The most commonly accepted rule in London is that 100 sf per employee is the ideal amount of space per person. This allows for roughly 50 sf for desk space and another 50 sf to accommodate room in communal areas, like breakout spaces, meeting rooms and kitchen. High rents in Central London mean many companies opt for the more cost-efficient ratio of 70-80 sf per person. (https://hubblehq.com/blog/how-much-office-space-do-i-need )
London is perhaps the most expensive office market in the world, and thus the impetus for the very low space per person office ratio. However, office spaces have been getting smaller and smaller everywhere. In North America the average amount of floor space per employee dropped from 250 sf in 2010 to 151 sf per worker in 2017. (https://mehiganco.com/?p=684 ) The wide-open work spaces and low sf per person ratios are just a part of the story. There are tiny meeting rooms, heavily populated communal areas, over-crowded elevators, and busy public transit.
Are these work environments that will encourage an enthusiastic return to work given that the general public has adopted and accepted social-distancing practices as an effective means to reduce the spread of Covid-19 specifically and other infectious diseases more generally? How much space per person and other measures will be required to make employees feel confident that the level of disease transmission risk is acceptable? What strategies will employers deploy to reduce population density in the workplace? What protocols shall be put in place to monitor and protect the health of the on-site workforce?
Also, there has been a significant movement to consolidate work forces in single locations:
These are just a few examples of consolidation that I managed to find easily. I wanted to be able to provide sources rather than cite leasing transactions that I have seen but which may not be in the public domain. Centralization and consolidation may be lip service to altruistic motivations but office space optimization and per employee occupancy cost underlies most office space decisions. What are the issues facing employers re-integrating large workforces into single locations versus re-populating three or four locations? What is the increased possibility of re-infection?
The new office space spend has been in the billions of dollars over the past few years. Real estate decisions require companies with large workforces to look well into the future. Five years will have elapsed from the time of the CIBC and National Bank announcements to occupancy in 2022 and 2023 respectively. Major employers are looking at lease renewals and space re-design at least three years before current lease expiries. Buildings and spaces recently built or being built out now did not anticipate Covid-19 and the subsequent impacts.
In an earlier issue I stated that progress in Covid-19 medical science will be needed to create the right conditions for people to go back to work. I also think that employers will have to make employees feel safe returning to work.
Some possible short term solutions:
It is fairly easy to set out short term, tactical solutions that can be implemented fairly quickly. It is much more difficult to be definitive about longer term strategic changes that may develop because of the current pandemic:
I have only spent time on the office workplace and I haven’t even raised the subject of co-working. There will be a re-consideration of other workplaces as well. A huge US meat processor has been shut down because of Covid-19. Would several smaller plants provide more supply chain reliability? Will retail spaces be re-designed? Will restaurants and bars have capacities trimmed by 50%? How will factories adjust? Should cities close some high streets to car traffic to leave more room for pedestrians? All are topics for another issue,
As always, wash your hands, practice social distancing, hydrate, and exercise! Keep well!
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