How Much Space Will You Need In The Future?

Long term property decisions often require a crystal ball in order to predict future requirements

Long term property decisions often require a crystal ball in order to predict future requirements

The answer is not as easy as you might think.

by stephen minnett

This simple question in workplace design has become one without a simple answer. The volatility of business combined with the advent of agile working has made this question one that can only be answered through a rigorous progress of investigation and planning.

The traditional model of supplying office space requires organisations to predict how much space they will need many years in the future. In 2017 if your business commits to an 8-year lease without flexibility you have determined how much space your business needs right through to 2025 – but how many businesses can predict how they will be operating in 2025?

In the past many organisations looked at the amount of space they occupied and added a growth factor for future flexibility. Organisations were also better able to estimate future staffing requirements with some degree of confidence. However, with increasing business volatility and the rapid rate of change experienced in the world since the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-08 predicting future staff numbers has become more and more difficult. Leasing structures were often built around the ability to take up additional space for growth or drop off space if the business reduced its staffing numbers. Yet the slow response to business change inherent in traditional office space structures and the cost and inconvenience of churn have become significant drags on the ability of businesses to quickly adapt to change.

Businesses can now see new space supply models such as WeWork responding to this uncertainty by “uberising” space so that they only pay for what they need – but there is a cost for flexibility.

The critical thing to understand when calculating space usage is that under the traditional workplace model the total space required was dependent on:

·         Number of people x space standards = area occupied

Space standards are the spaces allocated to people i.e. workstations, enclosed offices and meeting spaces

In a modern working environment, the space required is determined in a very different way:

·         Number of people x work settings x behaviour = area occupied

So, when you determine the number of people to be supported by the physical space in the future how do you determine what their behaviour will be?

The starting point in determining how much space a business needs in the future is to have a good understanding of how their current space is being used. While businesses will understand how much space they occupy and how many people it supports that simple metric is not much help in determining future requirements if the business is willing to consider agile working. Through analysis, user studies and surveys an understanding can be developed as to how the current space is being used, benchmarked against industry averages and best practice.

By undertaking an Existing Workplace Evaluation as a starting point an organisation can the look towards the future with confidence. Through a process of engagement, exploration and testing a new workplace model can be developed that unlocks the organisation’s potential through a flexible and agile solution. In a recent example Futurespace undertook an analysis of the space usage of a major global organisation’s space usage across 3 buildings in Sydney It showed that the average occupancy was only around 40% and at its peak the occupancy reached 67%. This meant that 33% of the space that the organisation was paying rent on, maintaining and occupying was NEVER used. And this is not an isolated example. The only restriction on better use of their space was their ability to work in an agile way.  

Agile working is defined as work that utilises technology to enable choice of where, when and how to work. Examples of agile working include working from home, utilising 3rd places, co-working spaces and activity based work (ABW). Once organisations break the paradigm of one desk per person in one location the amount of space required becomes much more difficult to determine but at the same time, more relevant to an organisation’s unique way of working.

What about technology? Futurespace is finding some organisations are very aware of the latest trends towards agile working environments. However, they are facing a decision on their future space usage within a timeframe that means they won’t have the required technology in place to support agile working - so what do they do?  Firstly, if they do wish to move towards a technology enabled agile work model they need to have that technology plan in place with an understanding of when it can support the transition to an agile workplace model.  It is important to remember that agile working is fundamentally a human behaviour (enabled by technology) more than a physical environment.  A new workplace can be “future-proofed” to enable a transition to more agile working. It may also enable the organisation to commit to less space on initial occupation with the expectation that a transition to agile working may allow staff growth through greater utilisation of a fixed amount of space in the future.

Angela Ferguson