Workplace design continues to lag behind the needs of modern working life

Companies around the world waste potentially billions of dollars on under-utilised office spaces that are unfit for purpose and do not reflect the needs of modern workers, a recent benchmark study of over 100 workplaces claims. The study, Optimaze Workplace Review, from Finland based workplace analyst Rapal Oy took place during 2016, aggregates space utilisation data collected from 15 countries. The 330 observational space utilisation studies involved more than 6,600 walk-throughs of 111 buildings and 53,600 work spaces around the world to explore the working practices and environments of more than 23,000 people. It also includes a dataset of around 354 million observations of workstation use in total. The report’s main conclusion is that leadership teams are increasingly placing workplace management issues higher on their agendas, aware of the need to align spaces with new working cultures.

The study finds, among other things, that even at peak periods there were on average at least 30 percent of work seats standing empty and unreserved at any given time during the study period. The degree of constantly unused seats is even higher when it comes to temporary ‘soft’ seating and meeting seats. Meeting rooms housed generous amounts of seating, of which on average only 19 percent were actually being used. 49 percent of all studied meeting seats were never in use.

Reasons for this can be found in the observed group sizes, where 66 percent of all meetings were held by 4 people or less. When meeting room sizes were compared to meeting group sizes, it was clear that meeting rooms were generally too large for their intended purpose. For instance, rooms intended for 9-15 people housed small meetings of 4 people or less in 57 percent of the cases. Meeting rooms were used on average only 44 percent of the time, as more and more meetings today are short, unscheduled, technology enabled and less formal.

“The study confirms to us that workplaces have been greatly impacted by technological trends and cultural changes such as mobile technology, virtual and ad-hoc meetings, remote working, coworking, activity-based working, flexible work hours and other new workplace strategies that seek to enhance productivity, well-being, innovation and employee experience. This has left a great deal of desks and meeting rooms under-utilised, creating a waste of space. Offices have not adapted to the new types of knowledge work, and have fallen behind.” says Pontus Kihlman, executive workplace consultant at Rapal Oy.

“At the same time, office users are increasingly moving towards resource efficiency, shorter leasing models, space-as-a-service, desk sharing and other flexible solutions in order to lower costs from unused spaces. This shift towards new ways of working presents property owners with a never before seen challenge, where traditional landlords may have to consider becoming workplace service providers rather than mere leasing agents and property owners.

In their quest to support a happier, more productive, and healthier workforce, companies across the globe are increasingly adopting various flex work programs and strategies. The ultimate end goal is to attract and retain talented workers, according to the authors. For growth companies, one of the key benefits of offering flexible work arrangements is the ability to recruit top talent from anywhere, regardless of location. This strategy affects the talent pool available to established companies and forces them to evaluate their workplace strategies.

Whether the aim is to increase organizational performance, reduce sick days and absenteeism (or even worse, presenteeism), or lower turnover of high value employees – companies recognize the importance of enhancing the employee experience and offering flexible working policies to remain competitive in talent acquisition.

Top trends impacting workplaces include:

  • increased mobility
  • remote work and working from home
  • changes in meeting cultures
  • coworking
  • activity-based working
  • flexible work schedules
  • compressed workweeks
  • job sharing
  • part-time work

Additionally, many companies have developed company-specific workplace strategies to enhance productivity, well-being, and innovation, while lowering fixed costs through space optimization. The study claims that commercial workspaces are in the midst of undergoing a revolutionary change toward a sharing economy with more resource efficient, flexible workplace strategy models. The findings are based on global space utilisation data that outlines the cultural shift away from the traditional office environment where there could be the potential for billions of dollars of under-utilised space.