60% occupancy is costing your practice.

January 12, 2017    Sarah-Jane Osborne     ,

Average desk occupancy in the UK is just less than 60%. That equates to four and a half hours each day with desks sat empty.

The legal sector has been slower to address this issue than most due to it being one of the more paper-centric and desk-bound professions, however as legal practices look for new product and process innovations and try to find new ways to stand out, it seems unlikely that such a blatant way to reduce cost will be overlooked.

The legal sector has already undergone a quiet workplace revolution with the move from cellular office spaces in favour of open plan working. Now, as the benefits of agility are more widely understood, another space-based overhaul is on the cards.

This reduction of time spent at desks can be attributed to a number of things – in part it is due to mobile technologies which have broken our shackles to fixed locations, but it’s also about the arrival of activity based working and the idea that we should choose a space that is appropriate to the task in hand, rather than make one space suit everything. With fee earners in meetings, out with clients, holding case planning sessions, participating in training and more, it’s easy to see that being at the desk is only a small part of the day.

This presents a distinct opportunity for law firms to do things differently. A recent article by the UK Law Society said that most law firms recognised the need to innovate but few were yet to the make the first step. With the imminent arrival and unknown possibilities of disruptive technologies such as virtual assistants, artificial intelligence, machine-learning and more, there’s a compelling reason to consider all possible ways to innovate – and revisiting a practice’s relationship with space and its associated costs is one.

Here are four steps to re-evaluate your relationship with your workspace and find out if it’s really supporting your legal practice:

1. Track behaviour and assess needs.

Track how your workplace is performing by employing a combination of work-setting studies and employee surveys. Find out how your team is using the space – if they’re not at their desks which spaces are they using, why and when. Which facilities work for them, which don’t and which do they need more of? If there’s a clear need for more spaces to prep case files, or a greater need for collaborative spaces then look at how it can be accommodated. If the research exercise shows that lots of desks are lying empty for the majority of the time, as per the statistic, then you could unlock the lost value of that space and create the facilities that your team is crying out for. The more you know how your space is performing the more informed your workplace design choices can be.

2. Consider the financial benefits.

Making your space work harder for you could have real tangible financial benefits. It might allow you to occupy far less space, perhaps even sub-letting what you don’t need or put under-performing space to better use as something new. Then there’s the financial benefits of having a purpose-designed workspace that really supports how you work and helps to engage staff and improve their wellbeing too.

3. Revisit design.

Take what you know and, with the help of workplace specialist, redesign your environment to support how work is done. It may be as simple as removing un-used desks to create additional break-out spaces – or it might mark the start of a whole office redesign to create an agile environment, rich with activity based work settings and social spaces.

4. Embrace change.

Encourage employees to really invest in the change by involving them in the process. Share ideas and prototype designs and put a full programme of internal communications and staff engagement in place. If you’re on the cusp of a complete workplace overhaul, for example moving to agile working, explain why the change is necessary, outline personal and practice-wide benefits and set out what the spaces require of them.

In summary, empty space is costing your practice. We know that not every aspect of a workplace will be in full use all the time, but systematic poor performance is costing you in ways you can ill afford. Make every square foot count and create a workspace that supports the real operational need of you and your practice.

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