By Amy Braun and Barry Dube Commercial Office Facilities
Spaces that are the right size can increase productivity, boost employee satisfaction, and attract and retain talent.
Office spaces are changing. As market demands and shifting work styles drive companies to re-think the traditional office, facility managers are helping their firms discover many benefits beyond trimming real estate costs. Studies show that a more efficient, “right-sized” workplace can increase productivity, boost employee satisfaction, and attract and retain top talent. A more streamlined approach to real estate also aligns with the trend toward mobile working. While the square footage per employee still varies widely by industry, nearly all industries have experienced a decrease in size in the workplace. CoreNet Global found that the average amount of office space per employee shrank from 225 square feet in 2010 to approximately 150 square feet in 2013.
Some office cultures are more likely to adapt easily to a reduced office footprint. These include organizations with a high percentage of mobile, part-time, flexible or remote staff; employees who can work with a laptop or minimal equipment; and staff with largely independent work processes. There are many factors to consider when optimizing an office space.
A “Right-Sized Space”
A “right-sized space” is a flexible and functionally efficient workplace with a variety of work settings to accommodate various work styles and individual preferences. The most effective office environments recognize the importance of company culture and encourage social interactions, even within an efficient office footprint. Giving employees control over when, where, and how they work makes them feel valued by the organization, increasing job satisfaction and fostering greater productivity.
Workplace design should focus on accommodating a firm’s current operational requirements, with the flexibility to easily and cost-effectively reconfigure to meet future needs. Typically, office and workstation sizes are standardized and smaller, with walls lowered or removed to allow a more spacious feel and welcome natural light. Spaces often have dual functions. For example, a café can open to a reception area to accommodate company meetings. A large multi-purpose room with adaptable furniture and partition systems can serve as a conference center, event space, or training room.
Workplace strategy is a key component to enabling productivity, satisfaction, collaboration, and overall organizational performance. It aligns environments, technologies, and operational processes with business strategies to create a physical workplace that not only represents the company’s current culture and goals, but also gives shape to its future direction. A thoughtful workplace strategy can play a major role in a company’s ability to successfully right-size its real estate footprint.
Workplace strategy begins with understanding a company’s mission and business objectives and recognizing what is needed to best support employees. It assesses a company’s business goals in order to identify operational challenges and to offer efficient space solutions that align with both short-term goals and long-term strategy. How employees interact and what tools they find useful are important considerations in how the office space is designed. In mapping out a workplace strategy, facility managers should consider:
• Space usage
• Employee demographics
• How the business will change in the future
• Dominant work styles
• Organizational culture profile
• Change readiness
Many companies engage a workplace strategy consultant to help determine their space requirements and develop an effective workplace strategy. A thorough analysis of program requirements, combined with active participation by human resources and employee input, can inform the design strategy to optimize a workspace.
The process begins with gathering data from employees to understand what currently does and does not work. Consultants begin with senior leadership interviews to identify priorities for business operations, and then encourage employee engagement with individual surveys and focus groups. Initial space programming also answers employee questions and alleviates fears.
Utilization studies that gather data from heat and motion sensors can quantify actual space use, while observational analysis can supplement how spaces are used to further develop program elements. This data is used to determine the requirements of the company and its employees. It is then translated into a workplace design that best suits the company’s needs.
To relieve employee anxiety over unfamiliar concepts such as open floor plans and unassigned seating, consultants often lead tours of similar office spaces to help visualize options and advise companies on how to comfortably transition to a new workplace design. The development of design strategies to reduce square footage and create a more efficient environment focuses on complex programming decisions, including determining open versus closed workspaces, people-to-seat allocation ratios, assigned versus unassigned seating, and office and workstation size.
Specific Strategies To Right-Size Real Estate
From shifting dedicated conference rooms to “multi-purpose space” to making use of video-conferencing technology, facility managers should consider several strategies to ensure office space is the right size for their organization.
Conference spaces are one of the biggest considerations when trying to reduce a company’s real estate footprint. Many companies are eliminating formal, dedicated conference rooms, opting instead for multi-purpose spaces, hosting virtual meetings, or utilizing public conference spaces in buildings or hotels. Identify a mix of meeting and collaborative spaces based on the company’s typical meeting and work styles. An assortment of spaces and sizes is key, from phone booths and huddle rooms to larger spaces for team building and training sessions.
Technology can impact the square footage needed in an office space. A reliable infrastructure with fast and easy connectivity is a must, and video conferencing systems allow employees to meet virtually and eliminate the need for large conference rooms that are used infrequently. Mobile devices, cloud computing, and other software and technological advances allow employees to work from almost any location. Furthermore, replacing traditional file storage rooms with secure digital storage offers a sustainable solution and greatly reduces needed space.
The adoption of universal office sizes and acceptance of remote work is another factor that has impacted the trend toward a right-sized workplace. Assigned space is now widely recognized as an unnecessary financial burden, with many companies finding an 80/20 split of open seating versus assigned work settings offering a significant space reduction without sacrificing work quality. Collaborative space requires less square footage than individual offices and also fosters creativity and team work. Support services such as paralegal and secretarial positions can be consolidated to allow resources to be shared and further reduce square footage.
