The world of work is rapidly changing as flexible models become the norm and hybrid work gains prominence. Business leaders need to stay ahead of the curve and adapt to these trends as they come in order to ensure success, both in terms of profit and employee satisfaction. Therefore, optimizing office space has become critical for organizations aiming to enhance efficiency, reduce costs, and support the evolving needs of their workforce.
In our recent webinar, titled "Space Optimization: Transforming Offices for Maximum Efficiency and Reduced Costs," we had the privilege of delving into this topic with two distinguished experts from the realm of workplace management. Esme Banks Marr, a Strategy Director of Work + Place at BVN Architecture, brings her unique ability to decode employee sentiment data and align it with occupancy trends, while Dr. Dan Wakelin, a Director at HCG oversees workplace strategy and change management initiatives across diverse industries.
Both workplace management experts offered insights and proven best practices to maximize space utilization and enhance decision-making effectiveness. Let’s explore the key takeaway shared by our panel!
1. Create alignment within the organization
Dr. Dan Wakelin urges hybrid organizations to create alignment in order to fully optimize space and create a well-functioning office. He breaks this down into two types of alignment. The first is between the approach to work and the organization’s key principles. As explained by Wakelin, “So people can sense a congruence between the things that the organization is saying about itself and the ways of working that it encourages, supports and facilitates.” In other words, if the organization is a proponent of sustainability, it should have a paperless office, incentivize using public transportation or carpooling, and take extensive measures to reduce energy consumption. While this is just one example, having congruence between the values the organization communicates and its daily practices is important to build trust and camaraderie.
The second type of alignment mentioned by Dr. Wakelin is between “the spaces that are provided and the activities that people are doing.” Therefore, the types of space an organization has, such as meeting rooms, single desks, open office plans, etc., all need to align with the tasks each employee is doing. Do they have the right resources and space to do their jobs effectively?
As explained by Dr. Wakelin, “We have to lose this assumption that we can all use the same types of space and that all of our work is always the same. So actually we need a range of settings and a range of work environments to suit, whether it's different activities, different work preferences, different styles, all sorts of reasons why a mix of settings might be necessary”.
2. Set more parameters, not less, in flexible settings
While trust and freedom are key benefits of flexible settings, it is also important to create the right parameters for individuals to function within, while still maintaining their autonomy. Employees like to feel trusted. In fact, micromanagement can hinder productivity. However, there must be guidelines for the team to understand what is expected of them.
As Esme Banks highlighted, “To accommodate the people who come into the office. I would say the idea of setting parameters is gonna help you do that.” She explains that a free for all will not be successful because it provides too much free reign. However, she also warned against setting too many rules or strict mandates. As we have seen, mandates forcing people back into the office have been unsuccessful.
Instead, Esme suggests, “Communicate really well…let people know what's expected of them. And I think setting parameters around when you come in and why, really importantly, is gonna help you kind of optimize the space that you already have and to just understand it and understand what people need from it.”
As she advises, “You've gotta ask, you've gotta listen. You've gotta be prepared to do that work…to know what they need. Otherwise, it's a lot of guesswork and you're probably gonna fall flat.” So, parameters should be created with employees in mind. Rather than setting strict mandates, get their feedback to learn what guidelines will be truly helpful.
3. Communication is key!
Similar to the advice on setting boundaries, clearly communicating with your hybrid team, is crucial. Esme identifies that a key issue is simply “Employees just not knowing not being told, and not having that leadership.”
As Esme explains, “Leadership shouldn't be afraid to kind of put their stake in the ground and start to make some decisions, but also to acknowledge that decision might not be forever.” Because things are rapidly changing, especially in the world of work, leaders need to be adaptable. But even more so, they need to create processes that can mold to the needs and demands of a changing workforce. Change is inevitable and leaders will need to bring in new tools, enforce different rules, etc. The key is simply to communicate to your team what is taking place. Also, be open to their feedback and listen to their needs.
