Space Utilization Trends for 2020 and Beyond: Key Insights

by Glenn Hicks on October 30, 2019

In the past, corporate real estate leaders focused primarily on costs when making workplace design and space utilization decisions. Now, we’ve reached a new era.

The very definition of the workplace has evolved, and the characteristics that make an exceptional work environment have changed as well. CRE leaders need to consider how the office environment impacts the health and happiness of employees as well as how it affects costs and employee productivity.

HOK Forward, the latest workplace research and trends report, showcases this transformation and what it means for workplace leaders and employees.

Here are a few key takeaways from the report.

3 Major Space Utilization Trends Coming To Your Workplace

The Growth Of Flexible Spaces and Coworking

For most professionals, “work” is no longer a destination or a fixed schedule. The idea of work-life balance has been replaced by work-life fluidity, recognizing that these two realms have merged in most people’s lives.

To accommodate this simultaneous need and desire for mobility and versatility, business leaders are adopting more agile work environments such as hot desking, office hoteling, activity-based working and, increasingly, coworking.

When coworking started gaining traction in the early 2000s, coworking spaces were predominantly occupied by freelancers and small business owners. And while these types of professionals are still frequent coworkers, a growing percentage of coworking members are corporate employees. Why would this be? Because employees enjoy working in the space and employers benefit from having them work there.

Online coworking magazine Deskmag reports that 71% of coworking employees say they’re more productive in a coworking space and 62% believe the quality of their work is better. For employers, using these spaces allows them to lease less permanent real estate and also provides an overflow space when the size of their workforce is in flux.

Plus, employees who are given the option to work remotely at least one to two days a week report feeling more engaged in their jobs than those who are required to come into the workplace every day. Higher engagement leads to higher retention, which in turn reduces recruiting costs.

In addition to renting third-party coworking spaces, HOK reports that an increasing number of companies, including Capital One, Google, Microsoft and AT&T, are incorporating coworking elements into their own workplaces. In the spirit of coworking, these spaces are designed to encourage interaction and collaboration and foster a sense of community among employees. According to HOK, the growth of coworking as a business model and an approach to space utilization shows no signs of slowing.

Work and Space Fusion

As technology continues to blur the lines between an employee’s professional and personal lives, employers are finding new ways to make that transition more seamless. This includes providing consumerized workplace technology and employee experience mobile apps that mirror the everyday applications employees use outside the office as well as incorporating design elements from other industries into the workplace.

HOK refers to this space utilization strategy as “space fusion” and explains it “provides a rich variety of experiences within a work environment.”

Here are a few examples of how different industries are shaping company leaders’ approach to the workplace:


Airport design is based on flow: the flow of people, the flow of information, the flow of traffic. The goal is for travelers to navigate throughout the space and get answers to questions as quickly and as easily as possible. Innovative companies are applying these same ideas to their workplaces with wayfinding, digital signage and layouts that follow a logical pattern, such as office neighborhoods.

Higher Education

Career development and opportunities for knowledge transfer are two things young professionals value highly. To compete for top talent, companies are creating more spaces inspired by learning environments, such as training rooms and places for teams from different departments to gather and share their insights.


The focus of the hospitality industry is comfort, convenience and personalization. Hospitality professionals are dedicated to accommodating their customers and providing an exceptional experience. Forward-thinking companies are taking a page from this playbook and incorporating more casual and cozier lounge areas into their workplaces. They’re also using technology to collect data about employee behavior and preferences and leveraging this to tailor the workplace to the workforce’s needs.

Kay Sargent, senior principal and director of HOK’s global WorkPlace practice, refers to this fusion as “corporatality.”

Experiential Workplace Design

Similar to space fusion, experiential design involves making decisions with the entire workplace experience in mind.

According to Sodexo, experiential design “creates a coherent and immersive workplace with the purpose of making people’s lives easier and more enjoyable. It examines every aspect, exchange and encounter in the working day and uses data insights to optimize and personalize these moments.”

In order to take a genuinely experiential approach to space utilization, HOK recommends abiding by three rules. The first is “keep it real,” which involves starting every workplace design initiative by asking the question, “What would be right for our people and how we work?” Rather than blindly applying the latest design trends, your changes must be inspired by what will best serve your workforce and represent your culture.

The second rule is to design for business strategy. Again, this approach starts by asking, “what do we want to accomplish through our workplace design? Consolidate space? Increase collaboration? Update our corporate image? Define your objective and then build the workplace that can help you achieve it.

Finally, ensure your workplace is an authentic reflection of your brand identity, including your culture, history, values and mission. As a physical representation of your entire company, the message your workplace conveys has a significant effect on both employee retention and client acquisition, so make sure that message is positive and accurate.

Adopting an experiential design strategy allows you to create a workplace where employees form genuine connections with one another and connect in meaningful ways.

At the heart of each of these space utilization trends is a commitment to the workplace experience. Employers who understand how critical the workplace experience is to the success of the business and take steps to make it extraordinary will be well positioned in 2020.


Glenn Hicks

A member of the Business Development team, Glenn has years of experience with business process improvement on the Commercial Real Estate and Facilities Management sides.

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