4 pillars for creating an optimised office space in 2023

Over the last two years, there’s been a huge change in the way businesses are using office space. 

Data from The Instant Group’s Future of Flex report indicates that almost one in five businesses have made an adjustment to their workspace-to-team ratio, while recent research from Devono suggests that the size of spaces businesses are investing in has fallen by 20%. 

All of this, combined with the huge shift in the working habits and preferences of employees globally, is leading to a trend of businesses taking smaller, optimised spaces to navigate the world of hybrid working.

The stay-or-go dilemma is one that many are facing, with reducing office spend a top priority for businesses in a tough economic climate. Relocating to a smaller space might be a feasible option for your team, but moving offices often takes time and may not be on the horizon just yet. 

With that in mind, optimising your current space could be the easiest way to both reduce costs and increase productivity and engagement with the office. But where do you start?

We spoke with Kitt’s Head of Design, Stef Sebald, to put together some of the best tips and tricks for businesses looking to create a productive office space for their employees. Read them below, or watch the conversation in this video.


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Optimising office space: what are the challenges?

If you’re assessing your workplace strategy, you’ve probably looked around your office at the sea of empty desks on a Monday and wondered what the solution is. You know that things will look a lot different later in the week, but for 80% of the week, the space isn’t fully being used.  

The reality is that hybrid is now very much the norm, and it’s an expectation for much of the workforce. Businesses are having to rethink their spaces because they need specific areas to support different types of work. 

Stef explains:

“Every business will have a unique version of what this looks like, but at the very heart of this shift there’s one key obstacle to overcome: creating an office that works on both the busier days and the quieter ones.”

Here are four pillars that Stef recommends every business should be thinking about.

1) Getting the desk set up right for your business

One of the most significant changes to the office we’ve seen in the last couple of years has been the role of desks. For many, the typical desk set-up has been recreated in home offices, bedrooms and living rooms, and very few people are making the commute to simply sit in the same seat all day.

Businesses have responded to this shift in working preferences with a rethink of desks in the office, opting to reduce numbers, tweak the layout and/or encourage more hot-desking as opposed to a traditional fixed desk set-up. 

The approach you take will largely depend on the type of business you are, so here are a few options to consider.

Rearranging desks when they’re still needed

Within the majority of businesses that have adopted a hybrid working strategy, there are popular days when the office is particularly vibrant, but also quieter days with very few people in. Creating an environment that caters for both of those actualities is a big challenge. 

Stef says:

“One thing to consider is creating ‘pockets’ of desks, as opposed to one big area that can feel like a ghost town on the quieter days. Think about using nooks of the office as spaces for different teams, so that if only one team or a handful of people across functions are in, they can still feel like they are collaborating or being surrounded by others.

“If employees are staring at a sea of empty desks it can feel demotivating, so designing spaces that feel a little more intimate is a great way to optimise your space for productivity and collaboration.”

Reducing desk numbers in favour of hot-desking

One cost and space-effective way to rethink your desk set-up is to have fewer desks than employees. This often works for companies with teams primarily working on laptops (fewer screens needed) because having a fixed desk is less important.   

The chances are that in any business some people will be off sick, on holiday or at external meetings, so having fewer desks isn’t a problem. 

Stef explains:

“What you use the extra space for will depend on your business. For example, if you’re a consultancy you might choose to create another meeting room because meetings are taking place in your office regularly, and having that space to facilitate those is more impactful than a bank of desks which are only used for a small percentage of the time.”

Reducing desk numbers in favour of collaboration spaces

Another approach, which is better suited to smaller businesses, is to reduce the number of desks in your space and instead create different areas for people to work in. A space-effective way to do this would utilise multi-functional design elements, such as a large collaboration table that doubles up as a lunch table and social space.

Stef says:

“You will also need to consider how people like to work when creating these spaces. A creative agency, for example, will need more breakout spaces and collaboration areas where employees and teams can ideate.

“On the other end of the spectrum, having more work booths where people can focus instead of a desk area is a nice way to ensure you are catering for every employee’s needs and working preferences.”

2) Designing along a spectrum of noise

We’ve all experienced distractions at work. Whether your desk is a little too close to the team on the phones all day, or your meeting space is surrounded by the social areas in the office, noise can really inhibit a productive working environment.

