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August 5, 2014 at 12:00 am

Free Address Workplace – A New Trend in Designing Office Space

There is a new concept quickly gaining traction here in the US  that is shaping the way companies are designing office space. With many offices becoming vacant or under-utilized much of the time, what if there was a way to stagger the occupancy of 7 – 8 private offices instead of 14, and repurpose the vacated office space for more collaborative, shared areas? Since the introduction of the cubicle and landscape partitioning in the 1960s there hasn’t been any major change in the workplace environment, until recently. It’s called a free address workplace. 

World renowned workplace strategist, Chris Hood, paid Portland a visit earlier this year to deliver Workplace 3.0, a presentation on workplace innovation and what is driving the most recent changes in office design. Mr. Hood addressed 200+ individuals composed of office users from the Greater Portland area to discuss several ideas within his Workplace 3.0 theory that are shaping the way companies are designing office space today. This new concept is quickly gaining traction here in the US with some of CBRE’s offices including its downtown Los Angeles headquarters, along with HP, GlaxoSmithKline, and American Express adopting the strategy.  IDEXX, with headquarters in Westbrook, Maine, has also integrated free address workplace into their offices and other companies are considering similar changes.


Studies show that typical office space has a utilization rate of just 50%. Most offices in existence today were built under the assumption that every employee is in the office every hour of the day utilizing their own personal space when in fact, this isn’t the case. Free address workplace utilizes occupied space to a fuller extent, providing areas that can be used in multiple ways by different types of workers. While the cubicle organized every employee into a designated area, free address workplace organizes the workplace in a more modern and effective manner grouping employees together and allowing them the flexibility of moving their workspace to fit their goals for the day. There is no one-size-fits-all solution and each company needs to design their own layout specific to their needs, but generally there are conference spaces, communal tables, casual collaborative work areas, break rooms, and a limited number of private offices.


The free address workplace concept results in a direct reduction of the occupant’s footprint and thus lower real estate costs for the organization. Companies who have incorporated this design

have saved money but at the same time realized other important benefits:

• Repurposing forfeited space for other more important or creative uses

• Investing the savings of less space into higher quality build out and amenities

• The ability to grow their workforce within their current footprint

• Increased collaboration

• Increased face-to-face time leading to quicker decisions

• Less internal email

• Improved employee retention and recruiting


What’s also interesting about this trend, as Mr. Hood explained, is that cost savings have actually become less important to companies over the last several years while this concept has developed. The main focus for companies has become creating a healthy work-life balance, increasing productivity, and strong employee retention. Companies are thinking of ways to create a workplace where their employees can enjoy themselves while being productive and efficient and at the same time cutting costs. Technology has evolved to a point where it can support workers anywhere in the office with the free address workplace concept. Employers are finding that in order to hire and retain talent of the next generation the work-life balance has become ever more important to blend into their office environment, and they are striving to create a happier workplace that mimics ones personal mobile life which supports spontaneous dialogue while brainstorming which translates to being more productive in 33% less space. Generation Y will make up 40% of the work force by 2020 and they expect to be mobile in all aspects of their life. Gen Y was raised in technology, having used laptops, internet, cell phones, social media and email most of their lives.


While managerial concerns over this new office environment have steadily declined over the last several years, this concept may not fit all companies and there are some challenges. Mr. Hood acknowledges that free address workplace thrives in urban areas due the increased strain on established suburban parking ratios when the same amount of people occupy 1/3 less space. Maine’s few urban areas are relatively small and in Greater Portland for example, downtown Portland only makes up 38% of the total office market. There is an as yet undetermined threshold where address-free workspace may not be economically viable or may even become obsolete for small users. A 1,000± SF office will not likely see the same benefits as a 100,000± SF office user but could benefit from adopting some of the new workplace strategies. This idea isn’t necessarily just about saving money and reducing square footage but changing the way one experiences their work day. All office users, despite size and business type, can think of other ways to incorporate a more efficient, mobile, and enjoyable workspace. Conduct your own study to determine how much of your office you consistently use at any given time while incorporating more shared work spaces to spur collaboration, brainstorming, and face to face contact.  

Categories: Maine Real Estate Insider