Blogs & Thoughts

Space Optimisation

This article was originally published in PFM magazine in October 2023

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  • Date: 6th October 2024
  • Author: Phil Muir
HSBC walking away from their iconic global HQ in Canary Wharf with a plan to move into a smaller space, at the former BT HQ in the City of London, shows that no-one is immune to the impact of New Ways of Working. The analogy with “Tetris” is appropriate to describe the challenges ahead – trying to determine not only the size of the blocks and when they are going to fall, but also predicting what spaces will be available at the right time.

Matching organisational demand with office supply is rarely a static exercise, but the pandemic has resulted in leases becoming shorter, and while there is no magic number when it comes to how much less space organisations are expecting to require due to hybrid working, HSBC looking to reduce their global office estate by 40% is an indicator of the scale of the Corporate Real Estate challenge.

It is not just a scaled reduction in office estate; however, the form of these blocks is also changing. Offices were on average 50% empty pre-pandemic and did little to support the way organisations and their employees wanted to work. One size attempted to fit all and typically failed miserably. That level of occupancy, previously tolerated, is no longer sustainable both commercially and in terms of carbon footprint. Aspirations and expectations have changed at all levels of organisations, with a greater emphasis on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) commitments.

There are now opportunities to create workplaces that still address the three Es proposed by workplace pioneers DEGW – efficiency (no-one wants to pay for more space than needed), effectiveness (your people want to do their best work) and expression (your workplace and your culture are interwoven) – while also offering a much better user experience.

To help you get the right mix, one that works for your people and is flexible enough to cope with ongoing change, it is quicker and cheaper in the long run to call upon the assistance of experts – workplace consultants – to create a tailored workplace strategy that is informed through engaging with your people.

Workplace consultants bring experience in asking the challenging questions to ensure the Tetris block is the right size for you (in terms of m2) and has the correct form – i.e., determining the mix of owned v shared spaces, calculating the number of private offices (if indeed there will be any) and desks, or proposing a sufficient variety of spaces to support collaboration or focus. Your future working environment is likely to be a mix of the organisational needs (functionality) and the employee wants (wow factor); asking the right questions leads to the correct balance of the two.

External consultancy brings a fresh perspective to the table, it brings a knowledge of workplace trends recent research and is an independent analysis of what you need; this independence allows us to push the boundaries a little more with the client. A small amount of time (and money) invested at the front end of a transformation project will pay dividends – creating an optimised strategy that supports your people and your business needs towards greater success in the future.

Where strategy leads into design, workplace consultancy is critical to the creation of a robust brief, allowing designers to translate the client’s vision and the strategy into a deliverable reality, saving time, money, and resources. An extra Teams call to fill in an information gap is far less disruptive than moving a bank of desks once the fit-out is finished.

SPACE fundamentally believe that workplaces are about people and how they interact with each other, with technology and with the physical environment around them. Research has shown that employee participation in a project leads to more successful outcomes. Workplace consultants work in partnership with your people to co-create your strategy, not impose theirs.