By: Meredith Goldberg, Susan Pelczynski, Jill Switzer, and Kaitlin Bonney
Should you stay or should you go?
It’s a question many businesses ask when their lease terms are up for renewal or their staff counts are growing. Should you move to a bigger space or adapt to the one you have?
It’s why we’re asked so often about the standard ratio of square footage to head count. The standard can vary and opportunity lies in how we get creative with making office space more efficient and functional.
The first thing to take a look at is utilization rates, or how people actually use your space. For example, studies show that on average, 50% – 70% of enclosed offices go unused throughout the day. Employees continue to store their personal items in their offices, while they are working in other locations, such as conference rooms, work sessions, lounge areas or off site much of the day. For some businesses, this makes offices somewhat underutilized and expensive containers.
To start assessing this utilization, we begin with a questionnaire to your team members. The goal is to find out how often they’re in the office, how long they’re at their desk working, versus the time their office is left unoccupied.
Because most workers aren’t in the habit of monitoring their work routines, we also want to couple this with third-party observational studies. This often reveals a lot about how many impromptu meetings take place in the hallway, how much time is spent doing independent work, and where there is opportunity for certain spaces to serve multiple functions.
Finally, there is the high-tech route. You can install discreet sensors at workstation seating. This gathers hard data about how much time people spend at their desks, utilizing their space.
Once you’ve assessed how people are using different areas, you can evaluate various workplace strategies to recapture unutilized space. These might be anything from hoteling options to micro-offices, conference rooms that can also serve as touch down locations, or open lounge areas and shared library spaces.
When you’ve identified strategies you’d like to test, consider launching a pilot program before rolling out to the rest of the staff. The “open office” design concept of recent years asked many people to step a bit too far outside of their comfort zone, so testing proves to employees that they’ll still have space for privacy and focus.
If you offer enough choices, fear goes down. In our experience, even people who didn’t volunteer for the pilot program spaces end up working in them!
That said, you can probably expect that implementing changes will be a 12-18 month progression, not an overnight change, and that assessing utilization even after rolling out test strategies will show there is even more space that can be recaptured.
Just remember that most people don’t want large swaths of open space. They want little groupings and divided areas tucked away to have a sense of back and forth between open and enclosed areas.
What you may find is that a more collaborative, choice-based work environment will lure your location-independent employees back to the office. This leads to more innovative ideas and stronger bonds between co-workers. This can also improve employee retention and well-being, all while helping you reduce your real estate footprint and control overhead costs.