How people work: under-utilised space in offices everywhere

Companies globally must rethink how office space is utilised in the post-pandemic era. They may have more room to try out new solutions than they think, according to new research from MovePlan

As companies around the world try to figure out how to safely bring their workforces back into their offices with new social distancing rules, a major new report from global office change and relocation specialist MovePlan has revealed that many workspaces were significantly under-utilised in the decade before the outbreak of the pandemic.

The MovePlan report – How People Work: A Review of Global Patterns in Office Space Utilisation – describes a review of 80 space utilisation studies carried out by the company between 2011 and 2019. This review spanned projects in Asia Pacific, Australia, Europe and North America, with observations primarily of three workspace types: workstations, conferences rooms and alternative work settings. Five industry sectors were chosen for cross-sector analysis: finance/insurance, government, media, pharmaceuticals and technology. In all, around 2.3 million data points were collected. MovePlan collaborated with WORKTECH Academy to produce the report.

‘Alternative work settings appear least well understood by users…’

The data in the report shows varying degrees of under-utilisation of space in all global regions and industry sectors. Traditional workstations (at 55 per cent average utilisation) remain better utilised than either conference rooms (43 per cent) or alternative work settings such as breakout or informal collaborative spaces (30 per cent) – these have the lowest rates of use globally and appear least well understood by users, who tend to use them for heads-down work rather than interaction. There is also evidence that conference room technology and equipment globally is also seriously under-utilised.

Moveplan Cover ReportCultural variations

By region, interesting cultural variations can be observed in the report. Asia Pacific employees have the highest rates of workstation use but are showing signs of becoming more mobile within the office and working away from the desk. The North American workplace is flatlining in its bid to be more space-efficient – its alternative work settings stand vacant three-quarters of the time – but is recognising the need to improve. Australia’s relative maturity in flexible working off site is contributing to lower utilisation of meeting rooms and alternative work settings. Europe fares best in using alternative work settings, an indication of its focus on achieving agility inside office buildings.

Making steady gains

Different industry sectors exhibit different traits in how people work. Financial services emerge as are ‘fast followers’ in workplace design, making steady gains in space utilisation and experimenting with different formats and approaches as the sector tries to find the best way forward. Government offices are struggling to shake off rigid, bureaucratic, inflexible ways of working. Media firms emerge from the study as less progressive in space use, and with some way to go, than some high-profile projects in the sector might suggest. The pharmaceutical sector is driving ahead with greater patterns of collaboration while tech companies are showing a high degree of synchronicity and consistency in their approach to workplace strategy.

Room for manoeuvre

The How People Work report concludes with some reflections on what the datasets are telling us about changing patterns of work around the world and in different industries. One could argue that space inefficiencies revealed in the study reflect the collecting of utilisation data by organisations prior to transitioning to a new workplace – such data is often used by companies to better understand their workspace use, informing ways to address low or unbalanced patterns of utilisation.

However, there is also clearly some room for manoeuvre as companies take the opportunity to reoccupy their offices post-Covid-19 with a fresh approach to matching space to how people really work.

Access the MovePlan report, How People Work: A Review of Global Patterns in Office Space Utilisation, here

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