Considerations for setting up shared spaces for better efficiency over time, and better sustainability outcomes.

Words Georgie Chennells

Space Age Maximising efficiency through shared spaces

A circular economy emphasises the need for the efficient use of resources, and while much attention has been given to the design and construction of buildings, an often overlooked aspect is utilising space more effectively. Pre-pandemic, global commercial real estate services company Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) reported that an average of 40% of office space was underutilised.*

Work doesn’t just take place at a desk, and offices today need to supply a variety of spaces for employees if they are to attract them back.

Today the amount of underutilised space is much greater in general, as evidenced in the ‘ghost towns’ we are seeing in many corporate offices. Here we explore various models and strategies to reduce office space while maintaining efficiency and supporting the needs of employees.

the role of the workplace

To be able to make decisions around office-space reduction, we need to understand the role that space plays in supporting an organisation’s employees, as well as the broader corporate ambitions of the company.

Businesses ultimately rely on people to deliver their commercial success, so the office must support these people in their work activities. It’s a strategic asset for a business. Considerations such as collaboration needs, technology setup and the importance of certain amenities to different teams should guide decisions about space reduction. The models below have the common theme of using shared space to achieve better efficiencies.

Flexible working is shown to improve productivity, engagement and wellness.

Adopting more flexible ways of working

A shift towards flexible working setups and remote work has significantly reduced the average occupancy in office spaces. By aligning the number of desks with lower occupancy rates, companies can use space more efficiently. This transition affects the entire workplace system, from physical space to operating processes and systems.

The switch from individual, personal desks to shared, more flexible desking arrangements requires a massive mindset shift for employees, and impacts on organisational culture and business outcomes. If it is to succeed, moving from “my desk” to “our space” requires purposeful engagement with those affected, and has to be managed sensitively.

More broadly, how we work is evolving along with advances in technology and platforms. Work styles like flexible working, activity-based working and smart working are just some of the ways of working associated with less office space, more flexibility and more employee choice.

Flexible working is shown to improve productivity, engagement, wellness and collaboration. However, these shifts must be purposefully managed to be truly adopted by employees, and their value realised.

Choosing access over ownership

For facilities that are infrequently used, such as boardrooms or specialised equipment, companies could consider leaning on neighbours or nearby suppliers to meet these needs. Many office parks and coworking spaces are now offering such facilities on demand for neighbours, members or tenants.
Similarly, it might also make sense to access, rather than own, amenity benefits for employees, such as gym or sports facilities, or food courts. Considering lifestyles of the workplace occupants before setting up the operating model can yield a more attractive and convenient experience for employees, making it “worth the commute” in their minds.

Adopting a model of access over ownership can reduce space requirements as well as foster relationships with nearby local suppliers. This can support a sense of community and connection for those living, working or accessing the spaces in those areas.

Conversely, considering what hosted amenities could be made accessible to neighbouring businesses might also be an opportunity for optimisation. After-hours adult learning classes, community meetings and study space could all offer win-win scenarios through sharing.

Designing flexibility into the space

Setting up office floorplates to adapt to different purposes over time means less space is built, and what is commissioned is used more efficiently. Adaptability can be achieved through flexible wall systems for meeting rooms that allow them to change size, or versatile floorplates that are able to transform into alternative spaces such as exercise or exhibition areas. Simply furnishing a space with modular or multi-functional furniture can also support ongoing flexibility.

By designing flexibility into the space, the building can adapt to meet new needs over its lifetime and minimise resource-intensive remodelling.

Large-spanning rooms with open floor plans can flex to suit different purposes over time. Furniture and fittings play a role here too.

Realising the opportunities of physical space change

Those three strategies fit beautifully into the narrative of a more efficient, conscious, resilient organisation. In addition, the human outcomes from organisations that offer more flexible working options and more choice in work environments demonstrate fantastic benefits for health and wellbeing, as well as performance.

How we work is evolving along with advances in technology and platforms.

Critical to the success of the spatial models above is a purposeful process of engagement with both those who are part of setting up and operating the space, and those who are impacted by it. This transition is best approached holistically, ensuring that the entire workplace system of people and processes, and the physical place, evolve together. Some key areas to consider are:

The shift must be aligned with corporate ambitions

Reducing space, changing access models and applying levels of flexibility require upfront investment and buy-in from multi-stakeholder teams, both in the setup and operations of that space. Facilities Management, HR, Technology and Ops, for example, will all be part of the conversation. These different role players will all contribute to the experience of the workplace and the enablement of the future workplace culture.

This requires different parts of the organisation to work together around one vision for the workplace, which must be spearheaded by leadership to ensure that all involved are aligned and equipped to do so.

Offering access to healthy amenities like fresh food cafes is made by making use of shared facilities.

Workplace insights can support understanding and scenario planning

Reducing space without proper investigation and testing could lead to a costly backlash where not just productivity, but also business trust and reputation are affected. Various types of data can be used to better understand space scenarios and their impacts before commencement. Testing is recommended.

Both organisational data (such as headcounts, organograms or employee surveys) and building data (for example, floor plans, programme of spaces or occupancy trends) should be thoroughly reviewed before a space is changed. Engaging leaders and employees in organisation-wide surveys and interviews, and focus groups, can also yield insights around key priorities and opportunities for optimisation.

Co-created and change-managed

While the physical space can support behaviour change, for the space to be truly efficient and optimally utilised, its end-users must be empowered to do so. This means engaging them in a considered change-management process. The ideal outcome is that employees buy into and are committed to the change quickly. They are able to access the new environment and variety of spaces and operate from Day One with confidence – and they are excited about it!

Without considered change-management function, you could anticipate friction and fallout: heightened resistance, poor adoption, increased time and resources spent, and unplanned costs.

Treat it as journey of learning and growth

There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to optimising space. Each organisation is different, and every spatial context is different. The best way to navigate something like this is with an open mind, a team spirit and a learning approach from all involved.

For the good of all

The current workplace paradigm shift presents a fantastic opportunity for better spatial efficiency, with better outcomes for organisations, occupants and the planet. This is an opportunity to reimagine what our workplaces could be, and how they could integrate with, and support, more sustainable communities.

But to truly realise the benefits, space-change projects must be purposefully managed around clear objectives and incorporate active involvement from leadership, project teams and end-users.