Office property is expensive – after people,  property is the next biggest balance sheet item. In the current climate it is particularly vital that organisations look to minimise fixed property commitments and maximise their space utilisation. Optimising the use of space will support core business in meeting the simultaneous demand for cutting costs and reducing environmental impacts but it needs to achieve this without reducing (or while also improving) the quality of business outputs. 

The office is there to support people and work activity. Indeed much has been written about the impact of the workplace on productivity. Optimising space is not about cramming more desks and people into less space if you want to ensure a productive workplace. It is more about understanding the capability and suitability of the space to support levels of occupation density, and knowing the workstyles and functions of the people and activity to be accommodated. 

Clearly different buildings have different capabilities – heating, lighting, ventilation, power and other services  impose restrictions on capacity as do building, planning & fire regulations, legal restrictions as well as technology to support business operations. This is not to say the capability cannot be changed but this may take some significant investment in structure and infrastructure which will itself impact on existing occupation and use. 

Similarly all work should not be considered the same. Sales teams have different requirements to HR or Planning. Consequently defining and understanding these different work functions is paramount to defining accommodation requirements. This has led organisations to breakdown their workforce into generic workstyles which enables appropriate allocation of  tools, work settings and space. 

To set a target occupation density for a building or an organisation without first understanding these capabilities and workstyles is risking not only alienating management and workforce but also providing occupation solutions that are sub optimal that could impact adversely on work output and productivity. 

Yet this is exactly what some organisations are doing. There seems to be an assumption that there is a one size fits all standard agility ratio – people to desk ratio – of about 8 : 10  that can be introduced or imposed to support a property rationalisation business case without understanding how, when or indeed whether this can be achieved or more importantly bettered.   

Many business cases for change and property relocation are based on untested agility ratios. Workstyle profiling and space capability assessments carried out early in the process will provide agility ratios based on real information which will enable validation or updating of the business case assumptions before commitment and detailed plans are set. Indeed workstyling should be at the heart of any organisations office occupation projects and property strategy. 

Property business cases can be developed to deliver new buildings and worksettings to enable agile organisations but do you understand the underlying people and workstyle  requirements. Indeed have you got a workforce that can take advantage of this investment.  Often the benefits will only accrue as part of a holistic programme including ICT investment coupled with agile working which also involves people engagement, training, process and change management delivered across the Organisation and its supply chains. 

Property may be the catalyst and provide the initial impetus, creating revenue and capital receipts from space-saving but the true benefits to the organisation are ensuring that the outcome creates a more effective and productive workforce. 

Check out the advice on Workstyle Profiling and Property Strategy

Paul Allsopp

This post is also published in The Occupiers Journal: