February 24, 2013
Are we finally seeing the first signs of the end of the downturn? Earlier this week the Government announced that UK unemployment had fallen. While I know there have been quibbles about what this all meant, other data from specific market sectors backs up the idea that we may be seeing some tentative causes for hope. One of the most heartening was last week’s survey from Randstad which reported growing levels of optimism among financial services firms about their prospects and the fact that the majority would be increasing headcount this year.
Not only did the survey’s respondents highlight how increased headcount in 2012 gave them hope for the year ahead, many saw the main driver for increased levels of employment as the increase in client demand, pointing to greater activity in the wider economy.
It is unlikely, whatever trends there are in the labour market, that the workplace that emerges from the recession will be anything like the one that entered it. Past experience tells us – or should tell us – that adversity in the economy often sparks both a renewed focus on property and a great deal of innovation in response from the professions associated with it. That is one reason why the development of workplace management has largely been characterised by what evolutionary scientists would term punctuated equilibrium: ongoing steady development interspersed with periods of innovation in response to rapidly changing conditions.
As well as new technology and new working practices, the current economic climate has also been encouraging organisations to look at new ways of managing and designing space. The economics are clear. After staff, buildings are easily the second highest item of expenditure for the majority of organisations. As it is with staff, the most blindingly obvious ways of making property cost less is to cut it. In one regard, this is possible by reducing the size of workstations and this has already been going on for some time, driven not by the recession but by new technology.
But things are more complex than merely giving people less space. There are deep seated structural changes that would have happened anyway but have been catalysed by the downturn. The office is no longer where we work, but a base to work from. It is this twisting of both time and space that makes forecasting the size of property so difficult and makes it so much more complex for organisations to work out how much space they need.
Where once the primary number that dictated space requirements was headcount, things are no longer quite so simple and headcount is just one of the variables that organisations must use when calculating space needs. As the great Peter Drucker put it ‘what gets measured gets managed’ and so it is essential that firms not only understand how many people their buildings serve, but also how they use it. That equation looks a lot different now than it did in 2008.
Paul Statham is the managing director of Condeco, a workplace management software and systems provider based in London. www.condecosoftware.com