Flexible, adaptable furniture enables companies to easily reconfigure a space to meet different needs, while a variety of seating choices provides comfort. Options include soft casual seating and a range of desk styles, from traditional and benching to standing, treadmill, and bicycle.
The use of enhanced common areas can support the effort to right-size office space. Break room amenities such as upscale coffee machines, game rooms, and grab-and-go kiosks are becoming more popular. Similar to a cruise ship with a tiny cabin but a wide array of social options, providing a variety of amenities helps boost office productivity despite shrinking work space. Amenities can reinforce a company’s culture and help with employee recruitment and retention. A building with a broad range of amenities such as fitness facilities, food vendors, and concierge services, also attracts tenants in competition for talent.
Two Case Studies Show Benefits of Right-Sizing Office Space
These two real-world examples show how organizations are using office space to encourage collaboration, promote productivity, and plan for the future.
Office space requirements must reflect the ongoing shifts in multi-generational workforce demographics to prepare for the expected transition as retiring Baby Boomers are replaced by Millennials who possess different work styles, expectations, and preferences. Space planning that supports flexibility, collaboration, and activity-based work can help maximize efficiency and prepare for this future. To satisfy immediate space needs as well as projected growth, companies would be wise to build in extra conference rooms or soft seating areas that can transition into office spaces or workstations.
With the high cost of real estate, encouraging remote work and maximizing space to save on occupancy costs is a smart business choice. Forward-thinking companies right-sizing their real estate are achieving more than a reduction in rent. They are realizing an increase in performance and innovation with a more engaged and productive staff.
Two Projects Show Results of Right-sizing
The Bridgespan Group, a nonprofit advisor and resource for mission-driven organizations and philanthropy, was planning a lease relocation and expansion of their Boston headquarters. Their former offices had a more traditional layout; offices situated along the perimeter of the building blocked natural sunlight from entering, and outdated furniture and crowded common areas created a “maze-like” feel to the space. The goal of the relocation was to consolidate the company’s multi-floor operations into a more efficient single floor suite.
The new space features an open environment that encourages collaboration and promotes productivity while meeting the needs of Bridgespan’s employees across all departments. Key features of the project included:
• Open, bench-style workstations with no assigned seating.
• Small and mid-size conference rooms located toward the center of the office.
• Private phone booths for employees to take personal calls.
• A locker room to store coats, bags, and other personal belongings in a safe, secure location.
• Kitchen and dining area with three refrigerators, coffee makers, and a food preparation area.
• Natural light from the internal windows surrounding the building’s central atrium penetrates throughout the space.
• Modern furniture and finishes.
• Exposed concrete ceilings fused with bright splashes of green, yellow, and orange along the phone booth and conference room walls.
Helen of Troy: More Efficient, Organized
A second project shows the impact that right-sizing can have on an organization.
The U.S. headquarters of the Health & Home segment of Helen of Troy, a global leader in branded healthcare devices and home comfort products, sought a more efficient and organized office and lab environment that would foster a greater sense of community and collaboration when nearing the end of a 20-year lease. The relocation gave Helen of Troy an opportunity to have the layout of their operations redesigned and to upgrade the level of finish, improving the overall aesthetic of the work environment to help attract and recruit talent.
The new 65,000-square-foot U.S. headquarters features an open and efficient floor plan with low-height workstations and glass-front offices that surround a core of support service spaces and collaboration areas. It provides space for offices and workstations, a customer service call center, a conference center, showroom space, and research and development laboratories.
At the heart of the space, a large reception and gathering area serves as the hub of the office for employees and visitors alike. The branded reception and lounge area, with a folding glass wall to the elevators for off-hours security, welcomes visitors to the office. The reception lounge features two conference rooms that double as showrooms with product shelving and glass display cases. On the other side of reception, a café gathering space provides vending and water filtration machines along with a variety of casual seating options, including tables, soft seating, and booth seating along the window line. This central gathering space features an exposed deck ceiling and polished concrete floors, and can accommodate many people for socializing or casual collaboration. The design takes advantage of the building’s extensive window line to extend natural light deep into the space.
Adjacent to the reception and gathering area, the new design features research and development and product testing laboratory space with 11 labs set up for testing product, including an acoustical testing chamber. A corridor runs in a loop through the glass-front lab area, providing a convenient visitor tour that concludes into both the gathering area and conference center. The center features three large conference rooms with movable walls that open to accommodate 200 employees for a company meeting.
Amy Braun ([email protected]) and Barry Dube ([email protected]) are senior project management staff at the Boston office of Cresa, the world’s largest tenant-only commercial real estate firm. Cresa facilitated lease expansion and relocation for the Bridgestone Group and provided project management for Helen of Troy. The new Helen of Troy headquarters was designed by Margulies Perruzzi Architects.
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