Measuring High-Performance Work Spaces

We frequently hear the term high-performance work space, and I think we are all seeing significant gains in efficiency as our office environments evolve.

Yet, measuring the performance of an alternative workspace today is a tricky business — especially given many of the new conventions in how we work, such as unassigned work spaces, telecommuting, distributed work, consulting, and outsourcing.

So, what does a “high-performance work space” really mean?

For example, if your work area is flexible space that can be expanded or contracted, how do you measure it? Or if staff members work remotely or only occasionally in the office, do you still count them in the number of employees?

And if we look at productivity as a measurement, we immediately are confronted with a variety of issues that will impact our statistics. These include elements such as day lighting, temperature, noise, organizational development, leadership, technology, ergonomics, communication, and processes. Measuring productivity effectively — or at least to arrive at a baseline — frequently depends on function, culture, and organizational structure. And they’re all issues probably too complex to effectively discuss here.

But I do think there are more definitive areas we can start to quantify, and so I wanted to capture them here to begin the dialogue on what it means to measure high-performance work spaces.

From Single Offices to Shared Spaces

The real estate and construction industry has traditionally (and for good reason) converted everything to square feet. The entire industry is focused on square feet as the primary measure, and it deduces every conceivable cost or performance measure to square feet. Building values, rent, construction costs, and professional fees — even furniture and operating expenses — are currently measured and compared on a cost-per- sf basis.

Historically, office space efficiency has also been measured in square feet per person. In the hey day of the individual, 150sf-private office (and the 6×8 work station), it was all about square feet per person. Square footages over the past several decades have averaged somewhere between 200- and 250-sf/person.

But recent trends have shifted space away from individuals being assigned space and, instead, dedicated to shared common areas. Those common areas are now becoming shared flexible workspaces. This is obviously an efficiency boost — but we have no standard measure for the resulting performance.

So I think the high-performance workspace here needs to still maximize profit while it’s minimizing its overall square footage by breaking down old notions of dedicated space per person.

Counting the (Former) Circulation Space

As we move toward more efficient floor plans that share formerly designated private office square footage, an interesting thing happens to the circulation space. When we increase the number of workstations to accommodate the folks who used to be in private offices, the circulation space must increase in order to provide access to all the workstations.

But as we shift to a more open, shared, and flexible work environment, then the circulation becomes part of the work area and is reduced to a relatively small number.

A cafà © type seating area is a good example here. Typically, you measure the entire space that one person must have — working and circulating. But with cafe-type seating, the tables and chairs can be ganged together for larger groups whose working and circulating overlaps. And those people are accounted for in the same way regardless of furniture configuration.

Instant square footage efficiency. Which, not coincidentally, is a major reason why cafe-style seating is exploding in popularity.

But again we’re plagued with a performance measurement — how do we take what’s obviously a square footage boost in efficiency and figure out how that affects performance? Particularly in that the flexibility of something like cafe-style seating almost begs to be more transient and mobile in nature… much like the employees themselves.

The high-performance workspace here needs to still promote productivity in spaces that serve multiple people and multiple purposes.

Considering Virtual Office Space

Those same employees who are becoming more transient and mobile are demanding flexible working options like telecommuting from a home-office or public coworking space. How do you count a person when you have people who telecommute, or consultants who may only be in the office one or two days per week?

You have others who may work in the office, but now have unassigned spaces. You have groups who may come in for a work session in a collaboration type space, but then retreat to a workstation. All of these conditions represent a challenge to measure accurately.

Almost like in a hotel, occupancy in the evolving workspace will change over a day, week, or month. Conference rooms have the potential to be work spaces, could be occupied just like a private office, and could still accommodate 20+ people — all in a single day’s work.

The high-performance work space needs to be able to adapt effectively to changes in its occupancy from hour-to-hour, day-to-day, and week-to-week.

Measurement Standards

In today’s open and flexible team spaces, the staff’s individual functions may vary, the furniture and its arrangement may vary, and even the square footage may vary. And until we go to an hourly or daily rate like a hotel room, square footage will continue to be the standard for office-space leases.

So to calculate the efficiency or performance of that space, I say consider the number of individual seats into the total amount of space.

This assumes that all the seats in an office environment can be utilized for work. So we can’t just jam a work space full of furniture — like an auditorium full of seats, for example — and expect it to sustain performance at a high level.

To further define workplace efficiency, we could then tap into additional measures, including:

— ¢ Workspace Utilization and
— ¢ Cost Per Person Model (CPPM)
— ¢ Workspace SF Allocation
— ¢ Office Space Use Review
— ¢ Performance Measures/Results

Many of these can be used depending on other performance metrics of the organization. All of us have some metric that drives the business. After all, high-performance workspaces represent a new way of thinking about people, communication, collaboration, and efficiency. In the end, everyone benefits. But there is a necessary comparative analysis that is required in order to measure results and, ultimately, improve.

If you have any thoughts, please share them.

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1 Comment

  • Good article and magazine Bob. Choosing the right type of space can have an impact on the square foot per person, as you already know, but not all markets or clients understand this.

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