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Calculating Your Ideal Employee-to-Seat Ratio: A Step-by-Step Guide

Sep 1 2021

After a year that saw a global embrace of remote and hybrid work, organizations around the world are beginning to return to the office. For companies taking this as an opportunity to implement new flexible and hybrid workplace policies, many are contemplating what this return means for their workplace infrastructure. 

Each day, business leaders are asking themselves questions like— Does an increase in hybrid work mean that we need more collaborative spaces or more individual desks? Do we need more space per employee or less? How might employee needs vary across different business units or different geographic regions? Data from the Continental Automated Buildings Association found that by strategically improving workplaces and work environments, organizations can decrease employee absences and illnesses by 20-60%. 

To understand your workplace needs for any of your properties, a good starting point is calculating the ratio of employees to seats in each region, building, and line of business. Capturing data that tells a story encompassing building goals and utilization over time can help organizations strategically think about their offices and improve the spaces for their workforce.

Let’s take a closer look at ratio based seating and the formula for discovering your ideal employee-to-seat ratio.

What is ratio based seating?

Ratio based seating is the practice of maximizing your total office space by determining the ideal number of workspaces or desks that you offer to employees. Traditional office design assumed 1:1 assigned desk per employee. However, the popularity of activity-based working, communal spaces in the workplace, and hot desking in recent years, combined with the increase of employees working on flexible schedules and organizations adopting a hybrid work model, has now made determining the ideal employee-to-seat ratio an incredibly challenging task for workplace and corporate real estate teams everywhere.

Think about it this way— if you have 100 employees and they all work on-site every day, you will need to provide them with 100 workspaces and your ideal employee-to-seat ratio would be 1:1. For a company with remote, hybrid, or flexible employees their ratio will look a little different. For example, if you have 100 employees and half of them work remotely on any given day, you will only need to provide them with 50 workspaces and your ideal employee-to-seat ratio may  be closer to 1:2.

In an ideal world, ratio based seating allows organizations to optimize their total office space by only creating and allocating workspaces on a need basis, which in turn allows them to both save space and real estate costs while meeting employee needs each day.

Ratio Based Seating Best Practices

  • Before making any significant workspace changes, survey your employees to ensure you are making decisions that support their preferred work methods.
  • Adjust seating ratios gradually, to avoid minimizing workspaces too quickly. Try piloting a new design and seating ratio with a specific team or on just one floor before rolling out more broadly.
  • Approach ratio based seating with a flexible mind, making permanent changes to your office space may backfire if workplace policies are changed again.
  • Structure your office space to support occasional overflow seating in the event of sporadic fully on-site work.
  • Improve the employee experience of ratio based seating by offering a variety of seating options.Continue to provide workspaces for team meetings, hybrid collaboration, and individual work.
  • Use occupancy sensors to accurately and continuously measure space utilization and ensure you are providing employees with the workspaces they actively choose to use.

Calculating your Employee-to-Seat Ratio

There is no hard and fast rule for defining the perfect employee-to-seat ratio for your organization. However, there are several key metrics to consider in your calculations. 

Step One: Calculate your minimum and maximum occupancy.

Because determining an accurate employee-to-seat ratio is all about optimizing the use of space, before you can determine your ratio you first must gain an understanding for how your office space is actually used. Start this process by monitoring how your employees utilize their office space for a predetermined period of time, like three months using real-time occupancy data. After the quarter has ended, analyze the employee behavior you’ve gathered and determine the minimum and maximum occupancy of your office. 

Once you’ve got your minimum and maximum occupancy levels for each floor, department, or neighborhood of your total property you can use them as a jumping off point for calculating your ideal ratio. 

Continue monitoring how your employees use your workspaces in order to determine the accuracy of your employee-to-seat ratio.

Step Two: Calculate the workspace needs of each department.

No two departments have the same employee makeup. Depending on the specific job requirements of each one, your organization may be composed of a mixture of departments with a majority of remote, hybrid, or on-site employees. Therefore, the ratio of each department will differ. Of course, the occupancy of your complete office space will have a total calculable employee-to-seat ratio. But for the process of reconfiguring your workspaces to provide employees with the right number and forms of workspaces they need to perform, you’ll need to calculate the individual employee-to-seat ratio of each department.

To do so, assign a number to each employee that reflects how often they work on-site. Start by labeling every fully on-site worker as a 1 and every fully remote employee as a 0. Then, each hybrid employee will have a number between 1 and 0 that is a reflection of how much time they are projected to spend in the office. For example, employees that work on-site only one week out of every month will be labelled as .25 and employees who work from home two days a week will be labelled as .75. Once you have labeled every employee based on their work schedule you can calculate the ideal employee-to-seat ratio of each department.

Your employee-to-seat ratio may also vary based on the nature of your business. Gensler’s annual workplace survey found that those in the tech industry are more receptive to unassigned seating than those in the legal industry. 

Step Three: Evaluate the distribution of space for individual spaces vs conference rooms vs collaborative spaces.

The function of the space will affect your ratios. Consider how much space you’ll dedicate to collaborative space versus individual space, with a recent trend being the rise in the use of collaborative spaces in offices.

How much space is dedicated to conference rooms? Are they being used? Are they the right size for hybrid meetings or your team’s meeting needs?

With a growing number of organizations adopting a hybrid work model, many are restructuring meeting rooms to be more conducive to smaller groups and video conferencing technology, rather than traditional, large boardrooms of the past.

Step Four: Implement workplace software to book and track spaces.

Using software to allow employees to reserve desks or meeting rooms serves two purposes. One— you provide employees with an easy way to pre-book a spot in the office, making their hybrid work experience better and improving their work-life balance and productivity. Two— you collect rich data and insights on how your employees work, giving you the information you need to improve your workplace for their specific needs.

VergeSense’s meeting analytics and integrated smart sensors can improve the on-site work experience even more by releasing conference or huddle rooms that have been “ghosted” so they don’t get left unused. 

Step Five: Continuously monitor your workspace utilization.

Calculating your employee-to-seat ratio isn’t a one time project, but an ongoing process .

After a few months, you may realize that maybe you over calculated for individual work and after a month you realize your focus rooms are way underutilized. Or maybe you miscalculated how many members of your marketing department work on flexible schedules and you’ve found yourself with overbooked huddle rooms struggling to accommodate their team needs. Whatever you may learn from continuous monitoring, you always have the option to adjust your ratios to reflect the realities of your office space needs.

Additionally, if there’s one thing we learned from the past year, it’s that flexibility is necessary for success in the modern world. By continuously monitoring your employee behavior using smart sensors and workplace analytics, you’ll be able to anticipate the ever changing needs of your workforce. That way, you won’t be caught off guard if more and more employees begin shifting to remote or on-site work. As a rule, ongoing monitoring allows you to create the proactive workplace your employees deserve.

Building an effective employee-to-seat ratio that stokes creativity and collaboration all comes down to how accurately you are able to monitor your workspace utilization and employee behavior. Without collecting these insights, you may find yourself struggling to create a truly efficient and sustainable workplace for all of your employees, no matter how often they step foot into your office space. 

A comprehensive workplace analytics platform like VergeSense is equipped to provide you with all of the insights you need to transform your office space into the high-functioning place it is capable of being. To get started, request a demo today.

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