Telecommuting: Holding Down Office Space

By Leigh Stringer  
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: Reducing Office Space with Alternative Work StrategiesPt. 2: This PagePt. 3: Flexible Office Space DesignsPt. 4: New Space Calls for New Facility Management Rules

There are several reasons organizations choose to keep the same-sized building footprint despite organizational growth.

Using less space (or not increasing it) is an extremely effective way to minimize an organization’s carbon footprint. Building and occupying less space means less energy use, fewer carbon emissions, less construction waste in landfills and less natural resource consumption.

Alternative work strategies with many employees outside the office also reduce carbon emissions related to commuting significantly. The California Climate Commission recently showed that in California, energy used to commute to and from work is almost twice as high as the energy used to operate the facilities where work occurs.

Companies are also looking at transportation demand management, a comprehensive approach to encouraging individuals to reduce the number of trips they make, travel by bus or train, travel outside peak periods, and reduce the distance and duration of their trips. For example, Nortel has a formal transportation demand management program called “Green Commute” at four major hubs. The program provides Web tools for coordinating ways to get to work, exclusive underground parking for carpoolers, easy access to public transit and secure bike lockup. Reduced parking means reduced impact on the bottom line and the environment.

As costs of building and leasing rise, the benefits of taking on more space become murkier. In small companies, having everyone “sitting in the same space” enables fortuitous, casual encounters with colleagues or decision makers. But on a 5,000-person campus with several buildings, visiting other employees may mean a quarter-mile hike or hopping on a shuttle bus.

Building or leasing a facility requires a firm organizational commitment. Building a new facility takes years of planning, and leasing requires contractual commitments of at least five years. It’s possible to break a lease sooner, but at a cost. With business changing so quickly today, it is difficult to plan ahead for six months. Five years can seem like an eternity. And changes in the business could be driven by a change in organizational strategy, a shrinking workforce or a change in client base. Real estate and facilities groups are continually challenged to find ways to accommodate changes in the most flexible, least disruptive ways possible.

Adopting new space strategies to remain within the same footprint can directly benefit employees as well. The offer of flexible work environments can be a powerful tool for recruiting and retaining employees. Companies should position alternative work as a benefit that can improve the work/life balance and, ultimately, health. Ninety-nine of the “Fortune 100 Best Places to Work” offer some form of alternative work.

Working from outside the office allows some workers to use their time more efficiently. It’s not uncommon in many regions for employees to face roundtrip commutes of two hours or more. For writers, software programmers or self-motivated knowledge workers, a completely quiet space in a home office, for example, may also be the most productive work environment. For those in sales or project management, working at a convenient satellite office or a facility with touchdown space might be the best way to maximize working hours.

Don’t Cram Employees In

Most organizations struggling to accommodate growth begin by “dense packing” their space. They cram as many workstations as possible into an area, sacrificing conference rooms and squeezing people into smaller and smaller spaces — whatever it takes to fit all the bodies. Companies continue to provide each employee an individually assigned space while reducing lease costs per person.

The problem with dense packing is that eliminating support spaces like conference rooms and huddle rooms has a negative effect on productivity. And people housed in open workplace environments will experience more distractions from acoustical issues as density increases.

— Leigh Stringer


Outsourcing Can Save Space

When the subject of outsourcing comes up, the discussion usually touches on benefits like cost savings, quality improvements and access to best-practice expertise.

Another benefit is often overlooked: the real estate savings that come from sending a function off-site. Outsourcing a function also creates the opportunity to use the space for another function with a higher value to the organization.

File or paper storage is a perfect example. Some companies spend $40 to $60 per square foot a month storing paper. Outsourcing to an off-site paper archiving company would free more space for people.

Similarly, companies can look to vendors for help accommodating their storage needs for furniture, carpet, ceiling tile and lighting. Some carpet manufacturers will store, replace and recycle carpet as part of their contract.

— Leigh Stringer

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  posted on 11/1/2008   Article Use Policy

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