By Louis White 16 January 2018

As employees demand more mobility, employers are shrinking space requirements per headcount – but the trade-off is greater attention to privacy or collaboration when it’s needed.

The evolution of workplace practices has been aided by technology, resulting in changing office dynamics, which often increases flexibility for both the employee and employer. 

Activity-based working, open plan offices, creative spaces, hot desking, and all the way through to co-working hubs, have been in place for some time. Has the trend towards workers spending less time in the office started to have an impact on companies’ overall space requirements?

“Every client is unique and what each customer needs in terms of space evolves at different rates,” Andy Collins, Head of Office Portfolio, Dexus, says. 

“Employees are afforded more flexibility, which allows for more shared and private spaces within a more condensed workspace.” 

Library zones and quiet rooms offer a greater ability to get away than staying in your office - Bates Smart white paper, ‘The Legal Workforce in 2020’

First, make it look good

A report by Empirica Research, commissioned by Hassell – a leading international design practice with offices around the world – found ‘compelling evidence that links physical workplace environment, [and] office design, to employer attractiveness and therefore successful staff attraction and retention’.

Among the research findings: ‘Workplace aesthetics has a greater influence on job attractiveness than workspace allocation’ (offices versus open plan versus activity based learning), and ‘Appealing workplace facilities consistently doubles the likelihood of a candidate choosing an employer, regardless of the combination of other variables’.

There are also trends emerging that address the health and wellbeing of an individual.

“Companies are assessing the wellness aspects of a building, such as air quality and light penetration, whether it is set up to produce maximum productivity, says Collins.

The design of the office has an immense effect with the Hassell-commissioned research revealing that ‘a creative, modern workplace aesthetic consistently triples the appeal of an employer’s workplace facilities’.

“Flexibility and adaptability is the key for many customers,” Collins says. “Organisations used to refresh their office space every ten years or so, but now we are seeing workplaces evolve much more quickly.”

We know good design is crucial to an employee’s state of mind, but what about personal space?

Some companies now don’t allocate a specific desk to an individual, and as they seek further cost savings, the head count to floor space ratio is reducing.

Second, figure out your industry’s work style

So how much space is enough? 

“In the face of increased competition and, in some markets, diminishing lease incentives, many of our customers are focused on maximising their return on investment on fitout spend,” Collins says. 

Research conducted by Bates Smart shows that floor space is reducing dramatically per individual and also, that it is affected by what type of industry has signed the lease.

A white paper by Bates Smart found that IT staff spend the most time at their desk, spending 69 per cent of their time staring at a computer screen, followed by Fintech at 60 per cent and IT (non-agile) at 55 per cent. 

The white paper says: ‘Technology companies allocate space in different proportions to other industries.  They prioritise social and team spaces over client and individual spaces; the reverse of traditional business priorities’.

“We are also seeing co-working emerge strongly, and places such as WeWork are using considerably less space than a traditional office, as start-ups and very small companies gain access to buildings that, due to their size, they wouldn’t otherwise be able to,” Collins says. 

Another white paper released by Bates Smart titled “The Legal Workforce in 2020” states that in 2007, 75 per cent of legal staff were in offices, but by 2020 that would be down to 10 per cent. 

The legal profession allocated 24 square metres of office floor space per person in 2007 and this is expected to reduce to 12 square metres by 2020, according to the report. Most companies work on a ratio of about 10 square metres per person.

The paper reveals that: ‘Lawyers are noticing that the isolation of an office doesn’t equal an ability to focus. Library zones and quiet rooms offer a greater ability to get away than staying in your office.

'Advances in technology and e-filing mean that the office is no longer required to store walls of files.’

Is this the demise of the office?

According to Collins, it comes down to productivity. Space can be used more effectively by reallocating the space you have.

“The workplace is intended for people to come together.“ A lot of workplaces are now agile workplaces allowing people to move freely and collaborate in different areas of the office.

“Dexus has a flexible workspace, which gives our people the freedom to move around rather than be tethered to an assigned desk. As a result, teams and project-based spaces are formed freely, which increases collaboration, workforce agility and improves project outcomes.

“We look forward to innovating for the future office space.”

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