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The Future of UK Office Densities: New BCO guidance recommends more space per person

New report by the British Council of Offices (BCO) recommends optimal 10-12m2 per person in offices to promote productivity and wellbeing, and reduce carbon emissions.

25th Oct 2022
By: Anna Hague
| Read Time: 2 min
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Work Mind Article

A new report by the British Council for Offices (BCO) recommends allocating more office space-per-person for the new era of flexible working and to meet net zero carbon targets.

The BCO study recommends a new method for calculating the amount of space needed per person in the post-pandemic world of work. The research identifies a ‘sweet spot’ of 10-12m2 per person.

Space to improve workplace wellbeing

Many pre-pandemic office layouts have changed and must now adapt to a new era of hybrid working. With some employees working from home and others hot-desking when in the office, the BCO report recommends that per-person calculations for space are more accurate than calculating space per-desk.

Designating appropriate spacing also ensures that workspaces meet modern employers’ requirements to promote both productivity and well-being. Having larger areas of personal space is likely to also relieve a variety of common workplace problems such as overcrowding and noise pollution.

Standards for a greener future

The conventional office space metrics, which were focused on space-per-desk, are no longer as useful because of the UK energy and carbon reduction targets combined with the impact of the pandemic on the office sector, says the BCO-commissioned paper, “The Future of UK Office Densities.

According to the surveyed BCO members, adding mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems to an office to accommodate larger densities increases both the amount of carbon embodied in the structure and the energy needed during construction and operation. Therefore, offices will larger meter-per-person spacing will lower the amount of carbon-using technologies needed.

UK office densities are among the highest worldwide, and much higher than densities in the majority of Northern Europe. In 2001, the average density in UK offices was approximately 14.8 m² per desk on a typical floor, but by 2018 it was to 9.6 m² per desk.

Neil Pennell, Chair of the BCO’s Technical Affairs Committee and Head of Design Innovation and Property Solutions at Landsec, said: “Our latest report finds that updating the allocated space per person, and optimising office facilities, is one way to make our workspaces more sustainable, whilst also supporting wellbeing and productivity.”

More flexibility for higher levels of productivity

The BCO report shows that when people do come into the office, they are shifting away from single desk use. Instead, employees are seeking to collaborate and co-create when in the office. With massive changes in the post-pandemic standard for workplaces, top requirements for many employees include flexible and comfortable work environments.

Of the organisations surveyed for research, many reported mid-week peaks in occupancy. Based on this change, the report recommends that office designers, owners, and occupiers plan workspaces to suit varying occupancy levels with contingency for high mid-week peaks.

The new standards from BCO speak directly to the importance of space to both personal well-being and reducing carbon emissions, two must-watch topics in the industry.

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