Workplace strategy and property rationalization

Do you have empty office space or facilities that are now being underused and costing you money? For those with empty offices in a hybrid world there is an answer.

Many organizations wait until there is a lease break or renewal due or there is pressure to adopt a policy of property rationalization.  But this shouldn’t be the trigger, this actually should be towards the end of the process.  The first thing to do is take a much broader standpoint when it comes to empty offices and what workplace strategy to adopt. Start with the big 4 questions:  

  • What are the business objectives and goals of your organization and what is the business looking to achieve? 
  • What are the strategic business pressures your organization is facing or may face? 
  • What culture and leadership do you want to see in place?.   
  • What might technology developments like AI do to the size, nature and structure of your organization? 

This is where you need to start by taking an evidence-based approach to determining the answers along with facilitating dialogue with C suite leaders and technical experts. With this information to hand, the technology and spaces required are tools to help the business implement their objectives. 


Workplace strategy and empty office space

So, let’s talk about the space. 

Once you know what the business is looking to achieve, you need to consider how can the space provided by the organization truly support the aims of the business?  In other words, what is the purpose of the office and where should it be located?  Is it to provide a place for employees to work in an individual focussed environment, a place for teams to congregate and collaborate, a place to remind employees of the organization they work for, a place to work for those who do not have suitable facilities at home, a place to access technical equipment, a place to greet clients or maybe a combination of all of these requirements plus any number of others. What workplace experience do you want to create? Make sure you truly understand the (probably new) purpose of the office before moving forward. This understanding will also help determine (amongst other things) how many days a week employees are likely / need to attend. 

It is also important to understand the right workplace settings needed to support the new purpose of the office.  For example, people collaborating and working on projects may no longer require a dedicated desk, but a creative, flexible project space.

Scaling the amount of space is always a challenge – you don’t want too much space or too little.  Use the defined purpose of the office, to help you with the size calculations and carry out scenario planning, to determine the best answer.  But always remember: 

  • Old space calculations won’t cut it in the hybrid workplace– start with ‘demand’ by understanding the way teams work.  Each team will be different as they will have different tasks, different team members and different needs. 
  • Spaceless headcount growth strategies mean that conventional ways of accommodating headcount growth are toast.  More headcounts do not necessarily mean more space. 
  • Demand volatility needs to be factored in and flexible supply solutions sought. 
  • Innovation in space occupancy is needed to smooth demand to avoid overcrowded Wednesdays and ‘dead’ Mondays and Fridays – see the AWA Hybrid Working Index data. There are always alternative workplace solutions to consider, such as co-working areas, space sharing with other organizations or maybe even having no space at all.  Using assets well will need out of the box thinking.  To create vibrant buzzy work environments and effective working, organizations need to consolidate their occupancy of space on a daily basis. 
  • Always consider implications for services/amenities. 
  • The desk is no longer king in calculating the space demand. Consider your maximum predicted occupancy using a ‘team centric’ evidence-based approach and ensure the space supports your purpose, probably with fewer desks and more alternative spaces, such as phone booths, hybrid meeting rooms, social and wellbeing space.  

Learn more about how we reduced office space by 28% and helped create an award-winning workplace with the British Heart Foundation.


Lease options

Now you can start looking at lease options, whether you have enough space in the right locations, the right type of space and work settings within that space, whether you can shed (or possibly increase) your footprint going forward and whether you are able to fund the capital outlay needed or the capital write-offs associated with reducing space. It isn’t simple. 

If you have upcoming lease renewals/lease end dates that suit your needs based on the analysis above, well done.  However, it is more likely you will be carrying excess space for longer than you might have chosen.  Can you sublet the excess (many leases will allow you to do this)? Can you mothball excess space with only minimal a/c and lighting and cleaning etc? Can you seek an early lease termination or can you re-purpose the excess space in the short term?  Do bear in mind however that whilst (for example) an expensive large gym space can help to encourage employee attendance, wellbeing and a sense of community, on its own it will not guarantee a substantial regular office presence. 

So, taking all the above into account you can start to build your own workplace strategy.