Better office performance? Give staff a bit more elbow room

Office workers are well aware of their colleagues’ bad habits — from smelly food to dramatically loud sneezes.

Comfort is at hand, however, with the bible for design produced by the British Council for Offices (BCO). The organisation has updated its guidance after the pandemic, advising developers to allow each worker more space.

The latest recommendation is that office workers be given up to 12sq m of workspace, up from its previous recommendation of 10sq m per person. The BCO said its report aimed to help landlords, developers and occupiers “achieve the optimal level of density”.

The average office density in 2001 was almost 15sq m per desk. The space was steadily squeezed, however, until by 2018 each person had 9.6sq m — a reduction of 36 per cent compared with the start of the millennium.

Research shows that when an office has a density of 12sq m or more per person “it is likely that most workspace issues and concerns are alleviated”.

Crowded offices, offering less than 8sq m per worker, “are more likely to cause issues and affect occupant comfort, wellbeing and performance”, the BCO report says. The pandemic has brought in a new era for the office. Companies and their staff want more collaboration spaces, breakout rooms and better dining facilities.

The nature of the coronavirus means that “health concerns” play a part in how close people want to sit to their colleagues, the BCO said.

The extra space has helped to soothe some landlords’ concerns. They argue that fewer people might be coming into offices regularly but those who are will want more space.

This means, in theory, that companies will not want to shed as much office space as some predicted. Richard Kauntze, the BCO chief executive, said it was suggested after the pandemic there would be “a dramatic reduction” in the amount of office space required.

“The pandemic has prompted many organisations to adopt a greater amount of agile and hybrid working,” he said. “The BCO’s latest research shows that this is partially offset by adoption of a more generous ratio of space per person, as employers seek to attract their staff to the office.”

The average office density in the UK is among the highest in Europe. In Sweden and Italy, office workers get more than 20sq m of space, while in Finland they get at least 30sq m.

Developers and landlords, realising that people can choose where to work, are keen to meet their demands. Nearly all new office blocks have been built with an eye on sustainability, ventilation and open spaces.

James Sellar, the chief executive of Sellar Group, the developer behind the Shard, said: “The office of the future is about better-quality environments and more space which is more enjoyable, more productive, more humane.”

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Better office performance? Give staff a bit more elbow room