De-densification in the Workplace

By Benjamin Osgood - August 12, 2020

Let's face it, while working from home might be working for some, most studies point to the fact that many of us want to return to an office, even if it's only for a few days a week, at first.  One of the top questions our clients are asking us is, "when we return to an office, do we need to increase our footprint to accommodate social distancing?".

For most cases, no.  According to research conducted by the Sequoia Consulting Group, 66% of survey respondents anticipate no change to their real estate footprint at all.  

Companies considering returning to an office will certainly need to rethink their space needs, and a recalibration of their anticipated density should be at the forefront of their strategy.  Gone are the days of the high-density office that's planned to house rows of linear bench seating at a density of 125 square feet per employee, or more.  While this type of layout is efficient, we've learned that it's a productivity killer and now in response to COVID-19, it's also a recipe for virus transmission.  

So how can de-densification work without having to double your real estate footprint?

Reduced "in-office" employees

A company's entire workforce won't be returning to an office for quite some time. Forward thinking companies are surveying their employees to identify those that want to continue to work fully remote; either because of COVID concerns or simply because that model works better for them and the company. A recent PwC survey of 1,200 US office workers found that 32% would prefer to never return to an office, even after COVID is no longer a concern.  

Alternate Work Schedules

After a company has identified which employees would like to work from an office, if given the option, an alternate work schedule strategy can be deployed; simply put, just don't let everyone go into the office at the same time.  A few of the more popular models are the "Two Weeks In, Two Weeks Out" model, or the "Alternate Days" model.  The employee on Team A can only work from the office the first two weeks of the month, or cannot enter the office on Thursdays and Fridays (that does sound nice, right?). 

Recalibration of Space Configuration

Obviously, high-density linear benching needs to go and desks need to be removed to accommodate spatial distancing.  But there's another big opportunity to recapture and repurpose square footage within your office - conference rooms which can now become private offices. 

"Hub & Spoke" Office Model

Why lease 5 floors in one building downtown when you can lease a floor in 5 different submarkets? This model supports de-densification efforts while addressing the valid concern of transportation to the office.  A company can create the safest and most sanitized office in the world but if their employees commute there on a crowded bus or train, that can thwart their efforts to reduce the spread of COVID. Leasing an office in a suburban submarket can provide employees an opportunity to reduce their commute time and drive to an office closer to where they live.  

A well executed de-densification strategy will not result in an increase in a company's real estate footprint, and most likely, will result in a reduction.  Coupled with the fact that office rents around the globe are trending downward, the return to the office will also be much less costly than it has been during this last stage of the economic cycle. 


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