Remember The Story of the Three Bears? Goldilocks cruises up on some house that isn't hers and just starts eating porridge. One bowl was too hot, one was too cold, and one was just right. I think companies should treat their square footage needs the same way Goldilocks treated her porridge, that is, finding out exactly what the best density is for their individual needs.
We're talking square footage per employee today. What is Office Density? Coy Davidson defines it as "the space (per square foot) per workstation." And to help out our density discussion, I'll be using Large Bear Inc., Medium Bear Inc., Small Bear Inc., and Goldilocks Inc. to work through my thoughts.
- Large Bear Inc = High Density
- Small Bear Inc = Low Density
- Goldilocks Inc = you
Large Bear Inc. liked his porridge hot, which I think translates nicely to a high employee density. With higher density comes more interaction between all employees because they are much closer together.
I've previously discussed how companies seem to be trending toward higher density workplaces. Some, as in the linked article, do it to more efficiently use space that otherwise sits empty most of the day. An LA Times article from 2012 notes:
"In the 1970s, American corporations typically thought they needed 500 to 700 square feet per employee to build an effective office. Today's average is a little more than 200 square feet per person, and the space allocation could hit a mere 50 square feet by 2015…"
Other companies, like Zappos or Pixar, have purposely tried to create high density workplaces where staff constantly see one another and hopefully spark unplanned collaborations. With younger workers comfortably freed up by technology to make their work happen anywhere, it doesn't seem like the move toward high density is going to stop any time soon.
But just because some like it hot, doesn't mean your company can't be more like Small Bear Inc. and provide staff with a little more breathing room. I've found that jobs which require concentration and less collaboration are good candidates for lower density workplaces, that way, distraction is kept to a minimum and you'll most likely end up with higher quality output, more productivity, and happier employees.
That said, lower density might simply mean you have higher density workstations but provide ample space dedicated to specific tasks. Some companies, like McKinsey & Company in Hong Kong, do this by providing space for quiet – like phone booths.
Don't Simply Aim For The Middle
Just because Goldilocks Inc. preferred the same amount of square footage per employee as Medium Bear Inc. doesn't mean your company can't be lower or higher. After all, Large Bear Inc. clearly likes having less room per employee, while Small Bear Inc. likes more. Instead of aiming for the middle option straight away, you should try to find what your particular organizational needs are, then come to an educated conclusion.
Finding The Perfect Density
Finding your Goldilocks Inc. sweet spot is going to be the most difficult part because it requires breaking into a stranger's house and trying all of their porridge to see what works best. The Space Place offers some pointers to help you in your journey:
- Hire an architect (or contact turnstone's free space planning consultants)
- Collect Relevant Data (headcount, furniture and equipment inventories, floor plans)
- Allow for Flexibility and Cultural Changes
- Include Space for Growth
- Test it Out
- Start Early to Get the Kinks Out
What density have you found to work best for your company?