they do. When respondents do not fill out their questionnaires or if the data cannot be analyzed, the results are poor and yield little in the way of useful information.

Even if questionnaires are successfully administered, the data analysis is often harder than anticipated. A big problem is identifying the exact meaning of the questions asked - there are often unsuspected ambiguities in survey design. Another is understanding how to relate the answers of one question to the answers of another in a way that tells you something you did not already know. For example, by relating occupants' low thermal comfort ratings to location in the building, particular floors or HVAC zones can be highlighted as problem areas.

For many discouraged survey users, surveys mean a great deal of trouble to find out the obvious. Managers are often suspicious of surveys of building occupants because they may raise people's expectations about the solutions to their building problems.

Property managers fear that once tenants' opinions are solicited, they expect to see management solve all their problems. …

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