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The art and science of workplace density

The art and science of workplace density

Maximizing office space efficiently needs studying and strategi-zing, hence making it both an art and science.

MANILA, Philippines – Today’s workplaces are keeping up with the changing employee demographic, creating a trend seen to benefit both the employer and employee. In a recent report released by global real estate consultancy firm CBRE, it noted that workplace density has the most impact on employee performance, productivity and retention.

“Keep in mind that real estate space, especially that of offices, can most likely be considered the ‘second home’ of people. Other than their real homes, it is where they spend most of their time in,” said Rick Santos, chairman, founder and chief executive of CBRE Philippines. “Given this, their comfort and convenience should be a priority. Every inch of space should make these people want to work and stay happily.”

In every real estate transaction, maximizing floor area is one of the first considerations every client asks. Companies and organizations are under pressure to focus on efficient use of office space in order to drive down operational costs. This brings about the increase of “static density” or the space per square foot dedicated for each workstation.

High densities in the workplace imply reductions in both collaborative and personal work settings—impacting teamwork, decision making and ability to focus. CBRE regards personal workspaces below 60 square feet per desk as a clear productivity danger zone; reducing space below this level may place staff productivity, performance and retention at risk. Tight desk space leads to lack of privacy, increase of noise and levels of distraction from neighbors, which negatively impacts employees thus leading to decreased productivity. Even at 60 to 110 sq. ft. in some organizations, there may be a risk that not all aspects of work are fully supported, particularly knowledge-based work.

According to Santos, workplace density is dependent on several factors. Apart from budget, the nature of work of the employees—whether mobile or static—comes into consideration; along with the size of the organization and its nature as well—whether local or multinational. The use of space is sometimes a reward, such as senior staff usually getting bigger offices. There are also the prevailing standards and benchmarks at time of the office fit-out, such as compliance rules and codes based on the building’s infrastructure, as well as measurement practices and government or worker council regulations.

Managing these factors, offices can apply quick fixes such as replacing cubicles or L-shaped desks with bench desks, or open-plan workspaces. Unforeseen increases in headcount can be accommodated by combining two bench desks to create three workpoints or six bench desks into eight workpoints, and so on. Meeting rooms, informal collaboration spaces and amenities can also give way to additional desks.

“Maximizing space efficiently is very important in the workplace. It needs studying and strategizing, hence making it an art and science,” explains Santos. “You wouldn’t want your people too far from each other that it lessens interaction and team work, but at the same time, you wouldn’t want them to be too near each other that they feel suffocated or distracted.”

Another factor is the industry that the company belongs to. According to the CBRE study, on one hand, government and legal services recorded the highest workspace utilization at 73 percent, given that the nature of their work requires employees to stay on their desks for long periods of time. On the other hand, business services and consulting registered the least utilization at 35 percent.

According to Santos, taking into account the factors of workspace density and space utilization, it is important for companies to create a strategic plan to benefit employees and ultimately, the business itself. “Now is the time to keep up with the changing physical workplace. Workplace strategy can be critical to seamless operations, employee productivity, and overall performance,” he added.