As businesses work harder to retain staff in a turbulent economic climate, they are re-examining how to streamline office space usage, not only to save cost but to encourage a more productive workforce, offering inspired, supportive spaces which make employees want to stay.

Post the open-plan office era, there is a growing emergence of occupiers shifting back to workplaces which are divided into clearly defined spaces. Unlike the individual office cells of the past, creative spaces are being incorporated into fit-outs to support a whole host of work and life activities. These range from spaces to release creativity or support logical thinking, informal communal areas to develop a sense of community and collaboration, pods for rest and switching off and ‘hideaways’ for solitary working.

As companies become better at reading their employees and what stimulates them in the workplace, spaces for leisure activities are being built in to office designs. We’re working with a with tech company at the moment that recognises its staff’s interests and is installing performance spaces so that colleagues can enjoy live music without having to leave the office. Gone are the days of traditional staff canteens too, we’re seeing pop-up style food markets being incorporated into fit-out programmes, keeping the office a fresh, constantly reinvigorated and energised space to work in.

This renewed trend for increased cellularisation has stemmed from creative companies, especially in the tech and media industries, who recognised the need to inspire and draw out creative thinking from their employees through interaction with their work environment. Fit-out contractors have also been very alive to this approach for some time, recognising that their office space is a showroom for their clients and sub-contractors to buy in to. Now, other large corporations from banks to professional services firms are placing more importance on workplace design to retain and attract employees, as well as increase productivity of staff and efficiency of space, seeking more than a generic Cat A or Cat B fit-out.

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Current BCO office occupancy guidelines allow approximately 1 head per every 8 sq m. We’re seeing office occupiers going up to 10 sq m to achieve the varied layout that they feel will give their employees room and flexibility to work most effectively. One media client we are working with has even gone up to 15 sq m per head due to the creation of various work and social spaces it feels best reflects its company culture.

Benchmarking fit-out costs

This growing innovation in workspace layout and need to reflect company culture and style for employees beyond traditional workspace means there’s a greater set of variables to consider when choosing an office space to occupy than there was previously. When it comes to associated costs, this makes benchmarking CAT B fit-out costs complex and occupiers need to address four key issues when considering the most efficient fit-out to align with their company culture:

1. Cellularisation:  The last 20 years has marked an open-plan trend, with 10-15% of space being enclosed into individual spaces. Now, cellularisation is on the rise once more, with the rise of separate spaces within offices to encourage particular skills and activities in staff. Increased cellularisation comes at a significant cost.

2. Quality: The look and feel of furniture and fixtures is becoming more bespoke to company culture, reflecting the business’ tone and purpose and employee demands. Quality of specification comes with a huge variable and can double fit-out costs in some cases. Up to potentially a third of the capex of office fit-outs comes from furniture and audio-visual infrastructure. With the rise of technological development and employee demands for best in class working environments, this is a major consideration for any prospective occupier.

3. Base build quality: To match the business’ vision for its office layout, there may be a significant amount of work to do to create a space fit for purpose. For example a significant amount of reconfiguration and renewal may be needed to the internal structure or the services infrastructure may require complete replacement to support the desired fit-out.

4.Flexibility and resilience: Does the building need to be resilient in terms of it’s power supply or physical security? Is there flexibility in the existing infrastructure to move walls easily to form team rooms, quiet rooms or leisure and catering spaces quickly? These issues are all solved by increasing the infrastructure available, but again, at a cost.

As today’s workforce demands more from its workplace, and social media gives them increased access to what is available, corporate occupiers need to hone in on their fit-out objectives and brief. It is becoming more difficult at present to benchmark CAT B fit-outs because of the wide variety of space usage between industries and that complexity is only going to increase. An intricate understanding of company culture and business development aspiration is essential to getting the brief and therefore occupancy cost right, and ultimately, retaining and attracting the best staff and boosting their productivity in a competitive landscape.

Guy Bonser

Guy Bonser
Director, UK

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