If office costs have to be cut in expensive cities in the US, facility managers are promptly instructed to squeeze the footprint. The result: another slice off the cubicle. A statement I once made that I still believe in is ‘A company that introduces the New Way of Working solely to reduce the number of square metres of office space will be deceived.’ This type of company will never be prepared to invest in the tools required to make the New Way of Working successful. This can mean, for example, technical aids, but it also includes granting employees the necessary personal freedom and everything in between. This obviously does not alter the fact that introducing the New Way of Working usually does lead to a reduction in square metres of office space. A system for the New Way of Working that is properly introduced is a massive green investment and cannot therefore receive enough attention. But it does have to be set up effectively.
The sustainable office
Several index figures taken from a large-scale study of the sustainable office indicate the potential reduction in environmental impact that could be achieved by globally implementing the New Way of Working:
- The expenditure required for operating an office over 40 years (the standard depreciation period) is 4 times as much as the construction costs (with completion) in one year.
- Office buildings consume 40% of resources and produce 40% of waste.
Following on from this, when you consider that the capacity utilisation in traditional office settings is as low as 12% on a 24-hour basis and only 37% on a 10-hour basis, a large amount of office space is apparently superfluous, especially as investments in facilities are geared to achieving the respective meagre 12% or 37%. Obviously, you will never be able to achieve 100%, but huge gains could nevertheless be made even if the capacity utilisation can be pushed up to 25%. If the New Way of Working were to be implemented en masse over approximately the next 15 to 20 years, the m² capacity utilisation would rise to 0.5 workplace per person (= about 10 m²). Mega!
Decreasing costs of facilities
The costs of facility management have been decreasing successively over the last five years and accommodation costs have dropped the fastest (Netherlands Facility Cost Index 2012). The New Way of Working has certainly had a significant impact in this respect, but the following development should also be taken into account: working in an office is shifting towards working elsewhere (at home, on the road, at a customer’s business location). Somewhere costs are still incurred. The main advantage of the New Way of Working in terms of square metres of office space is the larger capacity utilisation of existing facilities. This naturally does not take the many other benefits into account. The average floor space per employee increased slightly from 19.5 to 20 m² from 2011 to 2012 whereas it was 22.6 m² in 2003. In countries where office layouts are dominated by the so-called ‘Cubicle Culture’ (USA, UK, Australia, the Far East), employees have significantly fewer m² than in mainland Europe – 8 to 10 m² is no exception. This is also due to the fact that the amount of room for canteens, circulation space, etc. is much lower. The segregated nature of this form of accommodation (chicken farm battery cages) drastically impedes social contact. The management style focuses strongly on ‘you’re talking so you’re not working’. The ‘Me Ltd’ is largely unheard of.