Why companies are reducing office density, not space

In this WORKTECH Academy briefing, we look at survey data which suggests that cuts in office space won’t be too deep – and at employee typologies for the new world of work

As many knowledge-led organisations shift decisively to hybrid working, so the real estate market has been braced for a huge drop in demand for office space. But are such fears misplaced?

New survey data from Harvard Business Review suggests there’s no need to panic. A survey of 5,000 American workers and 500 US employers found that despite a reduction of employee days in the office of around 30 per cent, office space has only been cut by one to two per cent on average. This suggests a big reduction in density, not space.

Harvard Business Review acknowledge three key reasons for this. The first is that workers still feel uncomfortable with high density space, and the only way to ensure density isn’t too high is to cut the number of days employees can come to the office, not the square footage.

The second reason is that most employees want to work at home on Mondays and Fridays, which affords only meagre opportunities to economise on office space during the rest of the week. And the third reason? Employers are fast reshaping office space to become more inviting social spaces that encourage face-to-face collaboration, creativity, and serendipitous interactions.

Is two days all we can handle?

It isn’t just crowded working conditions with colleagues sitting right on top of each other that put employees off returning to the office.

After working from home during the pandemic, two days a week in the office is the most we can handle, according to a new report from Australian management consultancy Bendelta, which surveyed 1,000 employees on their working patterns and habits. Seventy per cent of workers don’t believe that the number of days they can work remotely should be mandated

The research also identified five different typologies of worker for the new working world. Can you work out which one sounds like you?

Connectors like working in the office – they find virtual meetings tiring and feel disconnected from their team if they work remotely for long periods of time.

Nesters like working from home and feel they’re more productive when working remotely – they don’t enjoy the energy of the office.

Nomads  like working remotely in spaces other than their home, and don’t find remote working a hindrance to accessing and sharing information or collaborating with colleagues.

Adapters tend to like the office, enjoy connections they can build with colleagues in an office, and prefer the tech that’s available there; they also believe that their manager expects them to work from the office, and that they don’t have flexibility in where they work.

Stoics tend to choose to work from home, but don’t feel any more productive or comfortable working remotely; they don’t enjoy the office energy or developing in-person relationships with colleagues.

Reluctant returners

As many organisations face a backlash for mandating employees back into the office, it is important to understand the reluctance to return. Stuart Finnies, head of design at Unispace will offer his findings from key data at the WORKTECH Amsterdam conference on Thursday 21 April 2022. Find out more about this session and the full programme of speakers at WORKTECH Amsterdam here.

You can also listen to our expert panel at SMARTBUILDINGS22 London on Wednesday 9 March 2022, entitled ‘A Blueprint for the Office of the Future’, which will discuss how technology will be key to an effective office return. Secure an in-person ticket here or post-event podcast ticket here.

In our WORKTECH Wednesday Briefings, we reach out to our 10,000-plus Academy members, WORKTECH attendees, speakers, partners and sponsors as WORKTECH’s professional conference series continues through our in-person, virtual and hybrid platforms. This edition is posted 2 March 2022.
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