Stef explains a trick we’re using with a number of our clients:

“Particularly in smaller spaces, we’re starting to think about designing zones on a spectrum of noise rather than just for functionality. Think about which areas are being used for what purpose, and plan your space around that.

“For example, if your kitchen also doubles up as a social space, it won’t make sense to position a meeting room next to it. Instead, you might think about putting another area where conversations are had, such as collaboration or ‘whiteboarding’ space.”

Ultimately, you need to think about adjacencies and what makes sense. Think of your space as a spectrum of noise, and make sure that focus areas such as desk space are far away from the louder pockets of the office. 

3) Multifunctional spaces

One of the best ways to reduce office spend without impacting the productivity and happiness of your employees is to do more with less, but where do you start?

Stef explains:

“One of the ways we work with our clients to achieve this is to bring in as many multifunctional design features as possible, so that no space is wasted throughout the office. 

Large tables that enable collaborative work and social interaction for non-work moments, for example, or a training area that can also be used for company all-hands.”

One of our favourite examples that we’ve worked on recently is the multifunctional atrium at the heart of Spendesk’s home, which can be used as collaborative seating, a welcome area and standing desks. 

Untitled design (47)

Stef says:

“If you have multiple floors, consider condensing it to just one floor on the quieter days to make it more comfortable and vibrant for those who are in. This might mean rethinking which areas you have on each floor, particularly if you usually operate with a fixed desk system.”

We’ve seen this trick work well for Spendesk too, who recently invested in a personalised office in London for their UKI team. You can read more about why they prioritised functionality here.

4) Strategy, structures and processes

It’s one thing to design a great space, but it’s another thing to implement a way of working that facilitates productivity for everyone when they’re in it. That’s why for the fourth and final pillar isn’t about physical design, but the processes you’re putting in place to get the best out of your space.

This is incredibly important because it’s not always possible to have certain areas where you want them, particularly if you have less autonomy over the layout of your space. With that in mind, there are things that will be out of your control and that will need an added layer of communication to create an optimised environment.

Stef explains:

“This could mean ensuring that loud conversations aren’t had during meeting hours – or when meeting rooms are being used. It may also be useful to consider having a ‘culture champion’ to embed these processes into your space within the first couple of months, so that everyone is on board.

“If a precedent is set, it becomes a little easier to facilitate a productive space for every type of working preference. Those little things you can’t design - they’re impacted by the culture, structures and processes."

Tips from an expert

Alongside these pillars, there are a few other tips that Stef recommends thinking about.

1) Work out how much space you need

‘How much space do I need?’ is something we’re constantly asked by businesses rethinking their office set-up or researching new spaces. There are some really simple ways to get started with this if you’re not working with an expert. Here are a few tips, but remember that these should only be used as estimates as the reality will depend on your business and how your teams work.

  • Use a free space calculator to get started
  • As a rule of thumb, you’ll need 8-10m2 per person
  • Rectangular floor plans with fewer columns are more efficient

2) Consider your acoustic arrangement

Acoustics tend to be something you only think about when done badly. Everybody who has worked in a space with poor acoustics will know the pain of echoes, constant noise and a lack of privacy.

There are two very intentional applications for acoustics. One is in areas where the main goal is focus work or privacy. If you need a distraction-free environment or a space to hold confidential one-to-ones, for example, you’ll need more absorbent surfaces to help reduce echoes.

Then, at the other end of the spectrum, there are also areas where you want to create an atmosphere. In these spaces, you don’t want too many absorbent surfaces because otherwise, it feels a bit too quiet. Think about including harder surfaces to help generate more of a buzz (think coffee shop atmosphere).

3) Stay flexible where possible

In an ideal world, your new home would be your ‘forever home’ – but things change! Perhaps the business grows, or a function splits, or your hybrid working policy adapts to allow for more time at home. It’s important that you think about how you can keep your space flexible for these potential changes, both in the short term and the long term.

When working on your floorplan, think about what could change and make sure you’re able to facilitate that in your space. If you’re likely going to be increasing headcount over the next year or two, think about where you’ll be able to work more desks into the space when the time comes.

We often work with clients at different stages of their journey to look at what’s working and what isn’t, in order to mould the space into something that works for them at the right moment. 

