Will the Pandemic Change the Rules of Office Space Size?

One of the key considerations for office-based businesses is making sure that workspace is efficiently allocated. Over the years, we’ve reached some consensus over what’s the best square metre-to-employee ratio. But with the recent developments brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, things may be just about to change.

In this post we’ll take a look at the current rules of thumb on office space size and whether this will be affected by the pandemic.

How Much Space Is Enough?

When it comes to businesses and the office space they need, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution. Getting this right is important because having the wrong amount of space impacts important aspects of business operations, from health and safety to productivity and employee satisfaction.

In the UK, the Workplace Health Safety And Welfare regulations of 1992 establish the bare minimum space allocation for office workers. The official recommendation is 11 cubic metres / person (approximately 5 square metres).

But this is only a guideline, and there are several things to consider to determine the space needed:

  • Ensuring that movement is not restricted and that space allocation doesn’t create hazards.
  • The amount can vary based on whether an office uses individual or shared workstations.
  • Ceiling height can impact the calculations too.
  • The nature of the business itself, since some businesses are better suited than others to open plan layouts, which are less space intensive.
  • The purpose of each room, since the requirements can vary depending on whether they’re meeting or conference rooms, storage or filing areas, or common spaces.
  • Business expansion or downsizing plans.

Office Size and the Covid-19 Pandemic

We’ve just mentioned that business expansion or downsizing plans are one of the most important factors that can help you figure out how much office space you need. Right now, this is more necessary than ever considering that many office-based businesses have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Looking at China (one of the first countries to turn the economy back on), we see that the “new normal” for the office market means an increased focus on safety. In the UK, offices are not in the list of businesses that must close, but office-based business have definitely experienced disruption. Every company is now required to implement social distancing measures. According to Public Health, workplaces need to keep a 2-metre distance between staff.

In terms of office layout, some suggest that the pandemic could mean the end of the open office concept. This model had become popular over the past few decades, but it’s not without its criticisms, since some employees voiced their concerns over lack of privacy. It seems that now we’re at a point where many are considering a return to the cubicle, or some similar arrangement.

Incorporating physical distancing into office planning could also mean that a meeting room or lunch area with capacity for 8 people can only fit 4 people. This could translate into congestion or the need to devise some queuing system that not all employees may be happy with.

In any case, it seems that the options are either more square footage to accommodate the same number of employees, or substantially redesigning existing space. But there’s a third option available.

Flexible Office Space

Conventional office leases may not be cost-effective now that many businesses are reducing working hours in order to cut costs and preserve jobs. Also, most companies have had to step up their cleaning routine, which means higher janitorial expenses.

Working from home arrangements are on the rise, but they’re not an option for every business. To set up remote work safely takes time and requires an investment in equipment and tech solutions, such as VPNs and video conferencing.

Pandemic-related financial concerns are driving an increase in demand for flexible working solutions. A CBRE report claims that the pandemic has accelerated the trend towards flexibility and short-term leases in commercial real estate, and suggests off-site work may become permanent.

Flexible offices fit the bill, as they’re ready to move in and costs are based on real occupancy levels. Because of this, they offer the much-needed flexibility to downsize if and as your circumstances change. Definitely an excellent option to have in a fast-changing situation such as the one we face now!

The flexible space industry has already taken steps to adapt to the new situation and cater to higher demand. For example, operators with multiple locations in a single geographical area can suit the needs of businesses that need to keep different teams or employees working from different locations during the pandemic.

And although Covid-19 has disrupted the co-working model, some operators are re-configuring and rethinking their offerings so they can cater to new and existing businesses in search of safe and flexible office space.

The current crisis has made it clear that flexibility is a key asset for office-based businesses. Flexible space appears as a promising option that can facilitate the adaptation to a new office landscape, and can support your business while you reshape your workplace.

Original post – May 4, 2020, London Office Space blog