In many new and emerging companies, employees are working in an increasingly social, mobile, and collaborative fashion. The conventional office and workstation programs and spaces that most of us are familiar with were never intended to support the complexity and unpredictability of these new work patterns and in sticking with them – we may be finding that we’re losing efficiency as well as the creation of ideas and enjoyment of environment….critical aspects of employee retention.

This new ‘workstyle’ has come to be referred to by many within the industry of space planning and analysis as “distributed work”—a combination of heads down focus work, formal and informal collaboration of varying duration, and social interaction that occurs in a wide variety of settings within the building or campus. In addition to the physical space and environment, work policies, technology, and varied communications networks play a key role in facilitating distributed work.

the evolution: The average square footage per person has steadily declined from about 225 square feet ten years ago, to 135 square feet per person today. This steady reduction in space is happening in both conventional and distributed work models. Regardless of workspace model, the shifting nature of collaborative work is driving higher utilization rates for small meeting spaces and lower use for large, traditional meeting rooms and presentation spaces. As an example, small meeting rooms (2 to 7 people) have peak utilization rates about 20 percentage points higher than large and extra-large meeting rooms (8+ people). Many organizations have expressed that utilization rates are declining for larger meeting spaces as meetings tend to be shorter, more casual and with fewer members than in the past.

the reasoning: While cost ranks as the number one driver, strategic issues (such as supporting effective work processes, collaboration, or retention) seems to be what motivates organizations to implement distributed work. Organizations engaged in distributed work agree that supporting collaboration is critical, whether it takes place face-to-face or remotely. The challenge is balancing that requirement with efficient planning and providing a variety of meeting spaces.

the implementation:An appropriate balance and mix of distributed work spaces helps to ensure collaboration and efficiencies are maximized, while personal focus and work areas are implemented.

*Smaller, higher density individual spaces

*A wider variety of individual and group setting types

*Increased allocation of seats for collaborative spaces

*Reduced emphasis on large formal meeting spaces

Touchdown stations are often the first addition to the workplace to flexibly accommodate visiting workers who need a little individual workspace for short periods of time. The most frequently reported touchdown station size in this study is 25 square feet. Another area that is slightly more difficult to quantify tough of equal importance, largely due to the many forms it takes, is what is generally termed “quiet space” or “quiet room.” These are areas for employees to flock to when determined focus and quiet work, or even just a phone call, are of prime importance.

Meeting rooms of various sizes are needed, but not in the same way conventional rooms were. Many meetings are small, just 2-4 people, thus, open meeting spaces and numerous small meeting rooms combined to efficiently accommodate as many simultaneous meetings as possible are best. The medium size room (the 8-12 range that once was common) is less favored as it is often too small or too large for the typical meeting need. This also leads to larger rooms being made more versatile and used as war rooms, project rooms or agile team rooms. This also takes on greater use and function when the space is designed to accommodate furniture which can be reconfigured by its occupants.

Meeting spaces, regardless of their size, should have all technology required for employees to seamlessly conduct their work. Several studies noted that employees want more outdoor space (where climate permits), and that wireless networks on enclosed patios and courtyards can expand work and meeting options. Although it carries a higher initial cost, having the right technology in meeting areas is critical to effective work. Distributed work programs offer more seats for meetings because they provide a greater number and variety of group settings. These group settings vary in size and consist of both enclosed and open spaces which better support both planned and spontaneous meetings.

the results:

Employee satisfaction, square footage, and dollars saved through real estate reduction are the three most frequently cited measures of distributed work program performance.Organizations employing distributed work programs enjoy a number of important financial and employee satisfaction benefits:

Substantive cost savings:An average 33% first year cost avoidance over conventional workspace, with consistent savings thereafter.

Greater space utilization:Utilization of individual workspaces is 7 to 12 percentage points greater than conventional spaces. Distributed workspaces also use a significantly higher employee to desk sharing ratio, more than double that of conventional workspaces (though establishing an employee to desk ratio is not a one-time event, but rather a constantly evolving series of adjustments)

**Cost savings (show me the money….)

One step back: The more intensive space utilization within a distributed work environment means that the cost of utilities and services of various kinds, including general maintenance and cleaning, are often higher than in conventional spaces. Studies report the cost of operating distributed workspace to be on average 7% higher ($21.40 versus $20.00 per square foot for conventional space)

Two steps forward:Offsetting the higher maintenance cost is the fact that distributed work spaces on average use 33% less square footage than conventional spaces (130 square feet per person for distributed work space versus 195 square feet per person for conventional space).

A comparison: A firm of 512 employees creates a conventional workspace that requires 100,000 square feet of space (an average 195 square feet per person). The total cost of construction (at $175 per square foot) is $17.5 million. The annual cost of this space is $56 per square foot ($36 per square foot lease cost, plus $20 per square foot operating cost), resulting in a $5.6 million annual facilities operating cost. The combined construction and operating costs total $23.1 million for “year 1” facility costs. A firm of 512 employees creates distributed workspace that requires 67,000 square feet of space (an average 130 square feet per person). The total cost of construction (at $175 per square foot) is $11.7 million. The annual cost of this space is $57.40 per square foot ($36 per square foot lease cost, plus $21.40 per square foot operating cost) resulting in a $3.8 million annual facilities operating cost. The combined construction and operating costs total about $15.6 million for “year 1” facility costs. This comparison shows a first-year cost avoidance of about $7.5 million for distributed workspace—about 33% lower than the first year cost of conventional workspace. Second year and subsequent annual cost of distributed workspace is about 31% lower than the ongoing operating cost of conventional space ($3.8 million versus $5.6 million).

*Employees satisfaction with individual and team performance : Studies have found that about two-thirds of employees are satisfied with the impact of distributed work programs on their individual performance and 80% feel this way about their team performance

**The right mix of workspace, training, policies and technology, which leads to employee satisfaction: Studies have found that about 80% of employees are satisfied with distributed work policies, technology, training, and the variety and types of the workspaces offered by their company’s distributed work program.

Without question it is critical that all aspects of a distributed workspace program are well-thought out in advance and are launched together with the move-in to new workspace or workplace – though it is paramount to understand the varied tempo and spaces work is propagating itself within – and the societal shift that comes along with being able to properly adjust for it, as well as adapt and mold it, as the new economy and businesses take an ever more tangible grip. Employee satisfaction and ultimately a more profitable and successful business, integrated with the elements of the distributed work program, are critical aspects in creating the new workstyle and subsequently the new workspace.