To continue, please use a supported browser.

Chrome Logo
Firefox Logo
Microsoft Edge

Making Space: How to Maximize your Office Utilization

Office Utilization
Katie Cavanaugh
Published on

Traditionally, the cure to a growing office was to add more cubicles or desks to ensure every new employee had a seat. Then, once the office was filled to the brim with cubes, the company would move to a different office with room for more cubes. Once growth spiked again, they would add more cubicles or desks until they reached capacity in that office.

And so the cycle continued.

Considering the portable nature of the modern workforce, it’s possible to think outside the box -- or cubicle in this case -- since growth doesn’t necessarily mean a new chair at a new desk for each new employee to sit on.

Instead, maximizing space utilization means using informed analytics to understand how your space is actually being used (not how you think it's being used) and using that insight to capitalize on your space. In an office setting, utilization is how often rooms, desks and workspaces are reserved during the week.

Workspaces of all kinds are occupied just 42% of the day according to Elkus Manfredi Architects, citing a AECOM’s Time Utilization Survey. In other words, office space is highly underutilized. In their experience, most companies insist they’re using their space more effectively than they truly are. This is where understanding how to measure space in terms of actual utilization is absolutely crucial.

Want analytics to understand how employees use your office space? Schedule a demo with Robin today.

Measuring the office: How it’s been done

Of course, the first step to maximize office space is to measure it correctly. Traditionally, the obvious way to measure the office was simply by finding the cost per square foot. This made sense when most offices were made up of uniform desks or cubicles with a smattering of conference rooms around the perimeter.

evolution of open office floor plan

Office floor plans have changed over time. With modern, flexible offices, uniformity is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

However, in order to reduce costs when measured by cost per square foot, the typical solution was to cram more desks and more people into the same space.

Space, maximized! Employees, squished. Retention, nonexistent...

Now, because people aren’t tied to their desks like they used to be, huddle spaces, phone booths, cafes and so on are popping up in modern offices. This variety is great for providing flexibility to employees, but it makes it difficult for Facilities to understand and compare the value of those spaces since they’re all so different. Instead of determining the worth of a space based on what it contains, the solution is to measure how it’s being used.

In other words, measure the people. Employees and their interactions with office space are a readily available resource. Measuring peoples' behavior prioritizes real-time analytics over static and outdated brick and mortar metrics.

There are plenty of benchmarks and rules of thumb in the industry about how much space should be dedicated to each employee. Some cite a standard of 150 to 250 square feet per employee. Others claim that the amount of space dedicated per person depends on their rank in the company with President’s needing 200 to 400 square feet and each bench seat at a desk being 60 to 110 square feet. Sound arbitrary? That’s because it is.  

None of those measures account for two key points:
1. All offices are different
2. All employees are different

Employees will use space differently in a law office than in a creative advertising agency. It doesn’t make sense to value the space and assume each employee needs the same square footage to maximize space productivity in different workplaces.

In Leesman’s recent study, “The world’s best workplaces 2018”, they noted that no clear pattern could be found between the amount of space provided per person and the employee experience scores across the workplaces they surveyed. In other words, there is no unanimous heuristic for how much office space you should have per employee.

Okay, no shortcuts. How do you know if you’re maximizing your office space?

While there was no clear answer as to how much space employees need in the office, Leesman found one clear indicator of positive employee experience: a variety of spaces to work in. This is where activity-based work comes in.

Not only do employees prefer offices with various workstations available for them (cough cough, which aids recruitment and retention efforts), but it makes them more productive. Writers can work heads down in a “quiet-car” library area without the disruption of loud sales calls and salespeople can confidently talk to clients in a phone booth without having to worry about being “shushed” by irritated coworkers.  

quiet cars for employee phone calls at Archetype

Archetype’s New York office enables its employees to make phone calls in peace
Office Snapshots

Having integrated varied workspaces in an office or not, the challenge still stands: how to measure how an office is being used? It’s all about knowing how your space is being used. Utilization analytics clearly answer the kinds of questions that need to be answered in order to understand whether or not office space is being maximized. Questions like:

1) Which conference rooms in my office are most popular? Why are they used more frequently than other rooms?

