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Office space downsizing: adapting to a reduced office footprint

Office space downsizing: adapting to a reduced office footprint

Office space downsizing was a hot topic throughout the pandemic. Would companies ever move back into offices full-time once restrictions were lifted? And what would the wider economic effects of this be? In the press, the debate raged on about the future of commercial real estate and how local businesses in the UK's towns and cities would survive.

Although the dust has settled, the discussion is still ongoing. A recent survey published in Bloomberg found that the majority of office workers are now in for three days a week or fewer – and that as much as 20% of office space in the south east could become redundant. On the other hand, StartUps Magazine reports that demand for offices is on the rise in other parts of the UK.

Anecdotal evidence though it may be, our firsthand experience tells us that a fair few businesses have started to cut down on office space. Shredall SDS Group has seen a rise in the number of customers seeking out document storage services as part of a downsized office relocation – and our sister company, Loft Self Storage, has also experienced a similar increase in demand for business self storage space.

With this trend in mind, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide on how to adapt a reduced office footprint. Join us as we consider some of the motivations and challenges of office space downsizing, as well as the most effective strategies for doing so (with useful infographics throughout).

There’s lots to consider here, so you can use the links below to navigate between sections:

UK companies choosing to downsize office space

Rather than giving up offices altogether, many organisations have opted simply to reduce their office footprint in light of flexible, hybrid working patterns. A number of household names have decided to downsize their UK premises yet maintain a London head office, including:

  • Deloitte
  • The Law Society
  • Salesforce
  • Dropbox
  • Pinterest
  • Uber
  • Citigroup
  • A&O

The consensus is that downsizing is a more prudent strategy than doing away with your offices completely (recognising that office space still has an inherent value). If you’re considering making the switch, read on to learn about some of the pros and cons of reducing your office footprint.

Weighing up the pros and cons of reducing your office footprint

It’s important to obtain an unbiased view of the realities of reducing your office footprint before making a decision.

Those invested in commercial real estate will tell you that established offices are the key to making the right impression and also the backbone of your company’s culture – whilst this is true to an extent, the same effects can be achieved with smaller premises in many cases, and there are plenty of other considerations to take into account.

Let’s unpick the reasons why so many UK businesses are choosing to downsize offices and explore some of the potential challenges that await them.

Freeing up your finances and reallocating capital

In a survey on the rationales behind office space downsizing, 56% of businesses stated that the decision to reduce their office footprint was at least partly down to cost savings. Many see this as a knock-on effect of the COVID lockdowns, during which many companies found themselves having to pay for office space that they were unable to use for months on end.

Unless your downsizing project involves moving to a more lavish office (or one in a more expensive area), it’s highly likely that it will free up some of your company’s finances. The opportunities for reallocating this capital are many, but arguably the best option is to invest the funds into your wider downsizing strategy and efforts to support hybrid working.

In a recent Digiday article, Oisin Hanrahan, CEO of Angi, advised “look[ing] into what your leadership and your team want to do in terms of building a stronger culture” when deploying the additional funds. In practice, this could take the form of an investment in improvements to your training programme, employee benefits package, or events to help teams stay connected.

Minimising wasted space

Closely connected to the idea of downsizing for cost-saving purposes, reducing your office footprint is also an ideal opportunity to cut down on wasted space.

A prime source of wasted space in offices throughout the UK is on-site file storage. For an office in West London, the cost associated with storing just four filing cabinets is £1,527.50 per month (based on the average rental price per square foot). Businesses can make significant savings by making use of an off-site document storage company instead of storing at their premises.

With the rise of hybrid working, it’s also possible to cut down on the number of desks in your office when undergoing a downsizing project. By doing away with allocated desks and instead implementing a hotdesking policy for employees who are in the office, your organisation can easily reduce the requirement for desks by as much as half depending on the split between home and office working.

Recognising the value of offices

There are plenty of reasons for maintaining at least some sort of office footprint.

One conventionally cited argument is the importance of the 'water cooler effect', whereby employees are said to be more productive, creative, and satisfied with their jobs when working together in an office environment. There is certainly something to be said for this, particularly when we take into account the evidence from recently published psychology research.

Offices also have a notable impact on organisational culture. Without a centralised space for staff to convene in, there are far fewer opportunities for activities that shape and reinforce a sense of shared cultural experience, from team building days to regular social events. In this sense, your company’s office space can act as a social anchor that facilitates deeper connections between coworkers.

Finally, business premises give your organisation a chance to reinforce its branding, offering you the ability to communicate your brand identity and values in physical form. Google’s office locations are well-known for taking branding to the next level, and have become a significant pull for the business in terms of helping it to attract and retain the top talent.

Overcoming the challenges of hybrid working

The rise in hybrid working patterns has been a positive change for many, offering commuters the chance to reduce time spent travelling and parents the flexibility to care for their children when working from home.

That said, organisations that are looking to downsize offices and implement company-wide hybrid working should ensure that they have solid measures in place to overcome the challenges of a split workforce.

Some of the key issues to consider include:

  • Do all employees have enough face-to-face contact with their line managers and other colleagues?
  • Are there check-ins and measures to prevent isolation amongst remote workers?
  • Will you run regular socials and company events to help reinforce your culture?
  • How will you make sure that there is enough desk space for those staff who do come in?
  • Do your teams have the necessary technology for effective remote working?
  • Have you factored remote training and development opportunities into your plans?

In the next section, we’ll take a closer look at how your business can adapt.

