As Al Aqili gears up to this year's Office Expo, Mohammed Abdul Muktadeer discusses office trends.
The coming year sets to keep fit-out companies busy, as more and more office space becomes available in the GCC marketplace.
Officeland is a division of Al Aqili Furnishings and can provide its clients with a range of services, from full turnkey solutions to sole furniture fit-outs. It was opened just three years ago in 2005 and has since, grown to establish itself as a leading fit-out contractor to both new builds and existing buildings.
For its sales manager, Mohammed Abdul Muktadeer, 2008 sets to be busy with the company branching out to other areas within the GCC including Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar.
"We have recently found a partner in Kuwait to be the exclusive agent for our Mariani products. We now want to find other partners in the GCC and it's my responsibility to ensure that happens," he says.
While business development is a core part of Muktadeer's job, he is also responsible for the sales division and it's here, he enjoys the challenge of educating the clients on design best practice.
"Although most companies know what they are looking for, many still need educating on the benefits behind ergonomic chairs, for example," Muktadeer claims.
A clear example of his drive to ensure staff are well looked after and catered for, is the recent furniture fit-out contract he has completed for the Dhafir Group in Abu Dhabi.
"The company was reluctant to spend money in the back of office areas, but we wanted them to understand how important ergonomic chairs are. The CEO recognised this and made the decision to go ergonomic," he explains.
Other people involved in the educating process include the designers, architects and consultants Muktadeer finds to specify Officeland's products. While he feels that ergonomics is slowly starting to gain momentum in the GCC's office industry, he also sees other trends emerging this year.
With many companies rapidly expanding, businesses that have already budgeted for expansion and are currently situated in a large office, are refurbishing to make the best use of the space available to them. Others are relocating and buying or renting bigger offices that can handle their expansion.
But no matter which category company's fall into, Muktadeer says both areas are slowly choosing to modernise the working environment and opt for flexible furniture that can grow with the company.
"Businesses are starting to look for functionality, something that is user-friendly and ergonomic. People spend a lot of time sitting on chairs and one of the selling points to ergonomic furniture is that it will enhance productivity and help create a more comfortable working environment," he says.
"Companies are increasingly searching for flexible furniture and ease of adding or removing pieces, without changing the overall look and feel."
Companies like Officeland are a great resource for the region's FMs who are tasked with refurbishing existing office space. Muktadeer says he often works closely with a company's FM to ensure the logistics of the refurbishment are carried out well and with as little disruption to the company's working day, as possible.
"It's a challenging task because while companies want their offices to be functional, we have to plan the logistics of dismantling old furnishings and erecting the new stuff. Many of the companies wanting to refurbish are looking for a visual change in identity but the office needs to keep functioning and space is a restriction for us," he explains.
Muktadeer gets around the problem by sectioning the office. While section A is being refurbished, the staff in section A are working in section B. Once complete, the staff will move back to section A and section B will be refurbished. The staff is section B will work in section C and so on.
For those companies looking for new office space, it is worth thinking about the logistics of refurbishment in potential offices for ease, should it be required.
When employed to provide a full turnkey solution for the client in a new build, Officeland often encounters problems with things like the positioning of air conditioning vents or sprinklers. Because of this, Al Aqili has its own in-house engineering team.
"When you do a full turn-key job you often find there's a lot of AC, ducting and sprinkler relocation. We do sub-contract some of the in-house MEP work out but we also use the engineering department," Muktadeer says.
While Officeland itself has a small number of staff, Muktadeer claims the secret to its success lies in the 350-strong workforce Al Aqili employs. "We are able to pull resources from other departments within Al Aqili to ensure we can deliver, as promised, the solution to the client. It's a core strength and how we obtain our manpower," he says.
With rivalry now hotting up in the fit-out sector, when asked about the future of the industry, Muktadeer says he is looking forward to some serious competition.
"With so many offices being built in the region, we see a lot of competition and overseas companies launching into the local furnishings industry.
"The competition is going to be stiff, but it will have a positive impact on the client and they will be able to choose quality products," he concludes.
Job title: Sales manager
Company: Officeland, Al Aqili Furnishings
Based in: Dubai
Time in current role: Two years with Officeland, five years with Al Aqili Furnishings
Number of staff: 350 across Al Aqili
Current projects: Dhafir Group and Dubai Festival City
Most enjoyable part of the job: Travelling, learning and meeting new people