In many companies, employees are working in an increasingly social, mobile, and collaborative fashion. The conventional boilerplate office programs and spaces that most of us are familiar with were never intended to support the complexity and unpredictability of these new work patterns.
This new workstyle is often referred to as “distributed work”—a combination of heads down “focus” work, formal and informal collaboration of varying duration, and social interaction that occurs in a wide variety of settings within the building, campus, or other locations. In addition to physical space, work policies, communications, and technology networks play a key role in facilitating distributed work.
While many organizations currently have distributed work programs, there has been little organized information and few metrics to assist companies wanting to learn more about this emerging workspace strategy. To address this need, Knoll conducted a study
that included a cross section of forty organizations across eleven industries, possessing varying levels of familiarity with distributed
Through this project, recapped in this summary, we identified the design attributes of distributed work programs, how success is measured, and the financial and employee satisfaction benefits of this new workplace strategy as compared to the conventional workspace.
Square footage targets for workers have dropped dramatically over time.
The average square footage per person has steadily declined from about 227 square feet 10 years ago, to 135 square feet per person today (Figure 1). This steady reduction in space is happening in both conventional and distributed work models.
Distributed work environments are characterized by a greater variety of workspaces.
Distributed work models are driving a profound shift in space allocation, as the square footage once devoted to individual assigned space is reduced and reassigned to create a wide variety of differently sized individual (assigned and unassigned), collaborative and social activity areas. Characteristics specific to distributed work environments include:
• Smaller, higher density (sharing ratios) individual spaces
• A wider variety of individual and group setting types
• More seats for collaborative spaces
• Reduced emphasis on large formal meeting spaces
Distributed work programs offer a plethora of smaller, individual workspaces.
We found at least thirteen different variations of individual workspace types that range from the traditional private office to meditation rooms. A common thread through all these space types is their relatively small footprint, ranging from 38 square feet (touchdown station) to 132 square feet (private office) (Figure 3).
Spaces for individual work within a distributed work environment include more than the traditional workstation or office. Two reasons for the trend stand out: first, employees spend a lot of time meeting with others away from the desk; and second, one workspace may not be the best place for every activity.
Distributed work programs offer a wide choice of collaborative spaces to serve changing needs.
In distributed work programs, a wide variety of meeting spaces (we counted 21 separate types in this study) are used to serve changing needs, such as the varied nature of meetings (shorter, casual meetings with smaller groups of people), fluctuating team sizes, and overall occupancy levels. Organizations engaged in distributed work agree that supporting collaboration is critical, whether it takes place face-to-face or remotely (Figure 5).
Cost and satisfaction are top success measures.
Employee satisfaction, square footage, and dollars saved through real estate reduction are the three most frequently cited measures of distributed work program performance. These are powerful measures because they are closely linked to ongoing business concerns. Employee satisfaction is usually measured through surveys and meetings. To measure real estate reduction, utilization data is gathered—most often the low-tech way—by walking around with a clipboard to see and record “who is home.”
Distributed work environments offer flexibility and choice.
This research has established a useful benchmark for organizations wishing to compare their solution to others and those who are planning new distributed work programs for their organizations.
In the near future, it is possible that distributed work environments will become more the norm than the exception. The successes that are documented in the study will be leveraged across many organizations allowing more workers to experience greater freedom and job satisfaction, while helping their organizations increase business productivity and reduce expensive real estate portfolio costs.
To read the complete study on distributed work, go to www.knoll.com/research/downloads/WP_DistributedWork.pdf