For any company starved for office space, a demand to increase headcount poses an interesting conundrum. How can a company incorporate new workers into its existing footprint while keeping costs at bay?
Increasing its static density (the space per square foot dedicated for each work station) may help a company drive down costs, but it can also undermine worker productivity and performance.
Once workers are dynamic in the way that they use space, then it becomes quite straightforward to recapture latent underutilized space.
While it can be challenging to balance space utilization on a limited budget, it isn’t impossible, according to CBRE Research.
Implementing a policy of “dynamic density” gives employees the flexibility to work in various parts of the office as opposed to being assigned a fixed desk. Desk-sharing can also help drive down the cost per employee and promote productivity, says CBRE Research in its report, “Space Utilization: The Next Frontier.”
“Once workers are dynamic in the way that they use space, then it becomes quite straightforward to recapture latent underutilized space,” writes Dr. Henry Chin, head of research for CBRE in Asia Pacific. “When executed well, this approach improves the real estate bottom line while enhancing overall employee productivity, performance and engagement.”
Don’t turn to quick fixes
The CBRE Research report found that many companies turned to “quick fixes” when faced with workplace density issues, such as replacing cubicles with bench desks, and removing meeting rooms and collaboration spaces and replacing them with more desks.
The motivations behind these moves are due to a variety of factors, including the nature of the work, the size of the organization, and the use of space as an award to employees (e.g., rewarding a senior executive with a larger office).
But those types of changes often lead to a reduction in the average square foot per desk. For example, in Hong Kong, the square foot per desk has been significantly reduced to 60 square feet from 100 square feet in the last decade. (There were similar ratios for Japan and South Korea.) Reducing this space below 60 square feet will create a “productivity danger zone,” says CBRE Research, and could negatively impact staff performance and employee retention.
Smaller desk sizes also often translate into louder workplaces and more distractions. Rather than squeeze as many workers as possible into existing footprints, companies should instead explore other areas that are underutilized and have the potential to be used in creative ways, the report finds.
Prepare a mobility strategy that targets underutilized space
In the event a company needs more space to accommodate a considerable increase in employees, it can find new workspace in underused rooms like meeting spaces.
Emphasis should be placed on increasing the number of smaller meeting areas and collaborative spaces.
Oftentimes, meeting rooms are larger than necessary. On average, 59 percent of all meetings involve two to three people, but most take place in six-person meeting rooms, according to CBRE Research. Globally, meeting room utilization averages 30 percent, says CBRE Research, which also found that meeting rooms are most heavily utilized on Tuesdays and least on Fridays.
Given the preponderance of smaller meetings, Chin argues that the emphasis should be placed on increasing the number of smaller meeting areas and collaborative spaces.
“Some of these rooms could be reassigned to support focused and private work activities,” says Chin.
Align the workplace with organizational objectives
Workers across the globe are spending a lot of time—85 percent of their day—sitting individually at their desks. Staying tethered to one’s workstation can result in less collaboration among colleagues and managers. At the same time, “Greater consideration should be given to more quiet and undistracted spaces for focused work, especially in dense open plan offices,” adds Chin.
The question most companies should be asking themselves is how their employees work and what their organizational objectives and imperatives are.
“It is only by aligning these two fundamental perspectives that companies can implement a workspace strategy capable of achieving a cost-effective business transformation,” says Chin.