An essential element of a facility’s professional function is space planning and management. The layout of an organisation’s workspace forms an integral part of that organisation’s image, further providing a valuable message to visitors, potential employees and the staff who work there.

A safe, healthy and comfortable environment is mandatory to get the best out of a company or organisation’s staff. Facilities professionals can add value to an organisation through making the best possible use of the available space, ensuring the layout and work settings have a positive effect on communications and productivity e.g. providing the potential for staff to interact to exchange ideas etc. The professional may be assisted in this by the use of computer-aided systems.

Prior to planning or re-planning any space, a facilities professional will first need to know the size, shape etc of that space. This is typically handled by obtaining dimensioned architectural floor plans of the area showing the layout.

Next the professional will need details of the required facilities to be incorporated into the space. This may include space set aside for IT, reception areas, boardrooms, pause areas, waiting rooms, interview rooms, any catering areas, strong rooms etc. This is followed by planning for the occupants themselves.

To obtain an approximate idea of how many people can be slotted into a given net lettable area (the area on which the organisation pays rent in a leased building) the British Council for Offices (BCO) offers a good practice range of 12-17 square metres per person. This is very simplistic and the professional will want to delve deeper.

As a way of assisting to plan the occupants into a given floor space, a planning grid can be used. There are some common grid sizes based on modules the most common being 150 x 150cms. This creates blocks of 2.25 square metres. This grid allows adequate flexibility of planning and is usually compatible with common distribution patterns of cabling and other services. This allowance is for desk and chair and allows no provision for storage, circulation etc

Space planners today are typically presented with either a concrete floor slab or a raised floor in which to run services such as cabling. Suspended ceilings may provide ventilation, heating and lighting services. Note should be made of the ceiling tile and finish as it may influence acoustics, lighting and fire resistance levels. By adopting a modular approach, it is easier to match up with planning grids and partitioning systems, and make it easier when configuring the layout.

Partitions in offices can be constructed from a multitude of different materials including brick, block, plasterboard, aluminium and plywood with different finishes including vinyl, paint and plaster. Which one depends on various factors such as cost, fire resistance, weight, duration the configuration is expected to last, acoustic properties, whether there is a need for load bearing such as hanging shelves, mirrors or cupboards.

Structured cabling typically comprises two basic components, namely backbone cabling and horizontal cabling feeding off from it and passing to outlets. Structured cabling allows a single complete wiring infrastructure carrying not just the IT systems but also such functions as voice, video and security. Structured cabling must be considered as early as possible in the process of planning changes to a building’s layout or planning a new building. Care must be taken to prevent problems of cables interfering with HVAC (heat ventilation and air conditioning), plumbing and electrical systems. The basic rule to cable management is that the more outlets there are, the closer any workstation will be to one and the less cable there will be to manage.

Personal space is also important. A space standard can be set. This is the number of square meters assigned to each employee in an organisation as workspace. This involves their chair, desk, local storage space and immediate access to the workspace. The space standard can be applied as a rigid allocation per person where large numbers of people are to fit into a fixed space or as a minimum allocation per person where space permits. Several approaches can be considered.

  • Traditionally the more senior or higher up an individual is in an organisation the greater the personal space allocated. One example would be where basic operatives are given 5 square metres in an open space, their supervisors would get 7 square metres, managers get 10 square meters in a cellular office and directors 17 square metres with carpet and private office.
  • The single standard is where everyone gets the same space allocation and/or furniture.
  • Space can also be allocated by need. The assumption would be that if you needed more storage space more would be allocated like perhaps in IT maintenance or repair stations.
  • Similarly if the work is confidential a person would be located in a cellular office as opposed to open plan.

In recent office moves that Pearl Properties has undertaken a space standard of 9 square metres of open plan office was set for employees up to a certain grade then cubicles and private offices for executives and directors. In addition space was allocated as needed and for confidentiality.

Basic principles that should be considered include keeping it simple, use the smallest comfortable set of space standards. Space standards do not dictate the orientation or the arrangement of workstations.

While open plan arrangements bring criticism of lack of privacy, lack of control over the immediate environment around the workstations and acoustic problems, open plan continues to have acceptance and is used extensively among our tenants. People will typically be allocated a workstation in an open plan environment, with access to pause areas, refreshment areas, meeting rooms etc.

Corridors and routes through the workspace constitute circulation space and need to be planned in sympathy with means of escape in an emergency for which there is a legal requirement. Internal corridors should have a minimum width of 1.5m (allowing a person and a wheelchair to pass comfortably).

Other aspects of space planning that might need to be considered are:
Adaptability to upgrade employees from one level of space to a higher one
Relocation and turnover of staff and training new staff
Co locating different teams and departments in the same space
Expansion requirements
Aesthetics and staff comfort.
Space saving options when called for

Space planning and management remains a key component of any organisations requirements and a facilities professional’s functions should include all these aspects.