Space – the final frontier

No, I am not taking you on a journey to explore strange new worlds. Instead, I am asking you to reflect on how you use your space – your offices, workshops, showrooms and storage areas.

On average, our workspace is occupied for approximately 21% of the available time based on an average 8 hour working day, 5 days per week and taking out holidays and public holidays. 21% relates to space that is used for 8 hours a day 5 days a week.

If you then factor in the members of staff who are not fully office based, but are provided with a desk and chair, then that percentage drops significantly. For instance, your sales team might only be in the office once a week, so their usage falls to only 4.4%.

You are tying up a significant amount of money – rent, rates, energy and light – on space that is largely empty and unproductive. This is a significant overhead that should be considered when you are planning how and where your team works.

It is important to create a space where all your staff feel welcome, supported with access to all the tools they need to do their job effectively. Although many of us office type staff are wedded to ‘our’ desks – with a few photos and our favourite mug, this is not always essential provided we have somewhere to work with all the equipment we need close to hand.

Since starting my own business, I have worked at the kitchen table, on the sofa in front of the fire, in a number of café’s, other people’s offices and even the garden. I have taken the equipment I need with me to where I feel I can work best for that project.

Not everyone has the flexibility I currently have, and it may be that having your workforce on one location for the majority of the time suits your business best. It fosters great communication, encourages the sharing of good ideas and practice and helps maximise productivity.

However, perhaps you could review how allocate space within your operation. Does everyone need a designated location? If you take into account holidays and sickness, then it is unlikely for any but the smallest teams that all staff members will be on site at the same time.

Do all your staff need to be in at the same time? If you can spread your working hours out over a longer period, then you could increase utilisation of the space available. Some people work better in early mornings or late evenings, but extending your working hours, you could adapt working practices to suit personal preferences and therefore use the same space for different employees.

One example was a support team I worked with. Their services were required for about 20 hours per day, but initially, they were timetabled to work between 8am and 6pm. This meant that space was required for about 20 staff, and that anyone trying to access the support outside these times had to contact an emergency on-call person generally working from home which wasn’t satisfactory.

We reviewed the opening hours, extending them from 7am to 11pm, created 3 shift patterns to cover the busiest times of day and later into the evening. This led to increased customer satisfaction and a decrease in the amount of space required. Instead of 20 desks, we were able to reduce down to 10 desks and relocate the team to a smaller but more appropriate location which was cheaper to run.

When the team had settled down, we asked for feedback. Despite the disruption, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Staff felt they could cope with their workload far better as requests were not building up overnight, and were able to give a better-quality service. Most liked the option to work early or late as it gave them a better work/life balance. The smaller teams on shift were more productive as there weren’t so many distractions and the teams felt they bonded better.

So, by thinking creatively, you can overcome significant challenges and achieve savings in the cost of space.

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