Out of the Unused Office For Good

Because I work in the troubled publishing industry, I see rows of unused cubicles when I think of office space. So why don't companies use just what we need?

We are starting to, but many industries laboring under the recession have yet to squeeze maximum efficiency from their cubicles . While an increasing number are allowing employees to work from home, others are mistrustful of  letting them toil off-site.

Office buildings remain an expensive asset to own, rent and maintain despite falling rents and rising office vacancies from the current recession. Reuters just surveyed several commercial realtors in Manhattan and found that 13.4 per cent of the island's total office space will become available in the next year. Indeed, midtown Manhattan rents have nosedived 28% and 50% factoring in free months and tenant improvements, the story said.

The same scenario is playing out in cities across the the U.S., but business runs in cycles. Will commercial real estate stage a robust comeback? We keep hearing that we've hit bottom, but I wonder if a more fundamental shift is underway. Letting employees decide where they work most productively is more accepted and the economics of shuttering unused space is more favorable.

To prepare, the first question for facilities managers is to determine how of that CO2-spewing office space is fully used, says Planon Corp. CEO and founder Pierre Guelen. Planon offers "Integrated Workplace Management" software for the enterprise that focuses on space planning, maintenance, worker productivity and portfolio management. Smart facilities management took root in Europe years ago and is getting traction here. Going green is just part of the story.

"If you walk into an office, the workplace is empty 50% of the time. You need to map the space and shed what you don't actually use. That's the first [step]," says Guelen. "It costs $10,000 to put someone into a workspace."

Depending on the work's nature, companies are adopting shared work spaces, a practice called "hot-desking" which saves money and lowers the ecological impact, according to Guelen. It's not for everyone such as managers who retain personnel files, but it makes great sense for a lot of workers.

He also argues that executives who think going green is expensive are badly out of touch. Rather, companies cannot afford to continue the status quo. Certified green buildings in the U.K. get a tax break based on a green-ness scoring system known as BREEAM (in the U.S, LEED is the yardstick of green).

"Because green [in Europe] has changed from saving the planet to saving my company, it’s the CFO who’s getting involved now. The whole green idea is new in U.S, but has been around in Europe for 25 years," Guelen says. Rising demand and subsequent cost of raw materials and energy means taking space office efficiency to a new dimension.

While we're on the topic of efficiency, check out the MIT Idea Bank which holds more than a thousand ideas to make the school's shrinking dollars go farther. Using less paper and more efficient HVAC are tops on the list.

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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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