2) What equipment exists in our most popular conference rooms? Should I invest in recreating more spaces with similar resources?

3) What spaces in the office are underutilized? Which spaces are unnecessary?

4) How many ad-hoc meetings occur each week? Would more add-on huddle spaces be appropriate for these meetings?

5) How are my employees using their desks? Are my employees mainly Resident, Flex or Mobile? Do we need more or fewer desks than we currently have?

6) How many no-show meetings happen every week? If we had fewer conference rooms could we host the same amount of meetings with fewer no-shows?

Of course, there is no single answer to any of these questions. But, there is a right answer for your office. It’s simply a matter of having the correct data available to answer the questions that will lead you to understand your workplace environment and how the employees are interacting with the space -- be that effectively or not.

“How people think they use the space versus how they actually use the space, there is normally a pretty big delta”

Kathryn Harrison-Thomas, Deutsche Bank Managing Director
Via Bisnow

Once you’ve reflected on how your office is being used and made the tweaks necessary to improve your workplace, make sure employees understand the intentionality behind the revamped space. Change management is essential when transitioning to a reorganized or entirely new office. Equally as important? Continually measuring space utilization when making office changes to consistently gain insight into how people are working in the space and how the space is working for the people.

So, you understand how to measure the workplace. How will activity-based work help maximize your office space?

Understanding how specific office space is being under or overutilized can help reduce some major costs and even more major headaches.

Only pay for space that’s being used
If an office is cramped and full of distractions, employees will opt to work from home or at the Starbucks down the street. The issue here is you pay for the lights over the empty desk in your office, not in the Starbucks down the street. It’s estimated that a single desk can run a company $8,000-$10,000 a year. An office with the right mix of spaces available to their employees to be comfortably productive is essential to ensure the company isn’t paying rent and utilities for expensive unused space.

Capitalize on shared space
Activity-based work also supports sharing desks using hot desking and desk hoteling. Usage analytics will help you understand whether or not it would make sense to have reservable desks available for visitors or remote workers that occasionally work in the office.

flexible seating can be part of your abw strategy

Flexible seating (yes, even egg chairs) is one way to reinvent an office space.

Stop pre-emptive moves
If your company is growing (which is great!) the easy assumption to make is that you need more space and it’s time to start looking at real estate listings. Know what’s less expensive than moving to a bigger office? Investing in add on huddle-spaces, phone booths, TV carts, space dividers or any number of other solutions that you could use to reinvent your current space through activity-based work.

Alter your office boundaries
Following an elastic office model and utilizing coworking space could be the temporary solution your company needs now instead of forcing a hasty move. An elastic office is often used when a company has an office smaller than they require in square feet. When they need a space outside of their four walls, they can get it on-demand with the help of space providers like Convene or prioritize remote work for employees. Or, maybe your current office is too big and has more spaces than are currently being used by your employees. Downsizing could be the unexpected answer you gain through better analyzing your office space usage.

The biggest cost consideration for a company used to be how much they were spending on real estate. Now, we live in a talent-centric society focused on maximizing attracting, retaining and investing in the best employees possible. Talented people are expensive. Creating a workspace that enables the best talent to be as productive as possible by maximizing utilization is crucial.

While there is no one-size-fits-all trick for how to maximize your office space utilization, there are some key questions and analytics to consider to help guide you to the best solution for your office. Employees work in the space you provide for them, make sure that space works for your employees, too.

Sources: Bisnow,Office Snapshots, Office Snapshots

featured report

Return to Office Report 2024

Does your office collaboration need a reboot?

Find out if your workplace strategy is a hit or a miss.

office map
an employee headshotan employee headshotan employee headshotan employee headshot
Does your office collaboration need a reboot?

Find out if your workplace strategy is a hit or a miss.

office map
an employee headshotan employee headshotan employee headshotan employee headshot