The Modern Office, Where Space Counts
“Size isn’t everything,” goes the saying but apparently size is everything according to a recent report from the British Council of Offices (BCO). Everything seems to be getting smaller and supposedly more efficient and South African remarkable similar.
Looking at how office space is carved up, it’s up to the business decision maker to find a balance between ‘too much’ and ‘not enough’ space in order to facilitate productive, heads-down, focused work and supply a variety of team spaces that foster collaboration.
77% of the properties sampled by the BCO had a density of 7-12 sqm per workstation, 5% between 5 and 7 sqm (now that’s a squeeze,) and 18% had 14-38 sqm.
The skewed distribution around the 11.8 sqm mean indicates that occupiers are generally driving space hard, with the exception of the legal profession which sits at 20.9 sqm, probably indicating the continued reluctance by some in the profession to relinquish their personal offices.
What’s universal is the missing element of how much the individual workstations are used and, therefore, the efficiency of the overall floor space.
Employees today often feel as though the walls are closing in around them. And, the truth is: they are. Workstations are shrinking, technology is smaller and sleeker, collaboration is the new buzzword, and it’s now possible for employees to work from home. These changes have had a dramatic effect on how and where people work, as well as the allocation of space in the modern office.
The PC has shrunk; Computers no longer determine the formation of workstations.
“What is bigger than a bread box, smaller than your office chair, and weighs the same as an average 5-year-old child? If your guess is a PC monitor from 1990, you’re right.” Michael Schirnig
In the short amount of time that the PC has been around, it has changed dramatically (not just in terms of its capabilities, but in terms of its appearance, too). Slimmer flat screens and the proliferation of laptops and iPads means workstations don’t have to be as deep or as large, in particular if workers don’t have to have access a huge amount of filling/“stuff” around them.
Increasing privacy and collaboration in open-plan offices; More team space is designed into office space – sometimes at the expense of individual-workstation size.
The notion of collaboration is more in vogue, as is the amount of space devoted to it and some companies have reduced individual workspace size in order to facilitate the team spaces within the same overall size premises.
The result of increased workstation densities and employees working in closer proximity is communication – much to the benefit and bane of workers. More interaction facilitates collaboration, synergy, and brainstorming, but it also creates distraction.
Aside from designated rooms for collaboration, designers are factoring in comfortable furnishings to the places where people naturally congregate – outside lift lobbies, stairwells, kitchens and copy/fax/printer stations to facilitate informal, short-term collaborations.
The increasingly mobile Employee; Alternative office strategies mean smaller drop-in workstations, satellite centres, and an overall reduction in real estate.
Studies done on workstation usage typically indicate relatively little time is spent by staff at their desks – perhaps 40% on an average day. The balance is spent in meetings, discussion groups, sales calls etc – but essentially away from their workstations.
While not a huge factor in SA yet, in the UK and USA where office rental rates can be 10-12 times higher than in SA, this has been quite widely adopted – Sun Microsystems’ iWork programme has a target of reducing their ratio of desks-per-employee to 0.8, and has already saved them $50 million/annum on their way to a savings target of $140 million/annum.
Although it’s not possible to predict future workspace design changes, the interest in designing offices as efficiently as possible is not likely to wane.
When workspaces don’t work, employees can’t work, either.