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Join the Think Tank to have your opinion reflected here — 


10 July 2017 | FM World team


We asked how the relationship between workspace density and employee effectiveness is playing out in your organisation and whether different metrics have been adopted. 

Monica Parker

Use the social science toolbox

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. So long as people keep using the same hammer of utilisation, they will only see the nail of square footage efficiency. That hammer and that nail can’t tell you any more of an in-depth story than that. If you want to understand what drives people and makes them happy, then use the tools that help you understand human behaviour, engagement and motivation. That toolbox is called social science.

Monica Parker is founder of HATCH Analytics

Tim Oldman

More people in less space is wrong

More people in less space – it’s the subtext of way too many workplace projects. And these densification schemes are happening despite consensus amongst most workplace advisers that it’s counter to employee experience best practice.

There are two issues for me that compound the problem. First, that there are still far too few organisations (client side and advisers/suppliers) who are robustly measuring the impact of occupant density of employee experience and perceived productivity. And second, the numbers being bandied around to discuss do little more than confuse their intended audience.

So the 2009 British Council for Offices investigation reported, “77 per cent of the sampled properties have an occupancy density of 8-13m2 per workspace” while the Colliers study FM World quoted suggested 18m2 per person was the norm in 2012. Without an accurate, independent benchmark it’s difficult to know who to believe.

Our two-year “Project Henley” research project will aim to probe this, with clients offering us detailed information on their occupation strategies to directly compare to the information we receive already from them on employee experience and workplace effectiveness. This investigation had its origins in the fact that a number of the global workplaces that have achieved our Leesman+ high-performance classification would appear to have markedly lower occupant densities.

If this proves to be the case – that densifying strategies below a certain m2 per person threshold compromise occupant experience, comfort, perceived productivity and, by implication, organisational performance – the discussion could become very heated.

Tim Oldman, founder & CEO at Leesman

Andrew Mawson

Driving workers to distraction

While on the face of it the link between space planning densities and productivity losses appear to be obvious (i.e. the tighter the space, the poorer the productivity) this may not be true. The main problem with increasing density is ‘distraction’. People are closer together and there are more distractions that interrupt thought. Fundamentally, the brain has to use its cognitive resources to overcome distraction. Things take longer and outcomes are poorer. But what if that problem could be overcome by introducing new space and rules, teaching people how to be most productive? Providing mitigating technology solutions like white noise or headphones? It’s an area we are researching and not as simple as it seems at first sight.

Andrew Mawson, owner of Advanced Workplace Associates