Office costs and use of space

Mark Eltringham shows how intensive use of the workplace not only cuts costs, it opens up new opportunities for organisations

"In May, property company DTZ published a report which showed the ways in which new methods of working are having a dramatic effect on office costs worldwide. The cost of occupying commercial property has fallen by around 4 percent on average around the world and the report is very clear on the main reason. It is because occupiers are using space more intensively.

The report is emphasising what is a very well identified trend. When it published the latest edition of its Occupier Density Guide recently, the British Council for Offices found that the average density of workplaces in the UK today was 10.9 sq. m. per workstation compared to 11.8 sq. m. as reported in the previous survey in 2008. This is not only a marked drop in a short space of time, it is part of a long term trend that has seen average office densities increase across the UK from 16.6 sq. m. in 1997, a fall of well over a third. 

Modern integrated furniture solutions allow optimum use of available space.


The main driver for this change, according to the BCO, is the development of new ways of working. It claims that, while at one time a typical workplace specification might have consisted of 80 percent fixed workplaces, 15 percent meeting space and 5 percent other space, the average office today is likely to have a greater variety of work settings, with fixed and dedicated workstations accounting for a smaller proportion of the overall budget. 

The same pattern is evident on a global scale. According to a 2013 study of real estate managers worldwide, the average amount of space per office worker globally has dropped to 150 sq. ft (14 sq. m.) , from 225 sq. ft. (21 sq. m.) over a period of five years. CoreNet also identifies the role of changing working practices in driving this change. It claims there is a ‘property paradox’  which means more workers are using less individual space and more shared space for collaborative working. The reason why CoreNet sees this as a paradox is because it makes it much harder to make predictions about demand for property when that is not merely a function of the number of people employed, but also how they work. 

A workplace solution such as Be by Bisley™ can support multiple working methods and evolve with the changing needs of the business. 

This marks a structural change in the way offices are viewed. Until fairly recently we used straightforward arithmetic to work out what space was needed based on the number of people occupying the building, their job function, status, access to meeting rooms, need for storage and so on. We now have to understand another set of variables, which include the proportions of dedicated, shared and collaborative space needed, how they are used by a mobile workforce and also how we anticipate things will change over time. The mobility of the workforce and its ability to work in a wide range of spaces both within and without the main office building means that measurements are increasingly more about footfall than occupancy. The office not only looks increasingly like a club, hotel or cafe, it behaves more like one too.

The challenge for designers and facilities managers as well as commercial property developers and owners is how to resolve these ever changing forces in practice. When time and place are no longer the fixed variables they were in providing people with a place to work, how do you plan and manage the office? That includes questions about the provision of all aspects of the building and its interior design, including the way it stores and manages information and allows people to share knowledge and information. 
The solution is to develop a greater understanding of the nature of the building, the organisation that inhabits it and the people who work there. There may no longer be a simple answer to the question of space standards, but we have opportunities to achieve more with workplace design than was the case when the world was a nominally simpler place. The new world of work not only offers organisations a way to cut their occupancy costs, it opens up a new vista of possibilities to cut costs and work in new and better ways."