Understanding Office Occupancy Ratios

At the leading design fairs and trade shows which our design team attended towards the end of last year, an emerging trend in the latest office designs was a re-working of the traditional office occupancy ratios. But many of our clients, when we first speak to them, are unaware  of what office occpancy ratios are and how they can be altered in order to change how a workspace operates.

This post looks to explain and explore the concept so that you can alter yours  and improve your day to day working practices. Getting the correct office occupancy ratio in your office can make your space more efficient and improve productivity at the same time.

What Are Office Occupancy Ratios?

Office occupancy ratios relates to the ratios of the number of staff compared against the amount of available desks in an office. Historically, offices have worked at a ratio of 1:1, where every member of staff has their own allocated desk.

The other important aspect of office occupancy ratios to consider is how many members of the workforce are ever in the office at one time. This is likely to never be 100%, so it stands to reason that there is actually no need for offices to work at a ratio of 1:1.

However, under traditional seating organisation, where each staff member is allocated his or her own desk, it isn’t easy to work in a ratio where there are less desks than employees. Tensions arise because people are naturally territorial. The closest most businesses get is to have teams whose team members are often out of the office working on a shared desk basis – but many of these see workers having to work on meeting tables or squashed onto single desks when “nipping into the office”.

The true solution to the problem of not having an effective office occupancy ratio – one which doesn’t leave a regular amount of desks empty or result in staff outnumbering desks – is to create a truly agile seating plan.

This can be met with some resistance by staff who have only ever known static seating plans, but they can actually be a lot more productive.

How Do Office Occupancy Ratios Affect Productivity?

Being able to alternate between working locations depending on who you’re working with and what task is being worked on is the biggest way in which ‘hot desking’ or ‘agile’ seating plans help to boost productivity. But an office occupancy ratio which is at or anywhere near 1:1 cannot facilitate this.

The office being too full leaves staff stuck in the same desk throughout the day, with no alternate space to find a quiet space or work collaboratively without disturbing those around them.

It’s important to have an office occupancy ratio which doesn’t harm productivity. This can be done by managing the amount of time that your workforce generally spends in the office. An emerging trend is for offices to use a desk to staff ratio of 7:10. But to employ this technique effectively, a business needs to be able to manage occupancy levels closely.

How Can You Use Occupancy Ratios To Improve Your Office?

If occupancy is unexpectedly high one day and a 7:10 desk to staff ratio is used, for example, a lot of time can be lost as staff look to source or negotiate use of a free desk. To avoid this scenario, an office either needs more desks (which are left empty far too often – taking us back to the problem of paying for wasted spaces) or closer management of who is in the office.

A simple way could be to have desks organised in banks of four and they are “owned” by five staff members – but each has a designated “out of the office” day where they cannot use the office – unless they swap days with another desk member. This allows you to keep a snapshot office occupancy rate as close to 100% as possible.

For this, no dedicated ownership of desk space is key. That’s where agile working comes in it’s own.

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