Office occupancy
10 April, 2024
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Current statistics indicate a national office occupancy average of 35.9%, a notable departure from pre-2020 levels which averaged around 63%. It also probably won’t come as a surprise that Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays hold the highest occupancy levels, while Mondays and Fridays deviate as outliers with rates of 20% to 30%.

With more office space being constructed than ever before however, there’s a disconnect going on. The question isn’t whether office space is relevant, but how do we use it most effectively? 

It’s become apparent in the years post-Pandemic that the issue of office space and how it’s used is not as binary as whether or not to offer hybrid working and mandated office days. It isn’t an issue of all or nothing but what, when, why and how?

While there’s no one-size-fits-all model for maximising office use across sectors, there are more intelligent and more efficient ways of using office space to take full advantage of what you’re paying for but also to maximise workplace productivity and experience to meet business objectives and staff satisfaction levels.

Office occupancy

What is optimal the office occupancy level?

Pre-pandemic, office usage stood at around 63.2%, taking into consideration that most workplaces had a requirement for team members to be in the office during all contracted working hours. This accounts for annual leave, people being out of the office for client meetings or site visits, and anyone being away from work because of ill health or other life events. For those who have an office and want to maximise its use, between 60 to 65% weekly occupancy is a good target rate to consider.

Types of office use

Business leaders have been heavily debating the pros and cons of hybrid working in the last four years with six prevalent models of work emerging:

  1. 100% remote: No office visits required as utilised by the likes of Spotify.
  2. Work from anywhere: Regularly off-site but welcome in the office, used by Amazon.
  3. Fluid hybrid: Flexible office days as offered by BT.
  4. Fixed hybrid: Set office days, as preferred by Apple.
  5. Four-day week: 80% of the working time with full-time pay as offered by Atom Bank.
  6. 100% office time: A full return to the office as preferred by Tesla.

Many organisations are gravitating towards a fixed hybrid or fluid hybrid model, which addresses the question of ‘if’ space is needed but doesn’t solve the challenge of wasted space.

For many, the issue of a mid-week peak with most employees coming into work between Tuesday and Thursday means needing the maximum amount of space for three days, while two days of the week see the office go virtually unused.

Questions arise surrounding how to flatten that curve, even out office occupancy levels, minimise outgoings and maximise how, when, and why the workplace is used, which requires a different way of thinking.

Lowell

Where to start maximising your office space

Deciding how offices are used is no longer a simple question and the larger the team, the more complex it becomes. However, there are three principles that are key to designing spaces that benefit from optimal use:

  1. Understanding your team
  2. Intentional design for use
  3. Flexibility

Understanding your team

The first and most important things businesses can do is consider carefully what space is being used for and why. That doesn’t mean considering purely what work you want done in the office, but taking the time to understand the type of work people elect to come into the office to do:

  • Why are they there?
  • Why do they come in on specific days if they’re not mandated to?
  • What are they hoping to achieve in the office that they can’t get at home or in a public space like a coffee shop?

Getting to grips with this from a team perspective will help you to make decisions about how your space is designed for the best possible use and productivity levels.

Intentional design for use

Having taken the time to understand your team with anecdotal, qualitative, and quantitative data, you can then use that knowledge to intentionally design your workplace and your processes to maximise office use for everyone’s benefit. This is easier said than done, which is why the support of professional design services is a good route to take.

For some businesses selected office days for the whole team may be the best approach. For others it may be better to structure office strategy from a team perspective, with middle management agreeing with their teams which office days are best, thereby creating a steadier flow of traffic throughout the week. 

The chosen approach will inform the layout of the office, the use of the floorspace, the type of furniture you need and so forth. As a result, there’s never a sense of having a few people rattling around in an empty workplace or having too many people squashed into too small an area.

Flexibility

Knowing how many desks you’re going to need if you don’t have a 1:1 ratio, how much space you will need for full team meetings, how large your conference rooms need to be, computers and so forth is complex.

It’s almost impossible to know what that need will be as time goes on, but equally you must have a sense of what the future holds when it comes to something as significant as the investment in office design. The only way to sensibly plan for the future (both strategically and spatially), whether it’s next week or next year, is to design spaces and infrastructure with flexibility in mind.

Moveable walls, modular furniture and multifunctional spaces are just some of the ways that allow you to create environments that maximise the use of space and create the best experiences, giving you options whether it’s for new staff intake, additional services or office events.

Office occupancy

Optimising office space in action  

We have worked with many clients who have sought to maximise their office space, office occupancy levels and how it’s used for a more contemporary way of working. In the process, we have customised the approach for different locations, team sizes, wants, needs and strategies.

Implementing a clear desk policy for improved use of office space

International tobacco and e-cigarette manufacturer, JTI, moved from their long-held estate in Weybridge to a smaller, more central location in Putney. In doing so, they transformed the way they worked to a more dynamic and flexible approach in keeping with modern practices. They designed their strategy around teams instead of the entire company, encouraging different groups to come in on different days. This allowed them to maximise the use of the space in alternative ways. For example, they went from a near 1:1 desk to staff ratio, to a space that enabled hot desking, collaborative meetings, and video calls. They adopted a clear desk policy so that workspaces remained flexible, each floor also has a central dress point with lockers so that staff can store their belongings safely, which also makes it easy for people to come into work and removes barriers to being present.

Creating spaces for collaboration

Seeking to create an office with a difference, financial services company, Planet wanted to develop a space that didn’t feel like coming to work, with a member’s club vibe and the comforts of home. Key features included a bar-style reception, an elegant and flexible dining area that could also be used for presentations, open plan desk space for collaborative working, small meeting rooms for private calls, one-to-one conversations or quiet working, and executive suites. The idea was not to tell people they needed to work in the office all the time, but to create an environment ripe for coming to work, meeting people, generating concepts, communicating, exchanging ideas, and making presentations. Then, staff can take that experience and go to one of the desks or, if they want, they can move the idea forward in the privacy of their own home.

Want to maximise the use of your office space to help achieve your business goals?

Speak to the team at Maris