New figures from the BCO reveal that London offices from an overall building perspective are less densely occupied than those outside the capital, and more likely to accommodate meeting rooms and breakout areas that provide a greater variety of work setting for staff.

The BCO’s 2013 Occupier Density Study found that the South and West region has the highest density offices at 8.6m2 per workplace. London (11.3 m2) and the South East (12.7 m2) have lower densities, across entire buildings, than all regions apart from Wales (11.4 m2).

According to the research, the average density of workplaces in the UK today is 10.9 m2 per workplace compared to 11.8 m2 in a previous 2008 survey. This marks a significant increase since 1997, when surveys at the time indicated that the average office density was 16.6 m2. While economic pressure and flexible working patterns have encouraged more efficient and more effective occupation of space over recent years, leading to higher workplace densities, this latest figure represents a slowdown of the rate of increase.

The research will be useful in informing the BCO’s next Guide to Specification, which is due to be published next year, and in guiding the industry about what needs to be done to future proof buildings to respond to the changing needs of the workplace.

Richard Kauntze, Chief Executive of the BCO, says: “More and more occupiers are now looking for buildings that can cater for a variety of workplace settings and that can respond to their changing needs over time. Traditionally the development sector tends to create workplaces based on a high density use across the whole space, which has required a higher specification to support it. The challenge in the years ahead will be to design buildings that can meet these aspirations without resorting to over specification.

“Organisations want to manage their work environments more flexibly, and the ability to increase occupation density is a key element. As a result they desire workplaces that can adapt to specific increased demands as their business needs evolve.”

This is further borne out by the study’s findings that more diverse working patterns have seen typical space budgets within buildings change. While at one time a typical space budget might have consisted of 80% fixed workplaces, 15% meeting space and 5% other support space (post rooms, computer rooms etc), the average office today is likely to have a greater variety of work settings, with fixed workplaces accounting for a smaller proportion of the overall space budget. Instead meeting rooms, client entertainment spaces and breakout areas are increasingly used as working styles become more flexible and mobile.

The report found that this is particularly the case for the Corporate, Technology, Media & Telecommunications (TMT) and Professional Services sectors which have average densities of 13.1m2, 12.3m2 and 10.5m2 compared to 9.7m2 for the Financial & Insurance sector.

Next year the BCO will publish guidelines for workplace densities and consider their impact on key building design parameters as it launches the new BCO Guide to Specification, the ‘standards bible’ for commercial office space in the UK.