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Office divas are just a waste of space

25 November 2010

Petty power-plays over office space and ‘nesting’ behaviour are costing many companies an estimated 50 percent extra on their property budgets, according to a report from Advanced Workplace Associates.

Assessments taken from 70 buildings, nearly 30,000 desks, 500 hot desks and 640 meeting rooms find that on average, desk space is occupied just 49 percent of the time, with some workspaces being occupied for as little as 27 percent of the time.
“The office has, for many organisations, been the primary place where productive work is done, says Andrew Mawson, managing director of AWA. “In many industries, millions of people have been coming to the office every day to work at ‘their’ desks since post-industrial times. The size of a manager’s office and the position of the desk have in some organisations been a sign of power and status.
“In this conventional world, architects, chartered surveyors and property developers have considered workplace capacity in terms of square footage and occupiers have measured space efficiency in terms of area per full-time equivalent. This makes offices hugely inefficient.”
On top of these inefficiencies, each employee may have five or six week’s holiday a year, up to two weeks off sick, and periods for off-site visits such as training courses and meeting, making each employee away one day in five.
Departmental “ownership” of space is a restricting factor as managers hold on to desks which may be occupied in the future and to secure their headcount to retain their status. Space may even be allocated for seasonal workers such as auditors once a year.
Hot desks – usually provided for staff dropping in to the office – are surprisingly underused; typically in use for just 16 percent of the time, and very much a choice of last resort, according to AWA.
“Enlightened organisations realise that the capacity of the building lies not just in its space, but also in its time available,” says Mawson. “While managers want to have their team around them, a more flexible approach is to operate in ‘hubs’ - anchor points around which the team gathers using available desks.”
Technology has played a key part in breaking some of the old human working habits, says the report. Initially, mobile phones and laptops allowed a minority to operate off-site. But further advances mean that people can log on to company phone and computer networks anywhere – within the building, around other buildings and outside the office.
“What is needed is a complete understanding of the way that people can work,” says Mawson. “With planning, organisations can accommodate 14 employees per 10 workspaces, through managed home working and flexible use of space. With these measures, 80 percent desk utilisation is achievable without affecting productivity.
“Architects and interior designers need to adopt an evidence-based approach to their design and focus on what is needed rather than what people think they want. Ultimately, if estate managers want to cut budgets or to reduce the carbon footprints of office buildings, better use of space is the compelling answer.”

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