coworkers in a open office space
On the record

The Frankfurt experiment


June 5, 2024


June 6, 2024

A police station secrets to the optimal desk ratio

In the labyrinth of today’s corporate offices, a seemingly ordinary metric is quietly revolutionizing how businesses operate.

The desk ratio, a measure of available desks per employee, has emerged as a crucial factor in determining office efficiency. As hybrid work is now effectively part of our daily work life, balancing office space with workforce needs has shifted from a logistical concern to a strategic linchpin. 

This nuanced equilibrium, essential for maximizing productivity and minimizing waste, is now at the heart of organizational success. How companies navigate this terrain may well determine their place in the competitive hierarchy of the modern business world.

The science of desk ratio optimization

Beyond the numbers: the true purpose of desk ratios

At its essence, the desk ratio is more than a numerical target; it's a reflection of an organization's agility and responsiveness to evolving work patterns. A well optimized desk ratio can lead to significant cost savings, improved employee satisfaction, and enhanced operational efficiency.

Several factors can influence the optimal desk ratio. We'll explore them in more detail below.

Flexibility as a cornerstone

The flexibility of an office plays a crucial role in how effectively it can adapt to an optimal desk ratio. Consider two scenarios:

  1. Low office flexibility: Traditional office setups with rigid infrastructure may struggle to adapt to changing desk demands. For instance, if a company reduces desk count due to a shift towards remote work, the cost and disruption of reconfiguring the office space might outweigh the benefits.
  1. High office flexibility: On the other hand, co-working spaces and hybrid offices exemplify high flexibility. These environments can easily reconfigure spaces to accommodate varying desk demands, such as converting office areas into lounges or collaborative zones when fewer desks are needed.

A model for the future: framework conditions1

Optimizing the desk ratio in modern workplaces requires a nuanced understanding of various factors. As a study from SRH University theorized, the framework for an effective, scalable model hinges on a combination of quantitative and qualitative parameters, each essential for building a functional office environment.

  • Quantitative parameters: direct metrics such as desk requirements, employee presence, and absences (due to sickness, training, etc.) form the backbone of this model. For instance, calculating desk needs involves a careful assessment of the number of employees, their working hours, and their presence in the office. These metrics provide a clear, data-driven foundation for understanding how many desks are actually necessary at any given time.
  • Qualitative parameters: these elements significantly influence the desk ratio. Factors like corporate culture, job satisfaction, and leadership play crucial roles in determining how effectively an organization can implement a desk-sharing concept. A workplace that fosters a positive culture and addresses employee preferences is more likely to succeed in flexible workspace arrangements.

Other variables are also key for a correct and more inclusive desk ratio calculation:

  • Office flexibility: The ability to dynamically adjust the physical layout and usage of office space.
  • Space utilization rates: Monitoring and managing how space is used over time.
  • Time: Recognizing that desk demand fluctuates daily and over the year, requiring a dynamic approach to space management.

But models are just that unless we can apply them to real-life cases. 

Case study: building a new police station in Frankfurt

To assess the practicality of the desk ratio calculation, organizations can use scenarios to test desk availability and the impact of potential shortages. This involves simulating different occupancy levels and remote work preferences to see how well the desk ratio holds up under various conditions. 

For this reason, SHR University2 developed an interesting case study based on building a police station in a new district in Frankfurt (with 30,000 inhabitants).

sign of a police station

The city of Frankfurt has specific objectives:

  • To determine the size of the police station.
  • Calculate the number of desks needed based on the optimal desk ratio.
  • To save space and avoid unnecessary costs.
  • Modernizing conditions to include remote work for incident reporting.

And requirements:

  • For every 100,000 residents, there are 276 police officers (Statistical Office, 2024).
  • Calculation includes part-time officers, trainees, and supporting officers.
  • Factors considered: working hours, vacation days, sick days, training days, shift schedules, etc…

SHR University calculated the desk ratio over two specific periods3:

  • First-year calculations include weekly variations due to different remote work preferences.
  • Second-year calculations to account for changes in staffing.

