Office density is top-of-mind for companies that want to ensure their workspace is serving their employees well, while also meeting current space regulations and corporate real estate (CRE) requirements.
Companies always need reliable ways to determine how much space they have currently available versus how much they’re actually using. This data is especially important when they’re experiencing rapid growth. It’s also essential for those looking to change (and hopefully improve) density and space allocation. Perhaps to optimize their return to the office.
Connected fitness leader Peloton, for example, had great success adopting new tools. These tools helped them leverage critical workplace data switching to a hybrid workplace model during a time of intense growth.
In this article, we explore how Peloton used real-time reports and other hybrid office tools to optimize their office density. We also review how to replicate their success in your own organization.
Lessons learned from office reopenings
Office density is one of the most important metrics to consider when planning or optimizing workplace design and the office environment.
Get it right, and you can help create a great workplace experience where employees thrive.
Get it wrong, and you can easily waste money while also under-serving employees.
Ultimately, good space utilization is at the heart of cost-effective and productive office layouts. And it starts with understanding your office density and occupancy rate.
For example, a department might request a number of desks, based on a guestimate of what they think they’ll need. But of course, department heads and HR managers are likely not well-versed in facility planning and optimizing floor plans.
That, combined with the complexity of overlapping hybrid work schedules, and how many desks that department actually ends up using may be quite different than any guestimates. Too many desks, and you’re wasting money. Too few, and you’re under-serving employees and potentially hindering productivity.
On the other hand, when a facility manager (FM) or space planner has the right workplace analytics (in this case, desk booking reports), they can see exactly how many desks are actually necessary.
From there, they can add or re-allocate as necessary. Moving beyond that guestimate and into a true picture of what office density can and should be for that department.
Beyond hybrid work, this process is further complicated when introducing new work environment types. Different types may need more common areas and collaborative spaces. This can change the desired density. For example, open offices using agile working or neighborhoods will have very different density targets than more traditional companies like law offices that require lots of private offices.
And of course, when a company is rapidly growing—like Peloton—they need simple ways to align headcount planning with any real estate decisions.
There may be ad hoc or manual ways to handle all these issues. Think cluttered Excel spreadsheets and virtually indecipherable floor plans drawn and redrawn on white boards.
But with so much at stake, FMs often use facility management software to simplify the process.
So when Peloton transitioned to hybrid work during a period of hypergrowth (a real double-whammy when it comes to creating workplace management solutions), their Director of Workplace Operations, Daniel Santiago, turned to OfficeSpace to drive key decisions around how to use their square footage.
“If I reflect back on trying to do a lot of these things without OfficeSpace, processes like measuring daily headcount or managing desks would be extremely manual,” says Daniel. “I wouldn’t have hard data to work with, and a lot of our decisions would be based on guesswork.”
The right office density will vary from office to office—and potentially from area to area within the same office.
You might want high density coworking areas for collaborative work (quantified by Aquila Commercial as 80 -150 square feet per employee), while still offering quiet work areas, small meeting rooms, and/or private offices.
Therefore, determining your optimal office density isn’t just about Googling ‘office space calculator’ and blindly following whatever it spits out.
It’s about using real-time data about your office usage. This is along with surveying employees and key stakeholders to figure out an office plan that is best for everyone’s needs.
While this might be simpler in a traditional office, it’s never a simple process—especially when dealing with rapid growth.
So to ensure they’re following the three basic elements of space management and making the most of their usable square footage, smart FMs turn to the following three tools.
The pandemic didn’t just accelerate a pivot to remote work. It also accelerated a pivot to remote work-outs, so to speak. More and more people started to exercise from the safety and convenience of their own homes. This fueled international demand for Peloton’s products and platform.
The reports inside OfficeSpace help us answer questions like “How well have we activated each space? Did we rent out too much? Or did we lease too little?”Daniel Santiago, Director of Workplace Operations, Peloton
The reports inside OfficeSpace help us answer questions like “How well have we activated each space? Did we rent out too much? Or did we lease too little?”
The result was a period of hypergrowth for the company. The employee count quickly skyrocketed from 4,000 to 7,000. All while pivoting to a hybrid workplace model at the same time.
To drive key decisions, maximize hybrid work, and get their office density ‘right,’ Daniel, his team, and Peloton C-Suite executives turned to the following three tools:
Finally, it’s impossible to talk about office density in a post-COVID environment without also discussing social distancing. Even as more restrictions lift, the pandemic’s impact on how we view space will likely persist for the foreseeable future.
Before, we might have just side-eyed a desk mate who came in with the sniffles. Today, we’re going to be much more aware of what OfficeSpace Product Jordan Y. calls the ‘sneeze zone.’
That’s why Jordan and his team created Distancing Planner, a tool which works with other OfficeSpace solutions. With it, users can instantly generate a distanced seating plan for every area in the office.
This is important, because not only can adjusting for distance help keep employees safer. It can also help them feel safer too–which will be critically important as we all attempt to return to normal.
Even when restrictions no longer require distancing, companies may still want to avoid filling in too many workers too quickly. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
“We are all going to bring a certain level of anxiety with us for a little while around personal space,” says workplace strategist Angie Earlywine, Senior Director in the Total Workplace division of Global Occupier Services at Cushman & Wakefield. “So densifying a conference room or cramming people into a training room is probably not going to be the social norm for a while.”
Facility checklists are becoming increasingly complex. The more insight you have on your office density, the better.
In theory, finding the density of an average office is as simple as dividing the square feet of a given space by the number of workstations. This process can be complicated by new space requirements created by social distancing. It can also be challenging to determine office density when employees are using hybrid work schedules.
The space per person in an office is usually determined by the type of work they perform. Experts typically recommend 122 to 225 usable feet per person, although this can be lower in high density offices. Open space workstations, collaboration areas, quiet rooms, conference rooms, and reception will all have their own space management best practices.
According to office furniture experts, standard cubicles are usually 6’x’6, 6’x8, or 8’x’8’, with heights ranging from 42” to 60”. That said, cubicles can be as small as 2’x4’ (usually in call centers). Or they can be as big as 12’x12’ (usually for a manager’s cube).
Note that while there are no industry standards or specific guidelines, OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) suggests that desks (and cubicles) should allow for the monitor to be directly in front of you and at least 20 inches away. Also, that desks should accommodate a variety of postures.
According to research from Zippia, the average usable space per employee in the US is between 150 and 175 square feet. Of course, this varies by industry. Call center employees need (and have) the smallest amount of space. But people in more traditional industries like law, insurance, and finance often require more.
If the average employee needs approximately 150 square feet, then you need approximately 4,500 square feet to accommodate 30 employees. And thus, approximately 450,000 square feet to accommodate 3,000 employees.
Of course, these numbers don’t take into account issues like visitor management, social distancing, or if those employees will be working remotely some of the time. To more accurately assess office space needs, companies need more data than simple employee count alone.
In theory, there’s no maximum office space that can be occupied by one person; if the C-Suite has the budget to take over a whole penthouse, there’s nothing stopping them. But according to OfficeFinder, a typical president’s office is 200-400 square feet. And the typical executive’s office is 90-150 square feet.
Approximately 250-500 square feet per employee is considered a spacious office density. This is typically in law firms and other offices that require large private spaces.
Before you figure out how many people can fit in the office, you need to answer another question. What is the purpose of the office? And in all likelihood, the answer to that question isn’t to cram as many people into a space as possible.
Ultimately, using office density to determine the right amount of space for your team isn’t just about saving money on real estate. Although, of course, this is often a goal and an end result.
It’s about creating an office that is fit for purpose. And carefully designed to meet the needs of whoever is using it.
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