For example, a month or so after the move-in date, we check in to see if there are particular areas that aren’t being used or anything the team requires more of. We’ll do the same at key milestones to ensure that the space is adapting to the changing needs of the business.

4) Don't overlook storage

Businesses tend to need more storage than they think, simply because they can accumulate so much in such a short space of time. We quite often see workarounds being used because not enough space has been allocated for storage (e.g. a chair that has become the office coat rack or sorting office!). 

Look at how much you’re currently using and whether requirements might grow in the future. It’s ok to use external storage if necessary, just ensure that the things you do need more regularly have a home in your space.

Designing your brief

We break our design brief down into two core parts: aesthetic and functional. If you don’t work with a designer, it’s still worth writing a brief for yourself. Whichever you choose, here’s what to think about.

Functional brief

These are all of the things that we need to make your space function and work for you as a business.

1) Who, if anyone, will be visiting the space?

This is particularly relevant to businesses who host a lot of their client meetings in-house. And if that is the case, the follow up question will be around whether or not the space needs to impress them. If you’re reliant on these meetings to win business, the space may need to serve a different purpose to if you simply need somewhere to hold meetings when they’re in town.

This will impact your design significantly, as it may mean you need to allocate space and budget for a welcome area or impressive reception.

2) How do you work?

This is a really important piece of the puzzle, and it’s something that only you and your team will be able to provide clarity on. We work with businesses across a broad spectrum of industries, and the spaces we create always reflect the higher purpose that they’re striving towards.

Agencies will commonly work collaboratively when in the office, saving their task-based work for the days they work from home. This means that the space needs to be designed with that in mind, facilitating creativity and innovation. ICP, a client of Kitt, opted for only 20 desk-based seats and over 80 collaborative seating options.

On the other end of the spectrum, many businesses will have teams for whom a large part of the day will require them to focus. Those teams may need more work booths and quiet pockets for heads-down work.

3) What works well in your current space?

This is the best starting point for understanding what you need to create more of, and what you can afford to lose. At a time where many businesses are looking at reducing their office footprint and/or costs, this is particularly important.

This is unique to each business and space, for example a bank of desks by an area of natural light that is a popular choice when people are in, or a meeting room that no one uses because it’s next to the social space and it’s too loud when taking calls.

In a smaller business, you might be able to ask every employee to help with this, or in a larger organisation you can ask the team leads to help. Focus on things like:

  • Which areas are being used the most?
  • How busy are your meeting rooms and phone booths?
  • Are people often struggling to find a space to take a call?
  • How many desks are occupied on your busiest and quietest days?
  • Is there a particular type of seating that people prefer?
  • Does the arrangement of your teams in the space currently work?

By answering these questions, the idea of what your new/rethought space needs to look like will begin to take shape.

4) What are your unique requirements as a business?

This won’t always be the case, but some businesses will have very specific requirements that will need to be considered when designing a space. This could include product testing areas, a showroom, or areas with increased security. When working with an external design team to bring your space to life, it’s important that they know about these requirements from the offset.

5) What rituals do you have as a business?

One of the biggest trends we’ve seen over the last two years has been the shift away from the office as a default place of work. It now needs to provide a lot more value to employees, be it as a social anchor driving human connections or a place that elevates employee wellbeing.

How your business approaches that will need to be factored into the design of your space. For example, if you have a weekly town hall on a day that everyone is in the office, you’ll need an area that can cater to that. You may also need a social space for non-work activities, or areas which prioritise employee wellbeing.

Here are a few other things that some of the businesses we work with are prioritising:

  • Team lunches
  • Fireside chats with industry leaders
  • Gaming rooms
  • Prayer rooms

Aesthetic brief

This part of the brief is a lot less prescribed, and focuses mainly on making sure your new home represents who you are and where you want to get to. You should consider the following:

  • What is your business mission?
  • What is your brand identity?
  • How do you want to be perceived externally as well as internally?

Working with a designer on this will really help, because they will be able to translate your vision into materials, finishes, colours and arrangements that bring the space to life as a new home for your brand.

To get started with your brief, use our free template (or download it to work on later) and start putting together your ideas. You can then either work from this yourself or use it when working with a designer!

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