Big Cultures Small Spaces

The right data makes it possible to preserve company culture and still achieve dramatic space-saving efficiency

Here’s a practical look at how Aenvision can solve one of the most profound workspace programming challenges of our day. The popular trend in office design that favors teamwork, open environments, and densification can be a cost effective one, but experience has shown that the practice can also detract from employee productivity if done carelessly.

In an effort to save costs for a highly valued client an architect creates a test fit for a new workspace that is meant to replace a familiar, but outdated and inefficient existing location. The footprint for the proposed space is 13% smaller than the original, yet accommodates a 16% larger headcount. Altogether, the new design presents a dramatic 25% increase in space efficiency for the client. 

The prospect of saving such a large sum on the lease is appealing, at least until a floor plan benchmark reveals weaknesses in the new design that may have significant negative consequences on the return-on-investment. In fact, it’s conceivable in this case that the liabilities could far outweigh the savings.

Here’s what we found.

Analytics in a floor plan benchmark of the existing location reveal ‘medium’ staff openness. This means that the number of staff in unenclosed or partially enclosed personal workspace is similar to the number of staff in fully enclosed personal workspace. The remarkable efficiency of the new design is possible only because staff openness in the test fit is ‘high,’ a natural consequence of moving staff mostly into unenclosed or partially enclosed personal workspace.

This is a common office redesign strategy. Not surprisingly, however, it presents an inherent risk to staff privacy, which is ‘low’ in the test fit versus ‘medium’ in the existing space. A low-privacy workspace means much of the staff will very likely have to tolerate daily privacy concerns, which can 1) inhibit staff engagement, 2) negatively affect staff well-being, and 3) even threaten the accomplishment of essential job functions.

Adding collaboration space mitigates privacy concerns in open environments. Unfortunately, the analysis reveals that the proportion of collaboration space in the test fit is almost identical to the proportion of collaboration space in the existing location. This means that collaboration ranking suffers in the new space because increasing staff openness also increases the expectation for the number of collaboration spaces per person.

To make matters worse, there’s an alarming 53% reduction in social space in the new design. When people socialize informally, both learning and trust are built. Reducing social area by more than half, especially while increasing occupancy, may present another serious compromise to the client.

There are other interesting analytical aspects to this story that we’ll cover at a later date, but you can already see even from these few metrics that gaining a deep quantitative understanding of the DNA of a design is essential for comprehending what specific workspace performance improvements can be made without otherwise compromising the strengths of the design.

None of what we found here doomed this project for the client. In fact, the opposite happened. A clever architect armed with our analysis increased collaboration rank in a revised test fit and added enough social space to more closely reflect industry best practices. These simple changes preserved the efficiency gains of the original proposal while minimizing the possibility of disastrous cultural and operational consequences for the business.

Floor plan benchmarks are at the heart of this example: one for the existing location and one for the proposed redesign. Peter F. Drucker said, “What gets measured gets improved.” With this in mind, it’s easy to see how having the right data makes it possible to preserve company culture while still achieving dramatic space-saving efficiencies that can improve the bottom line.

Would you like to discover the DNA of your own workspace? Would you like to find out if it's considered high-performance according to your employees? We have experience with over 3 million square feet of analyzed office programming in our database. And we look forward to using it to support your team. Don’t struggle through another workspace redesign. Find out what options you have. Click here to learn more. You can also call me with questions at (631) 493-7504 or email me at Richard Boz <>.