4. Focus less on costs and more on efficiency and employee experience
While cost-savings is an increasingly important topic, especially in a time of rising living costs, it should not be the primary focus of hybrid organizations. Instead, Dan urges leaders to regard efficiency more highly. Rather than only focusing on reducing the bottom line, businesses should measure efficiency and whether a space delivers good value. For example, a space might be larger and therefore more costly but employees are significantly more efficient in that space than in a smaller, less expensive one. If the office is fulfilling employee needs and they are more productive because of it, there will be better business performance and, subsequently, greater profits.
As Wakelin explains, “I typically would like to present cost savings on a… balanced scorecard…” so that costs are evaluated in comparison to other important factors such as, “the brand, the impact on our people, the impact on the operations of the organization.”
Banks agrees, stating that, “we need to stop thinking about dialing down costs. And we instead need to think about dialing up the experience because, in the long run, they're gonna have the same effect on our business.”
She explains that while downsizing will inevitably save money, leaders need to evaluate what they sacrifice in return, such as employee experience. This is important because happy employees are more likely to stay, reducing recruitment and onboarding costs in the long run. Plus, as she explains, “They're gonna be able to do their best work because I've allowed them to be fully supported…Yes, workplaces are investments, but they're gonna pay kind of dividends in the end.”
5. Sustainability should be a key driver of change
Rather than looking at costs in isolation, other elements should drive a business to go hybrid, such as sustainability. As Dan said, “[the] sustainability driver is potentially a stronger one than simply cost. And if we do the right thing, probably the pounds and the pennies will follow.”
Optimizing resources is just as important as optimizing space when aiming to improve the sustainability of your business. For example, how can energy be saved when office occupancy is low? As a result, costs will likely drop in response to fewer resources being used. With employees’ values changing to prioritize sustainability, making these changes will also improve employee morale.
Although many (us included) support flexibility as a strong driver to sustainability, Esme presents an opposing point, arguing against it, and basing her point of view on a recent episode of Workplace Geeks Podcast, where the host, Gensler examines hybrid work’s impact on cities and our lives. They concluded that it's more efficient energy-wise for you to come into the office.
6. Technology and coordinated hybrid work are the future
Employees' expectations about work are shifting and many want flexible work models that provide them with greater autonomy. However, as many hybrid leaders have likely experienced, implementing such a model can be difficult.
But as Dr. Wakelin predicts, “The clue about the future is actually…coordinated hybrid work.” This is when a flexible model is managed using technology for scheduling, desk booking, and tracking office occupancy. And our research at deskbird shows that it not only reduces costs, but also improves employee satisfaction.
The role of the office is changing from simply a place where we do work to a place for personal connection and collaboration. So, coordinated hybrid work and technology are necessary to ensure employees’ schedules are synced. From an employee satisfaction standpoint, people want to come in when their work friends are in because this dramatically improves their experience at work. From a productivity standpoint, coordinated models ensure collaboration takes place when needed and scheduling is streamlined. As Dan and Esme explain, there is more admin required in the hybrid working area, such as getting people into the office and keeping track of who is in and when, so technology is crucial to help form meaningful relationships at work. It spares people from wasting hours commuting when it is unnecessary.
The insights from this webinar provide a clear path for organizations seeking to transform their offices for optimal efficiency and employee satisfaction. Banks Marr and Wakelin’s expertise highlights the significance of alignment, communication, and sustainable practices as pillars of effective space optimization.
As businesses chart their course toward a hybrid future, the blend of technology and well-defined parameters serve as a great starting point for coordinating flexible offices. Companies can optimize their space by prioritizing alignment with organizational values, creating a culture of open communication, and implementing technology to streamline operations.. They will consequently be able to foster collaboration, creativity, and the growth of both the business and its employees.
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Annabel is a content specialist at deskbird, where she helps companies navigate the new hybrid world and build workplaces that people love.