08/10/2010

By Martin Atkinson, Managing Director of PiMS Workspace

In the mid 1990’s, when interest in more flexible ways of working was first aroused, a flurry of forecasters predicted that the workplace as we knew it would soon be replaced by an army of nomadic desk-hoppers, home-workers and paperless processes. While that certainly hasn’t happened yet, there’s little doubt that decentralised working cultures are making radical changes to the traditional office set-up.

A pre-recession explosion in the amount of space committed to by businesses, (often with no long-term strategy) has left many repenting at leisure, as new technologies render cavernous accommodation (invariably the second biggest expense after HR) increasingly redundant.

Now, in a bid to trim the fat wherever possible, space consolidation and optimisation are rising fast to the top of the company agenda once again. By applying some basic strategies it’s possible to quickly create leaner, cost-effective and more intelligently designed offices fit for purpose and able to adapt to future change.

Provide Accurate Data

Devising the right strategy for an organisation’s office space must always start with a comprehensive study into forecasted occupancy, changes in working patterns, office culture and the potential for new working practices. The provision of accurate and abundant accommodation data is key to your boardroom pitch, so make sure it’s up to date.

Consider using specialist providers of data collection and information hosting services to keep your research ordered and easy to access. A dedicated website portal will collect and host all building drawings, office layouts, occupancy details, asset locations and a range of reports for the company. These are very simple to use and can make changes or new reports instantly available to management as the project evolves.

Apply a Density Target

By understanding existing and forecasted headcount and then applying an occupancy density target (square feet per person) you could instantly reduce space requirements by up to 20%. If your current office square meterage divided by the number of employees is anything above 11sq.m. you could be doing better.

Make it Flexible

Establishing more flexibility in the workplace can be the most effective way of reducing overheads, as long as it’s done properly. With potential savings of up to £16,000 per year for each workstation, the immediate benefits are clear. But in the long term it could also improve productivity and will help your organisation to react to the evolving demands of a modern workforce.

Combine your occupancy statistics with an in-depth analysis of each staff-member’s working pattern. This will help you to decipher where it might be possible to introduce smarter working practices such as desk-sharing, hot-desking and working from home.

Remote workers will need to be set up with all the necessary technology, training and access to work anywhere, connecting seamlessly to office systems. Provide nomadic workers with an ‘anchor’ by introducing central banks of portable storage lockers that can be moved to any desk. Giving access to workstations within the employee’s own team area will also help to avoid feelings of isolation and invisibility.

Build Social Capital

Any project involving the reorganisation of space needs to involve the people who inhabit it. Maintain strong lines of communication with employees, to ensure a smooth transition and improve the chances of co-operation, enthusiasm and understanding from the whole team. This might also be invaluable in highlighting problems with the current environment that could have been overlooked, and to ascertain exactly what is needed from the new one. Allocate a steering group, or ‘space champion’ in each department to liaise between management and staff.

One of the biggest challenges can be in altering traditional attitudes towards the office. Older workers in particular may be used to space being allocated as a perk to the most senior people. A clearer understanding of how an open plan design can positively influence information sharing will help. If employees can see management at work, the ‘them-and-us’ divide will shrink, breeding a stronger sense of trust and team spirit. Clearer sightlines and signage throughout the building will also encourage face-to-face collaboration.

Use Intelligent Design

The value of good Interior design for the office is often underestimated, but its influence on staff motivation and company identity can be immense. Look for a design that supports both the development strategy of the business, and the aspirations of the workforce. Efficiency and function is vital, but so are interior schemes and imagery that bring the brand to life.

Soft-seated breakout areas are an increasingly popular way of maximising use of office space while making it more suitable for new working practices. Not only do they serve as social hubs to encourage interaction, they can also be used for informal meetings, as a place for mobile workers to temporarily base themselves and staff will be more likely to stay in the building for lunch (meaning less time taken away from desks).

Where density of workstations has been increased, create the illusion of extra space with a more open plan design, glass partitions and plenty of natural daylight.

As businesses strive to stay within the confines of tight budgets, the temptation is always to select the lowest priced furniture. Base your choices on durability and adaptable shapes instead (e.g. desks that fit together in multiple ways) and there will be no need to acquire replacements when the office moves or circumstances change. By doing your research at the start, any investment made in creating a fully future-ready office can be offset against the savings made on occupancy costs.


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