It's also essential to take into account 3 other critical variables that will likely impact the calculation, especially in the long term:

  • After a year, it is unknown if the 20 part-time officers will become full-time at the new station.
  • The number of trainees will likely increase in the first three years.
  • Some optimization will need to be considered, such as more office flexibility, desk organization, and varying space utilization rates over the first two years.

Let’s now break down the desk ratio calculations. We are starting by listing some data points relevant to the calculation, such as working hours, vacation days, etc.…

Auxiliary data points:

Category Details
Part-time police officers 21*
Trainees per year 42 (1 month block instruction every 3 months from the second year)
Weekly working hours 36 hours full-time, 24 hours part-time
Supporting police officers 3 (only for the setup phase)
Desk job requirement 40%
Operations Runs 24/7 in 12-hour shifts
Vacation days 30 (proportionately for part-time according to weekly hours)
Sick days 26
Training days 10 (6 hours of release from duty)
Station rotation One week per year (to promote exchange)
Preference to work remotely on Mondays 24%
Preference to work remotely on Tuesdays 12%
Preference to work remotely on Wednesdays 13%
Preference to work remotely on Thursdays 12%
Preference to work remotely on Fridays 31%
Preference to work remotely on Saturdays 46%
Preference to work remotely on Sundays 59%

Before calculating the desk ratio, we need to estimate the number of police officers based on the area’s inhabitants. 

Based on the initial assumptions:

Category Details
Population 30,000 residents
Police officers per 100,000 residents 276
Police officers needed 30,000 / 100,000 × 276 ≈ 83

If we were to scale up for a larger population (let’s imagine a 10x bigger population):

276÷10×3=82.8×10≈828 police officers

Now, we want to establish how many officers will be required based on shifts:

  • Calculation of full-time police officers per shift:

N. of police officers × N. of shifts  / N. of shifts per week=831×314=178.07≈178

  • Calculation of part-time police officers per shift:

N. of police officers × N. of shifts / N. of shifts per week=210×214=30

And how many workdays we will have per year:

N. of weeks × Workdays per week − Public holidays in the State

Calculation of workdays for the Police (no weekends, no public holidays, shift work):

Workdays per year for full-time=52×3=156

Workdays per year for part-time=52×2=104

We can now calculate how many people will actually be present in the office based on the auxiliary data points (presence, absence, sick days, training…):

Category Details
Average remote work 10% of work hours
Vacation days 30 days per year
Sick leave 26 days per year
Training days 10 days per year
Station swaps 1 week per year

The formula will be:

Attendance days full-time = Workdays − vacation days - sick days - training days - rotations = 156−30−26−10−3=87

Attendance days for part-time= 104−20−17−10−2=55

We can now calculate the desk usage during actual attendance days

Desk usage = Workdays × Daily working hours × Desk requirement percentage / 100

Desk usage full-time = 87×12×40 /100= 417.6 hours per year
Desk Usage Part-Time=55×12×40 /100=264 hours per year

For a complete picture, we also have to deduct the remote working hours from actual desk usage, as follows:

Remote working hours = Working hours per year × Avg. remote preference /100

Remote working hours for full-Time = 417.6 ×28.14/ 100=117.5

Remote working hours for part-time = 264 × 28.14 /100 = 74.29

But how many total working hours in the office should we consider?

Working hours in the office = Working hours per year − Remote working hours

Working hours in the office for full-time= 417.6−117.5=300.1

Working hours in the office for part-time=264−74.29=189.71

Total working hours in the office=300.1+189.71=489.84

To calculate the desk ratio, the working hours spent in the office must be divided by the total working hours in the year5

Finally, we can calculate the total working hours per year:

1044 (working hour per year full time) + 660 (working hour per year part-time) = 1704 hours per year

And the desk ratio calculation:

Desk ratio year 1 = Total working hours in the office / Total working hours= 489.84 /1704=0.2874

The calculation of the required desks for the first year follows:

Required desks = Desk ratio year 1 × Police officers per shift= 0.2874×208≈606

We can go into more detail and also calculate weekday ratios per shift and per day.7

The desk ratios for each weekday are derived from the desk usage adjusted for remote work preferences.

