An Accurate Employee:Desk Ratio Helps Companies Grow into a Flexible Future

Work life in an office is slowly slipping away from what was once the norm not long ago: 9-5 hours in the office, a couple of mandatory breaks, and a sea of desks adorned with personal effects, drawers of snacks and spare shoes underneath. 

As flexible working moves from trendy to mainstream, a number of strategies – including hotelling and hot-desking, assigned neighborhoods, and work-from-home policies – can help companies attract and retain top talent, stay competitive, and make creative use of increasingly expensive real estate space. 

Flex-working also positions companies to better meet the realities of the new gig economy, in which professionals want greater control over when and where they work, and who are abandoning full-time employment for freelance, contract and remote opportunities. In fact, between 2005 and 2017, Americans who telecommute rose 159 percent, according to this labor analysis.

Remodelling the modern office

As employees come and go at different times and work in different ways, organizations are experimenting with new office space configurations. A single floor plan may include assigned seating, executive offices, hot-desking areas, and collaboration spaces. Departments that have complementary workstyles may be coupled together, while teams that are mostly out of the office may be aligned with teams that are generally present three to four days a week. 

Every department has its own characteristics, as do the employees within each one. If companies redesign offices with customized traits in mind, they can seize opportunities to fit more employees into the same amount of space – and sacrifice nothing in the process.

A comparable analogy is this: Picture a jar of marbles, it appears full. Yet it’s not – you can add sand to it, you can drop small beads into it, you can pour water into it. Like space in an office, the jar may be full of one configuration, but it has plenty of room for others.

Still, challenges persist. Without data to support myriad office designs, flex experiments can backfire and spur internal conflict. No department wants to feel squeezed and no employee wants to give up space – or worse, struggle to find a place to work throughout the day. Workers want to feel valued, have the physical room to operate, not spend time in what they perceive as a shrinking space. And no one wants to be frustrated.

So how can companies strategically remap their office and keep everyone happy?

The value of the Employee:Desk Ratio 

Data holds the key and in this case, we believe the key is using it to uncover employee:desk ratios. But in today’s world, counting desks and counting employees is not so straightforward. 

In the age of flex working, arriving at an accurate employee:desk ratio – and, thus, knowing how many desks to have available at any given time in any department – is tricky. How can you predict when employees will be in the office, for how long, and whether they’ll even need a desk?

Things can get quite granular in a hurry. Consider this hypothetical office behavior:

  • The Accounting Team is in the office most days from 9-5. They average 8.75 hours/day. Each day, 80 percent of its staff are in the office. 
  • In Sales, the full team is in every Monday morning for a strategy session. For the rest of the week, each person may come in only one or two more days, generally for three hours at a time (most of which is spent in meetings). 
  • The Marketing Team has great flexibility to work from home. As a result, each member averages three days a week in the office. Of this group, only half need dedicated seating while the other half spends most of their time in brainstorming sessions together in a meeting room.
  • In the C-suite, executives retain private offices to support discussions that require privacy, but their offices are empty 75% of the time. 

The bigger the office space, the harder this information can be to capture across multiple zones and neighborhoods in order to determine realistic employee:desk ratios. Harder yet is that seasonality, hiring plans, attrition, and collaborative projects regularly influence these behaviors making it difficult to accurately measure.  

Indoor location technology can solve the riddle

Indoor location technology, our domain here at InnerSpace, can gather and analyze data to hit such necessary levels of analysis. Through our software, companies can see how their space is actually being used each hour, day, week and month – patterns on which to make confident decisions.

The InnerSpace platform can measure the behavior of workers in every department. How often are team members at desks versus meeting rooms? What patterns of times of the day and days of the week start to appear? When are meeting rooms A, B and C most frequently sitting unused? How is the flexible working arrangements playing out in terms of office usage per department? 

Equipped with the right data, we can identify the ideal employee:desk ratio for each department’s unique needs. Meanwhile, companies get to see the forest for the trees and plan for how to grow as occupancy and utilization of their office space changes over time. Workplace Experience Teams will know how the space can be redistributed based on each individual team’s requirements for growth, collaboration and workstyles.

Without data leading the way, experiments remain experimental. InnerSpace solutions bring precision to such decision-making, and help ensure all staff members feel valued and motivated to work hard – wherever, whenever and in whatever manner they choose.