How many desks do you need?

November 3, 2016    Tim Frankland     

Very few offices have all their workstations occupied at any one time yet desks still dominate the floor plate in most workplaces.

The rise of flexible and mobile working has given way to more choice in terms of where and how we work. Work is now a thing we do, rather than a place we go.

Consider that the cost per desk in a central London office is between £12,000 and £14,000 and you can see that empty desks have a very real and detrimental effect on a company’s bottom line. Property is one of a company’s biggest overheads. Every square foot should be put to work.

Organisations that have embraced the shift to mobile working and more dynamic workspaces are experiencing the benefits first hand – those of improved productivity, efficiency and staff retention, not to mention being able to make their workspace much more fit for purpose.

The term ‘people to desk’ ratio refers to workplace density and the proportion of people per desk. When work was a place we went to, it would almost certainly be a people to desk ratio of 1:1 with employees sat at the same desk in an office every day. Now, with increased mobility and technology, a 3:1 ratio has become much more commonplace as employees choose to work from other locations both in and out of the office.

Freeing up space once designated for traditional desking opens up a world of possibility – it creates spaces that can be used for more activity based working eg. choosing the right space for the right task and might even show that a business can occupy less space altogether, reducing its overhead.

So how do you figure out what people to desk ratio is right for your business and, whether you have too many desks?

The answer is a workplace study. A workplace study monitors the behaviours of your employees and how work is done so you can determine which components you need to create an effective and efficient workspace.

It looks at desk usage at regular intervals throughout the day, considers the flow of people through the space and logs the use of meeting rooms and other shared spaces. This provides (aside from a lot of numerical data) insight into your workplace occupation and importantly, how many people are in it and what they’re doing at any given time.

On one level this identifies if your current environment is working for your business and whether you perhaps have too much space for your needs. On another, it provides useful information to inform your interior design and the practical allocation of space.

There is a widespread acceptance that work takes place anywhere and this has led to the idea of activity based settings – which give employees choice about how, where and when they work. Within the workplace this involves quiet pods for lone working, big kitchen table settings for project work and meeting rooms for team discussions etc.

So if the population of your office never exceeds two thirds of your workforce, why provide a desk for everyone? If the study shows that a further 50% of your employees choose to work away from their desk when they’re in the office, why not create more of the spaces they favour. Reducing desks could give you the space you need to transform your tired, conventional work environment into something more dynamic.

Following the old status quo is no longer wise – the best talent wants to work for the best businesses in the best workplaces. The most successful businesses are those that have embraced flexibility and mobility, creating spaces that support how work is done and the people who do it. These same businesses know the importance of reducing their costs to become more nimble and responsive to the markets they serve. The journey to a new work environment that motivates and inspires starts with knowing the behaviours of your people.


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