So, if we wanted to calculate the desk ratio for Mondays, we would need to use the following formula:

Desk ratio weekday= Working hours per shift/desk usage per shift−remote time weekday

Monday: 4.8 − 1.152 / 12 = 3.648 /12 = 0.304  

Desk requirements weekday = Desk ratio weekday×Number of employees per shift

Desk requirements Monday=0.304×208=63.232≈64

This approach ensures that desk requirements reflect the working patterns and preferences of employees, leading to an optimized and efficient use of office space.8

woman looking at data on a screen

Observations from the case study

The case study presented by SHR University demonstrates the complexities and considerations involved in calculating an optimal desk ratio for a workplace, blending theoretical models with practical applications. 

The study highlights a critical shift in perspective: achieving an optimal desk ratio is less about pinpointing a precise number and more about cultivating a workspace that reflects the organization's and its employees' evolving demands. Rather than fixating on an immutable optimal number, companies must aim for an adaptable desk ratio framework that prioritizes employee-centric policies, which is crucial for successfully implementing and optimizing desk ratios.

For the first time, SHR University emphasizes the importance of a comprehensive framework to refine the desk ratio.

The study advocates for a flexible and dynamic approach to desk ratio calculations, considering factors such as training requirements, employee absences, and organizational changes. This adaptability is essential in maintaining a workspace that evolves in tandem with the workforce's shifting size, work patterns, and goals.

Organizations that adopt flexible workspace models must fine-tune their desk ratios, leveraging advanced analytical tools and data-driven strategies to continuously evaluate and adjust these metrics. This ongoing recalibration will be vital for maintaining workspace efficiency.

Additionally, a holistic approach to workspace management is paramount. Beyond desk ratios, metrics such as space utilization rates and employee well-being should be integral to workspace strategy. 

By adopting this comprehensive perspective, organizations can transform their offices into dynamic environments that enhance productivity, collaboration, and well-being.

Challenging the status quo: desk ratios as a tool for corporate control?

We want to close our analysis with a bit of a controversial point of view (not just to stir the pot, so to speak, but to present another side of the coin). 

Some argue that while desk ratio optimization is essential for modern office management, it can also be a guise for cost-cutting measures prioritizing profits over people. By manipulating desk ratios to reduce office space and expenses, companies may compromise employee comfort and productivity.

Desk ratios might also be used to exert control over employee behavior, limiting autonomy and flexibility. 

To this perspective, we reply that a balanced approach, integrating flexible workspaces and employee-centric policies, is the only sustainable solution for leading successful, modern businesses. And empowering employees with a say in their work environment enhances job satisfaction and performance.

The debate over desk ratio optimization reveals a broader issue: the potential for these metrics to serve corporate interests at the expense of employee well-being.

True efficiency requires a balance between quantitative metrics and qualitative understanding. As we rethink workspace design, let's prioritize human needs alongside financial goals. By valuing both numerical data and the human experience, companies can create environments that foster long-term success and satisfaction.

Efficiency should enhance, not exploit. Balancing space, flexibility, and human needs is the true measure of workplace success, Ivan Cossu.


  1. Research executed by Christian Knaf, Olivia Ganten, Eric Holtkamp, Lara Hölkemeier, Florentine Sieger, SHR University - April 2024
  2. Data from SHR University - April 2024
  3. The calculation is always done for one shift, not for a day or a year.
  4. To scale up for a larger population, we would multiply these value by 10 (assuming a population of 300,000 inhabitants).
  5. Total working hours per year = Workdays per year×Daily working hours

Total Working Hours per Year for Full-Time=87×12=1044 hours

Total Working Hours per Year for Part-Time=55×12=660 hours

  1. The calculated values are average.
  2. Desk Usage per Shift= Working Hours×Desk Requirement/100 = 12x40/100 = 4.8
  3. The case study also introduces a “correction factor”, which indicates how much office flexibility is needed to always provide enough desks while maintaining the average desk requirement as a fixed baseline.
The Frankfurt experiment

Graziella Moschella

Graziella is a seasoned content marketing professional passionate about storytelling and new media. She writes about DEI, women in tech, and flexible work models. When she's not writing about hybrid work, you'll find her reading or knitting something colorful (that nobody will ever wear).

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