In recent years, companies have realized that profits do not come as easily as they used to. Everyone is being driven to reduce costs as a way to confront increased competition and lower margins.

Reducing the rentable area of an office through the elimination of unneeded space is an effective way to lower overhead. It is also a method of providing growth capacity without increasing the leased area. Wasted space can be found in many areas of the office and can be reduced or eliminated. Productivity in the workplace can be maintained or improved. The first options presented here for reducing the size of an office can be applied to an existing office. The latter ones are applicable only to a new or remodeled office.

Techniques for Existing Offices

Off-site Storage of Records: Over time records accumulate. Eventually, an organization is maintaining outdated, unnecessary records, which occupy expensive office space.

First, purge unnecessary records. Then consider moving records that are infrequently accessed to an off-site storage facility. The rental for this type of storage is a fraction of the cost of office space. Records can be retrieved and delivered within a day. The cost of retrieval is minimal. An analysis of retrievals per year will indicate which records can be economically stored offsite.

Mobile Storage System: A mobile storage system provides high density storage of files, reference materials and supplies. It consists of shelving units that are placed on moveable carriages using a wheel and track system. Each carriage has several shelves of back to back storage. A single aisle can be created between any two carriages whenever needed for access. Carriages not being accessed are rolled back to back with no aisle in between, creating a densely packed storage area. As much as 45% of storage and filing areas can be saved.

There are two drawbacks to mobile storage systems. They require an up front capital expenditure. They also require a floor structure capable of carrying heavier than normal loads. However, in one case we demonstrated the economic benefits of reinforcing the floor structure in a leased space to carry the loads of dense filing. The payback period was well under the period of the lease.

Just In Time Supplies: Storage for office supplies can occupy as much as 5% of the total office area. Today, vendors will deliver supplies within one to three days after they are ordered. Do not pay for expensive storage space. Instead, maintain a reduced inventory of supplies and order smaller quantities more often.

Evaluate Conferencing Needs: In the past the number of conference rooms was often determined without regard to efficient use of space. When our firm plans a new space we often use a queuing theory model to simulate the usage of conference rooms. Performance can be predicted. This allows the number and size of conference rooms to be optimized.

The measure of performance for conference rooms is the proportion of meetings which can be accommodated when desired because an appropriate room is available. Performance can be improved by increasing the ratio of scheduled to impromptu meetings. Also, scheduling all rooms centrally increases the number of rooms in the pool, and therefore, increases the probability that a room will be available when needed. Remember that it is unrealistic to avoid all deferrals.
Without a computer simulation, it is still possible to improve conference room utilization and free up conference rooms for other uses with a trial and error or another heuristic method.

Techniques Available only With Relocation or Remodeling

Zero Based Programming: When relocating or reconfiguring an office, develop a program of requirements starting with no assumptions. This can ensure effective use of space. For example, instead of basing the filing requirements on a percentage increase over existing files, start from zero. What do we need to file? How long do we need immediate access to this information? How many filing inches are required? Translate this into filing cabinets and then into square footage. Usually the requirement will be much less than derived by adding an allowance for growth to the existing area.

Careful Selection of Leased Space: The efficiency of an office layout will be limited by how well the space matches the needs of the tenant. A dramatic loss in efficiency can result from too little perimeter; too much interior space; too great a dimension from the corridor to the exterior wall; inappropriately shaped space (too long or too square); excessive columns; or a complicated plan shape. This means it will take more area to accommodate the same set of requirements. For one large client, we determined that the space efficiency varied by over 40% within their facilities all due to the physical characteristics of the space.

Correctly Size Offices and Workstations: Often workstations and offices are larger than they need be. Sometimes this is due to having used reporting level to determine office size and furnishings. Additional space is ordinarily required because the standard for each level must be based on the most stringent requirements.

Designing offices to support each specific job is an effective way to reduce square footage. It requires that the activities and tasks performed at each workstation be clearly defined and understood. These then determine the physical requirements for each workstation or office.

Shared Work Areas: Infrequent tasks and activities can often consume valuable area within a workstation. Consider creating shared work areas. When tasks are moved to a shared work area, redundant equipment is eliminated and each workstation can be smaller. For example, shared computer printers or terminals, or an additional conference room in place of meeting tables in 8 or 10 workstations.

Time Sharing or Hoteling: Advances in technology are dramatically changing the office. Many workers do not need to be at the office to do much of their work. A worker can log on to the computer network at any workstation within the company's office, from a client site with a lap top, or at home with his own P/C. Telephone calls can be forwarded anywhere in the world. With video phones one will be able to attend meetings without being physically present. A document can be transmitted instantaneously by fax.

In the future, technological advances will make all this simpler, quicker and better. Today it is already worth considering whether all workers need to be at the "office" daily, and whether it is necessary to provide dedicated work space for each employee.

Some organizations have transferred staff out of the "office" and back home, including managers, word processors, sales persons and data entry clerks. These workers can maintain contact with the office by telephone, fax, computer links and voice mail.

Other firms are providing work areas that are assigned to staff only when they are in the office. This concept is called "hoteling." In organizations such as consulting and accounting firms, or in sales groups, the staff is out of the office more often than they are in the office. For these types of firms, the office space can often be reduced by over 50%. These savings can significantly contribute to increased profits.

Systems Furniture: Over the past fifteen years, systems furniture and open planning have gained almost universal use. Once only available in moderately priced furniture lines, system furniture is now available in high-end (and expensive) wood furniture and in very inexpensive lines as well.

Systems furniture has innate space saving features. Vertical storage (using panel hung files and shelving) reduces floor area required and makes better use of work surfaces. The inherent openness allows stations to be much smaller than offices without creating a claustrophobic setting.

Other advantages of systems furniture are flexibility; ease of cabling and power distribution; better tools for organizing information and supplies and therefore, encourage more productive work.

Efficient Circulation: The system of corridors, aisles, and hallways is important to the success of the overall plan. It influences operational efficiency, communication among staff, and understanding of the organization. However, inefficient circulation can easily add 10% to the size of an office. When reviewing a proposed plan look for redundant corridors and circuitous routes.

© 1996 Davis Associates Architects & Consultants, Inc.
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