A multi-space office saves space, money and nerves – tips for planning

Digitalisation, new working methods, changing organisational structures.

These are the three factors that drive rapid developments in work environments. In offices, the changes have become apparent in the elements that the users expect to have and how the premises are used.

Low utilisation rate raises costs

Working is more mobile than ever before.

The change is considerable even compared to the situation just a few years ago. It means that a lot of employees no longer sit at their designated desk day in, day out, but they go to meetings, work remotely or pop out for a coffee.

If every employee is assigned a desk, the company pays rent for more space than it needs to.

For example, it was reported as early as in 2014 that in Finnish companies, the costs of the premises were too high in relation to the utilisation rate. At that time, the average area per workstation in an office in Helsinki was 23 square metres, but their average utilisation rate was only 50%, while the rate for meeting rooms was as low as 40%. Office spaces in Helsinki are the 15th most expensive to rent in the world, so empty floor area is quite costly.

It is fair to say that a low utilisation rate of office space increases costs to a higher level than they need to be.

An open-plan office lowers costs but also reduces productivity

As it is possible to save money by optimising the use of space, many companies decided to reduce the floor area per employee in their offices.

The walls dividing workstations disappeared to give way to multifunctional spaces; open-plan offices where different tasks were performed in the same space.

This solution optimised the use of space but introduced new problems such as difficulties focusing on tasks and reduced productivity.

Using every square metre efficiently is not the key to success as it is not the square metres that generate revenue but the employees themselves. The next logical step in the development of premises was therefore to create environments that support users’ activities.

A multi-space office reduces the area required but improves concentration

The popular office design now is the multi-space office; an office with many different areas for different types of tasks.

Each zone has its own purpose in a multi-space office, and employees can choose the space that best suits the task at hand. It is possible to create such an office by allocating 10-15 square metres per employee, which is about half of the area required in traditional office designs.

In order to ensure that the zones are used for their intended purpose, the company must update its operating culture and have rules agreed on by all employees. So, for example:

  • phones are switched off or silenced and people refrain from talking to each other in the quiet zone;
  • the pods are available to everyone, and they do not need to be booked in advance;
  • phone calls are made in a soundproof phone booth;
  • casual meetings and video conferences are held in their designated spaces;
  • a meeting room is booked for longer meetings;
  • the workstations in the quiet work area cannot be appropriated; if an employee leaves the space for a couple of hours, they must take their things with them so that anyone needing the space can use it.

Similarly, if an employee decides to work in a teamwork area, it means that they are available and you can talk to them. The environment enables ideas to be shared quickly between team members without the need to organise a meeting. Having a natural environment in which colleagues can talk to one another has been shown to improve team spirit in many work places. A smooth flow of information, collaboration and socialising form a context for a productive work community, especially when employees have the opportunity to nip to a quiet room to perform tasks that require focusing.

Supervisors are more accessible to employees when they work in teamwork areas. Employees do not need to wonder if they can approach a supervisor when the supervisor has chosen to work at a workstation to communicate their availability for conversations.

Multi-space office design: quiet pods and teamwork spaces

Of course, it is good to remember that the multi-space office does not offer any one-size-fits-all solutions. Industry- and job-specific differences must be taken into account: what works for a sales team does not necessarily work for an accountancy firm. Investments in design are sure to result in a functional space that serves all users.

A good starting point when designing a multi-space office is to identify the tasks that people need to be able to perform in the office and to consider if they really need to perform all these tasks on site or if some work could actually be carried out remotely and identified as such from the start.

The next phase is to assess how many employees do the same or similar tasks. This helps to understand how many zones are required and how much space each zone needs.

The height of screens, the number and location of acoustic panels as well as a desk plan are all factors that affect the usability of the various zones. It is especially important to make sure that there is a sufficient number of pods so that people do not need to answer the phone in a “forbidden” place just because all the phone booths are taken.

Multi-space offices look much more spacious than traditional cubicle offices yet they offer much more privacy than open-plan offices. The multi-space model offers plenty of opportunities to showcase the company’s brand. For example, stickers on glass walls can be used to create a lasting impression in visitors.

The most important advantage of the multi-space office is, however, its ability to provide all employees with a workstation that meets their requirements every day, even if the tasks they perform change on a daily basis.

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