Office Space Density vs. Productivity

IMG_8754I’ve been helping out with office designs at work over the last few weeks and it’s interesting to watch the challenges raised when I make suggestions that compromise density in the service of increasing productivity. This is a common theme, every time I’ve done an office design the facilities manager has proudly dropped a plan on the desk with the maximum number of desks squeezed into every nook and cranny, with a few token conference rooms thrown in. 

By contrast I like to start by designing the zones that I want to create in an office, zones being regions of the office that are to be associated with different types of work.  Zones might include a library space for people to sit quietly surrounded by books and magazines, comfy chairs where people can take a break from their desks for unscheduled chats, collaboration spaces focused on a variety of types of meetings, sound insulated spaces for conference calls.

A person might occupy space in multiple zones throughout the day.  They might occupy a desk all day, spend 5% of their time in comfy seating, 10% in the library and 20% in meetings spaces (highly simplified analysis).  Once you know how everyone will split their time up based on different types of work you know how big each zone needs to be and therefore what density you can achieve.

The basic message of this post is the density that can be achieved starts with an analysis of the types of work that the office needs to support, not the number of desks that can be squeezed into the space. People are a lot more expensive than floor space in most of our offices!

Interestingly my eldest daughter happens to be very interested in cities and in particular how to optimise the trade-off between density of housing and quality of life through good design.  This seems to be incredibly important given the growth of cities and the huge impact on welfare of we get it wrong.  It’s a shame we don’t see as much focus on our offices.  We’ve had lot of interesting conversations about the similarity between offices and cities and she’s a keen observer of the office designs she’s been exposed to so far.

I wrote this post in Caffe Nero after a misty walk along the sea front.  I’m sitting in the window seat watching the clouds break and the sun start to peak through which should make for a good walk later.  The photo I’ve chosen to decorate this post came from yesterday morning’s walk and shows what remains of St Annes’ original pier which was destroyed by fire in 1974.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

2 Responses

  1. Vince says:

    Agreed. Sometimes it feels like office planners, who incidentally are not really that just those managers responsible for getting people into a work environment, take an almost-victorian mill-owner view – in that you get as many in as possible. However, they are using the wrong criterion as their primary criterion – the main point is to get maximum productivity from each person, rather than the maximum number of people.
    Of course the latter is much easier to measure and hence so very tempting to use as the metric for success.

  1. November 2, 2014

    […] Office Space Density vs. Productivity I’ve been helping out with office designs at work over the last few weeks and it’s interesting to watch the challenges raised when I make suggestions that compromise density in the service of increasing productivity. This is a common theme, every time I’ve done an office design the facilities manager has proudly dropped a plan on the desk with the maximum number of desks squeezed into every nook and cranny, with a few token conference rooms thrown in…. Steve’s Seaside Life […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *