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Reducing office square footage creates a spider web effect

7 spin-off effects of reducing the size of the workplace

A diverse range of workstations at Social Tables in Washington, D.C.

By Jess Moser, Senior Associate (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Amongst the goals, concerns, and aspirations of our clients shaping workplace design today, there are two constants: money and space. In today’s budget-conscious environment, reducing square footage is one of the primary drivers for new workplace design. Firms and organizations like the idea of moving to a smaller space and saving money on their lease. In fact, reducing square footage is probably the No. 1 goal I hear about today when we start working on a new office. Square footage requirements balanced against program needs drive the design discussion.

Are you reducing?
Not everyone should be reducing square footage, of course. Start-up companies, as they begin to scale up, will require more space to grow. Expanding firms and organizations will need to be strategic in balancing square footage earmarked for potential growth with expanding program and amenities—which are key pieces of the work environment and talent retention strategy, particularly for attracting and retaining millennials.

But for those that are belt-tightening, yes, reduced real estate, often equals reduced cost to the client. Sounds like a no-brainer then? Not exactly. What else happens when the workplace shrinks? Quite a bit, to be honest. And it’s crucial that firms opting for smaller real estate footprints think about the spider webbing effects of going smaller.

Related item: Architecture & Interior Design: Shaping our communities

Here are seven spin-off effects from reducing square footage that businesses will need to prepare for. Each will have impacts of its own, hence the spider web.

1.     Open plan workspace. A reduction in workspace square footage means changing the kinds of spaces staff will work in. More than likely, reduced square footage means going from private offices or large cubicles to a more open floor plan. A new kind of workspace, naturally, will drive changes of its own, in how and where people work. Square footage reduction will transform the workplace in numerous ways—less privacy, for example—ultimately effecting the workplace culture.

2.     Change management. Radically upending a workplace culture can influence performance, even morale. Employees navigating the new space and their expectations for it may require help to make sense of it all. That’s where change management comes in. Change management experts can educate the employees every step of the way, making them aware of what the work environment and subsequent cultural changes can do for them.

3.     Acoustics, privacy, and collaboration. The smaller more open office tends to be noisier and less private but it can also create a buzzier, more dynamic culture than the traditional private office setup. Employers need to be aware of the pros and cons of this kind of workplace when they decide to transition from private offices and tall cubicles to a new open scenario such as benching. Yes, a call center moving to an open floor plan is going to get louder. But there’s much that can be done to control sound and provide privacy options, even in an open plan. Importantly, with this office buzz comes a more collaborative environment suited to tasks that are team-related. A buzzing open office should have the effect of encouraging communication and teamwork.

4. Increased mobility. Hoteling—where workers schedule their use of workspaces such as desks, cubicles, and offices—goes hand-in-hand with mobile technology and anticipates the freedom of staff to work anywhere in the office or remotely, even at home. It’s often a feature of the open office. The challenge for employers is that while hoteling allows for a reduction in workplace real estate through shared workspace it can reduce the incidence of face-to-face interaction in the office.

Café space at Cisco.

5.     Amenities, town halls, and entertainment space. On the upside, smaller spaces for desking typically means more amenity spaces ranging from town hall and cafe spaces to work/eat spaces and living rooms. These spaces give offices a more homelike and hospitality-inspired feel with areas for entertaining, coffee bars where their clients can get re-energized, even mini-suites where clients can settle in temporarily. Start-up-style game rooms are among the new essentials. The prototypical conference room is likely going away, replaced by a large town hall setting, a flexible space where the entire staff can gather that can be broken down or enlarged as needed, as well as series of smaller meeting rooms for two to eight people.

6.     Standardization and flexibility. Clients want spaces that serve multiple functions so they can be repurposed as needed. They want to have the huddle rooms the same size as offices so one can become the other as the staff size grows or shrinks.

7.     Brand identity. As we reduce the square footage of task space, there’s an opportunity to enhance the other spaces. Enhanced spaces can be used to express the brand identity or cultural direction for the organization. These enriched areas can balance the reduction in personal space in work areas. It’s the company saying: “We want it to be clear to you who we are as a company, what our initiatives are, and we hope you join us.” It’s an opportunity for an organization to reinforce its core values.

What it all means
The spin-off effects of each of the above create their own challenges and opportunities. The open office or branded spaces, for example, may promote collaboration but also mean less privacy. One can’t simply reduce square footage and expect things to stay the same. In today’s office, everything (space, culture, technology, and branding) is connected.

Related item: We’re passionate about designing a workplace where employees, clients, and business all thrive.

Jess has a passion for workplace interiors and devotes herself to the visioning, budgeting, and design of the projects she’s involved in. “I love creating a new home for a corporate headquarters,” she says.

Reducing square footage is probably the No. 1 driver I hear about today when we start working on a new office project.

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