I’ve heard some comments recently about what impact greater workplace collaborative design would have on total square footage required in a building. The theory goes that by introducing greater collaborative spaces means that you have to have greater total space. This is premised on the theory that employees are hesitant to give up their dedicated desks so you must add space. I’d like to let you know that you are thinking about human psychology wrong.
What happens when you hold an all day meeting at an unfamiliar site? The first day everyone shows up and picks a seat. Every day after that ~80% of people go back to their same seat all over again. They either want to continue sitting with their clique or they do not want to make a new decision. People generally love consistency.
But by giving people a choice on how to work – collaboratively or singly – they will have their most frequently used locations. I’ve been to many offices bringing together different groups and it is surprisingly common to hear the refrain “I’ve never been in this conference room” from people who have worked at that site for several years. People like consistency and predictability.
By providing collaborative space that can be reserved you will find that some teams choose to work together on a constant basis eliminating their need for dedicated space entirely. And in fact their preference would be to work independently in spaces near the collaborative space of the team instead of a randomly assigned location allocated to them by real estate.
What you are doing is trading them flexibility and openness for their assigned desk. It’s not a trade that everyone would want to take but for those that commonly work on teams it actually works out better for them. The RSF per person for a team sharing a conference room is much lower than that team having their own dedicated desk. And when you pool all of the collaborators over a group of shareable desks you still come out ahead.
And that is the key. You must know who is a collaborator and who is an independent. If you cannot identify people by name you cannot reduce your space requirement by creating collaborative space.