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Offices are a ‘waste of space … and time’

The office workplace is a poorly used asset, claims new research. It finds that although offices are available for occupancy for 365 days a year, in practice they are unused outside the 12 hour, Monday to Friday daily window as well as at weekends.

Even when office workplaces are open, they are not being operated efficiently, the report finds, with desks used on average only 59% of the time and meeting spaces only 39% of the time.

Workplace specialist AWA, which conducted the research, says that one reason for the poor use of office space is that the architectural and interior design professions tend to follow a “data less” approach – too often starting with what people want, as opposed to what is demonstrated to be needed through thorough analysis.

The Utilisation of the Office report sets out some home truths about the way in which the workplace is being used (or not) and points at ways under-utilised capacity can be used to get a better deal for people and shareholders.

It suggests the most powerful way to reduce CO2 is to use fewer buildings by consolidating occupancy and increasing utilisation through ‘agile working’.

In an agile working regime (sometimes referred to as free seating, unassigned desking or hot desking) people come to an area in the office where their team is located and use available desks around what AWA calls an “anchor point”. With this regime people still have access to their colleagues, papers, telephone calls, IT applications, electronic files and desktops.

The anchor points mark the central point of occupation for a unit, team or department and instead of allocating space to a department, people are simply asked to sit close to their anchor point and use space on a first come first served basis. The benefit from a space utilisation standpoint of this approach, is that all the unused ‘time slots’ of capacity are now usable and because “owned” areas are not being created for each department, the ebbs and flows of each department’s occupancy can be accommodated within the whole of the space.

The report also looks at meeting room utilisation, which in most buildings it claims is very poor, with on average 39% of meeting rooms being used for the time they are available. It also found only 19% of meeting room capacity is being used.

AWA says the first thing organisations should do to understand the use of their workplaces is to carry out regular (at least once a quarter) studies to assess the utilisation of space through time. This, it says, will draw management attention to new opportunities and can support consolidation of space or in a growth situation, avoidance of the need for more space.

“We would implore architects and interior designers to adopt an evidence-based approach to briefing and design, so that a proper understanding of how people work and their use of and need for different spaces is considered,” says AWA managing director Andrew Mawson. 

Email AWA to request a copy of The Utilisation of the Office report 



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