How to adapt to less office space and more hybrid working

If you count yourself among the many organisations that are considering downsizing offices and implementing more hybrid working, you’ve come to the right place. Read on for our top tips on adapting to this new way of working and making the most of smaller business premises.

1. Maintain regular facetime

If your business has already had a hybrid working policy in place for a while, then it’s likely that you’ll already have given some thought to how you can keep social connections alive.

When employees are working from home, it’s vital to maximise the amount of contact that they have with their managers and peers. Whether this takes the form of a check-in call a few times a week, regular 121s, department huddles, or a combination of these, you should factor this into your plans from the outset.

2. Keep collaboration alive

We’ve already considered the evidence showing that the water cooler effect truly does have a role to play in sparking creative thinking when employees are together in the office. But this doesn’t mean that remote working days have to be devoid of team-based activities and inspiration.

Hundreds of new online collaboration tools have sprung up since the pandemic including the likes of Miro, a web-based platform that enables teams to work together and create interactive visual whiteboards. By adopting software such as this, we can mimic the types of coworking that would naturally arise in an office setting. In this way, your organisation can mitigate the potential for creative lulls and productivity problems when staff are working from home.

3. Consider a hot desking policy

Hot desking is not only practical in a modern day hybrid work setting – it’s also an excellent way of encouraging collaboration on projects.

First and foremost, by having a system where desks no longer ‘belong’ to individuals but instead have to be booked, you ensure that there’s always enough desk space for everyone who comes in. This helps to prevent awkward situations in which your staff commute to work, only to find that they don’t actually have anywhere to work from when they get there.

Secondly, the ability to reserve specific desks in the office means that employees can save a certain area for use when working together as a group. We’ve seen this work for all manner of team-based work activities that our customers carry out, including workshops, brainstorming sessions, training days, and team building events.

4. Take the opportunity to move to a new location

Reducing your office footprint shouldn’t have to feel like a step back. You can use the switch to your advantage by relocating premises at the same time.

Whether you’re looking to tap into a new local talent pool for recruitment – or there’d be a strategic advantage to positioning yourself closer to your partner companies – choosing a smaller office in an altogether new location could actually turn out to be the start of something great for the business.

5. Design your premises with new working practices in mind

As you downsize office space, take the opportunity to re-think the design and layout of your premises and consider whether these are suitable for hybrid working. Key questions to ask yourself here include:

  • Does the layout of the main office area support hot desking? (Open plan spaces with banks of desks tend to work best.)
  • Are there enough areas for employees who need to work alone or take calls in a quiet spot?
  • Do you have video conferencing tech to facilitate collaboration between remote workers and those who are in the office?
  • Is there a system in place to book meeting rooms and private spaces?
  • Have you included some social zones like cafes or breakout areas?

6. Reduce clutter – keep, store, or sell?

Now that you’ve thought about the location, design, technology, and working practices of your new downsized office, it’s time to consider one more practical point: what are you going to do with the excess clutter from your old premises?

Depending on how much smaller your new office is, there could be a fair amount of stuff that needs to go from the old office before you can move everything across. From filing cabinets to IT equipment and office furniture, businesses tend to accumulate all sorts of things over the years. And knowing just what to do with it all during an office downsize can be tricky.

The first step – as with all decluttering projects – is to categorise items based on whether they should be kept, put in storage, or sold. At the end of this process, work out whether your new office has enough room to take everything in the ‘keep’ pile; if not, have another think about whether any of these items can be stored.

Once you know what you’re keeping, take care of the rest:

  • Large, bulky items can be kept in a business storage unit. Some companies offer temporary storage and will deliver the items to your new premises when required.
  • Any excess paper files can be scanned, indexed, and kept digitally (or stored in an off-site document storage facility).
  • Unwanted items can be sold off; try a dedicated IT and office equipment auction if you’re keen to do this all in one go.
  • You could also find a company like us that offers recycling and destruction services – in addition to taking care of unwanted items ourselves, we also have close relationships with big companies such as Amazon and auctioneers

Office space downsizing checklist

Before you kick off your transition towards a reduced office footprint, have a scan of our checklist and tick off the points as you prepare to downsize.

Choosing a new office

  • Work out how many desks the new office should have
  • Estimate the overall floor space that will be required
  • Decide on the budget for the new premises
  • With your budget in mind, pick a location in which to search
  • Find a range of offices that meet your needs (your shortlist)
  • Visit the shortlisted offices to check if they are set up for hybrid working
  • Select a new office with a design that fits your ways of working

Before the move

  • Make sure that the new premises have appropriate Wi-Fi and video conferencing tech
  • Find a cloud-based meeting room and hot desk booking system
  • Declutter – decide what to keep, store, or sell
  • Choose a storage provider and have them collect any excess items
  • Sell any unwanted items
  • If you still keep paper files, have these scanned and stored digitally
  • Pick a move-in date
  • Arrange for items to be transported
  • Organise the new office layout

On move-in day

  • Carry out final checks on the office to make sure everything is in order
  • Notify customers, clients, and stakeholders of the change of address (and phone number if applicable)
  • Set up mail forwarding
  • Ensure all regular office deliveries are diverted to the new office


How we can help your organisation with reducing its office footprint

We provide a wide range of services that could be invaluable to your organisation if you do decide to downsize offices:

Our sister company, Loft Self Storage, is also well placed to help you out during an office move.

Get in touch today to discuss how we can support you with document management, recycling, and storage space.

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