How many employees per desk?

We're getting a lot of questions from people in the organization that I'm currently working with about teleworking. This is specifically in relation to the business strategy to increase the number of days people telework. The most frequently asked questions are: How will managers measure teleworkers performance? This is a question that comes both from the managers and the staff they manage – see my blog knowledge workers and the Kano model for one perspective on this.

Hot on the heels of this question is managers asking "How much physical space do I need for my staff?" Of course, the answer to this is 'It depends on the type of work, the worker's ability to telework, and the manager's ability to manage people teleworking."

The work can be roughly segmented into six typologies

Deskbound interactive: On Call
'I am near my desk all day long, but spend a lot of time on calls and meeting with people.'" (e.g. an on-site buildings engineer).

Deskbound concentrative: Heads Down
"I come in, sit at my desk and get things done all day". (e.g. policy writer)

Roaming interactive: Meetings, Meetings
"I am often in meetings and barely ever at my desk". (e.g. Marketing and Sales Manager)

Roaming concentrative: On the Go
"I spend a lot of time away from my desk getting things done." (e.g. Video producer)

Remote interactive: Checking In
"I'm not in the office much, and when I'm here I'm in meetings all the time". (e.g. Customer sales rep)

Remote concentrative: Touching Down
"I'm not in the office much, and when I'm here I have a lot to get done." (e.g. IT helpdesk co-ordinator)

Each of these work types requires different space configurations to be available, and different arrangements for booking and using the space. The deskbound interactive people are the one category who are likely to be allocated a fixed desk, all other typologies are candidates for hoteling.

Hoteling is "the office management strategy that considers certain office resources, such as workspaces and equipment, to be shared assets, rather than assets 'owned' by specific individuals within the company. … Hoteling is typically characterized by reservation and check-in processes, and includes telephone switching functionality."

Given the range of work within each typology, and the management of the work and workers, it is difficult to arrive at an optimum ratio of employee to office space. However, some guidance is available. In the IBM white paper 'Working Outside the Box' the author reports the following:

"In the early 1990s, IBM owned or leased more than 185 million square feet of office space with a ratio of office space to employee of 1:1. Through its telework strategy, since 1995, IBM has reduced office space by a total of 78 million square feet. Of that, 58 million square feet were sold at a gain of $1.9B. And, sublease income for leased space not needed exceeds $1B. In the U.S., continuing annual savings amounts to $100M, and at least that much in Europe. With 386,000 employees, forty percent of whom telework, the ratio of office space to employee is now 8:1 with some facilities as high as 15:1. In 2007, in the U.S. alone, the mobility program conserved more than 5 million gallons of fuel and avoided more than 450,000 tons of CO2 emissions."

A Wainhouse Research report Telework and the US Government, discussing the US Trademark and Patent Office makes the point that

And most important, the agency can add over 1,000 examiners a year without securing additional real estate or parking facilities.

When a hoteler comes into the office, they bring their laptop and have access to hoteling suites scattered across the campus, where the ratio consists of 10 Teleworking employees per suite. Even with the suites the USPTO is saving on real estate expenses.

Agilquest reports that "The most successful mobile workspace solutions achieve worker-to-desk-ratios of 7:1, effectively reducing the cost of accommodating each worker by 43%. Perhaps even more significant, employing a mobile workspace management solution removes the ceiling from a company`s growth by enabling it to add innumerable staff without adding to their real estate investment."

For remote workers E&Y, HP, Metlife, and Cisco all use 1:18 MetLife was 1:18 or 1:20,
while for roamers the ratio varies from 1:2 to 1:4.

Getting the space allocation and configuration right is only one part of a successful teleworking/hoteling workforce. The way management and staff operate the system is equally as critical. I'll discuss this in a future post.

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