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The average office space per employee has been a moving target for years. It has been shrinking over the past decade as flexible workspace trends have called for fewer private offices and cubicles in favor of more open, collaborative areas.
Now, as employers focus on maintaining an appropriate physical distance between workspaces, it’s increasing again. While there are some guidelines you can follow, the decision of how much office space to allocate depends on your company and the needs of your workforce.
In a recent webinar, Adam Stoltz, firmwide Director of Consulting for HOK, discussed five factors every workplace leader should consider as they plan their future office.
Employees use office space differently depending on the work they’re doing. For instance, attorneys at a law firm typically work independently or host meetings with important clients in the office. They may need more square footage per person. Prior to COVID-19, salespeople and consultants traveled more frequently, so they generally needed less office space. Employees who do a lot of creative work may spend more time collaborating on projects, so they need more meeting space than dedicated desk space.
However, since most organizations have a mix of people in different roles, it would be wise to offer different types of spaces.
In previous years, workplace design studies concluded that the average office space per employee was about 75 to 150 square feet, according to JLL. Now, in the midst of a pandemic, JLL reports the average amount of space per employee in 2020 was 196 square feet.
That includes dedicated desk space and the space surrounding it, and should also take into account the amount of space in meeting rooms and common areas.
If you want more detailed recommendations, commercial real estate network Office Finder has an office space calculator and guidelines for common types of spaces. They include:
To keep employees safe in the office, your workspaces will most likely need more distance between them. JLL recommends planning to increase the size of your average workspace per person by about 50%.
Fortunately, our new office space planning feature, Space-Right™, makes this easy.
You can set your distancing parameters, and the algorithm will create “circles of safety” around each workstation. This helps you immediately identify which spaces are potentially unsafe and need to be reconfigured. You can even generate new floor plans automatically within the software.
Additionally, you can map new seating scenarios or assign employees to alternating shifts so they can keep the same desks and use them part time.
And if you’re concerned about too many people gathering in common areas like stairways or hallways, you can use the software to measure the distance between two points. This helps you determine how to adjust the flow of traffic. If your lobby is too small to accommodate a crowd, you can use signs to stagger people and limit lines to just a few people.
In addition to considering health and safety as you decide how much office space you need per employee, you’ll also need to pay attention to other emerging trends.
That includes an increase in the number of people working remotely, the purpose of your office, and environmental, governance, and social issues.
As Stoltz said in the webinar, returning to the office of yesterday is not the answer. We need a new system where the office is replaced with an “ecosystem of spaces.”
Your company’s headquarters should remain the hub for collaborative activities, but many employees will also continue working from home. They need the flexibility to work efficiently at both places, but some may also need spaces in between. Employees who have a long commute but find it hard to focus at home may prefer to work at a nearby coworking space or satellite office. If you lease several smaller spaces, it may be easier to manage costs as your company’s needs change.
Or, if you’re hosting larger company meetings or training sessions and you’re concerned your office space won’t be large enough to accommodate a growing team, consider renting a conference room at a nearby hotel instead.
As Stoltz put it, “Access is the new ownership. If you don’t need to own it, then don’t. Consider leveraging the community, shared economy, or emerging membership models to meet your needs.”
To make this new model effective, he said, workplace leaders need to consider how often employees use the spaces available to them and the primary purpose of those spaces. This is likely to evolve as employees return to the office after almost a year of working remotely.
“We know that the hub needs to be a place that delivers culture and supports innovation,” he said. “I think one of the important considerations for the future of the hub has to do with an expectation that when people show up, the greatest likelihood is that if yesterday nine out of 10 or 19 out of 20 people involved in an activity were physically present for that moment — face-to-face in that room or in that building — there is a very good likelihood that in a year's time, no more than half of people are participating in that same activity in that same place at that same time.”
For instance, a conference room where 10 people used to meet weekly may only have five people physically present, while the other five team members are calling in.
As a result, you may not need additional office space for your growing company but you might need to upgrade your conference room technology.
You also need to think about what employees want and need when they come to the office. While some employees believe they have become more productive while working from home, not everyone agrees. Surveys show most want to spend at least part of their week in the office.
In the latest PwC survey, 50% of employees reported the primary reason they wanted to go to the office was to collaborate with others.
Thirty-eight percent said they are struggling to balance work with their responsibilities at home, including childcare.
Others said they went to the office to use equipment like printers or access paper files because their work hadn’t been fully digitized.
As a result of more employees working remotely, one-third of executives said they anticipate needing less office space in the next three years. However, over half estimate the amount of space they need will increase.
Twenty-six percent said they planned to increase their office space per employee by 5-15%. Another 15% said they would increase it by up to 25%, while 9% said they would increase their space by more than 25%.
To make the most of the office space you have, make sure it’s designed in a way that supports employees’ needs for collaborative and quiet work.
It should be a space that inspires creativity, with access to natural light and even outdoor areas if possible.
It should also include user-friendly technology that helps employees easily find and reserve the spaces they need to to their best work.
Learn more about how we can help you plan for and manage your return in a way that's more scalable and strategic than traditional space planning. Schedule a free 15 minute consultation to talk with one of our workplace experience experts.
Mike Petrusky is host of the “Workplace Innovator Podcast” and Director of Events and Growth Marketing at iOFFICE. He joined iOFFICE in March of 2018 with a mission to energize the company’s live events. He is a dynamic speaker, podcaster, and seasoned marketer who has a passion for sharing iOFFICE’s unique brand of thought leadership to CRE & FM leaders in the digital workplace.