Commercial property: Operating in the thick of densification

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Hot desking is not a new concept to the modern office set-up. For years now, forward-thinking employers have introduced the policy, where employees have no designated working space, to stimulate creativity and encourage collaboration.

But ahead of the publication of a best practice guide by the British Council for Offices (BCO), all the signs are that collaborative working is about to have its moment.

The BCO guide is considered the authority on office planning, from guidance on temperatures to occupier densities on to small power consumption, and it sets the benchmarks for industry.

Since the guide was last published in 2014, there have been significant changes in how office design is approached.

Employers no longer want a tick-box exercise where a successful design includes open-plan space, meeting rooms and break areas.

Instead, the key driver for successful office design lies in how the building affects the productivity and wellbeing of staff.

Collaborative working allows for greater diversification of available space, simply because less desks are needed.

In the last two or three years, the co-working approach has allowed for a much denser occupation.

Traditionally, the allocation would be 10-12sqm per person, but that’s now reduced to 6-8sqm simply because not everyone has to have their own allocated desk.

The result of densification is that different types of work spaces can be created in a range of environments, which can help to stimulate and increase productivity.

For example, it is not uncommon to see spaces designated as focus rooms or to have quiet zones where the use of technology is not permitted.

The range also depends on the type of industry the office occupier is involved in.

Innovation hubs and maker spaces, for instance, are often needed by firms involved in the creative and technology sectors.

The possibilities are extensive, and it all comes down to which set-up the occupier considers will add most value in terms of productivity.

However, co-working space will not suit everyone.It is a fact of life that people feel territorial about their own space. They like the security that having their own designated environment brings and the sense of familiarity that comes with personalising where they work with family photographs and the like.

For some, the idea of putting such belongings in a locker at the end of each working day and finding a space to work every morning is unpalatable.

But the principle of shared working space carries a positive message – everyone in the organisation is equal.

The move towards denser occupation is, I am sure, just one of the many themes that will emerge in the forthcoming BCO best practice guide.

Collaborative working may set the standard for the immediate future, but no-one knows what office space will look like in the decades to come.

Richard Woods is a director at the design practice Halliday Fraser Munro.