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The Metrics of Distributed Work

Financial and Performance Benefits of an Emerging Work Model

New workstyles demand fundamental rethinking of workplace strategy

In many companies, employees are working in an increasingly social, mobile, and collaborative fashion. The conventional, boilerplate office programs and spaces that most of us are familiar with were never intended to support the complexity and unpredictability of these new work patterns.

This new workstyle is often referred to as “distributed work”—a combination of heads down “focus” work, formal and informal collaboration of varying duration, and social interaction that occurs in a wide variety of settings within the building, campus or other locations. In addition to physical space, work policies, technology and communications networks play a key role in facilitating distributed work.

Employees embrace new levels of personal freedom in spaces that are explicitly designed to support distributed work. These dynamic, interactive workplaces recognize the substantial shift toward formal and informal collaborative activities, as well as the social component of work.

While many organizations currently have distributed work programs, there has been little organized information and few metrics to assist companies wanting to learn more about this emerging workspace strategy.

To address this need, Knoll engaged Ratekin Consulting, a leading workplace research firm, to conduct this study.

Our study sample represented a cross section of forty organizations across eleven industries, having varying levels of familiarity with distributed work programs.

For three-quarters of our sample, distributed work programs are common practice across all or multiple locations, with an average of about seven years experience. Over half of the organizations involved in distributed work expect these programs to grow during the next three years.

Data were gathered from corporate real estate and facilities directors and vice presidents. With an average of 20 years experience and 10,000 end users, these participants provided a rich discussion on this topic through multiple methods: an on-line bulletin board, electronic survey and structured interviews.

Through these efforts, we identified the design attributes of distributed work programs, how success is measured, and the financial and employee satisfaction benefits of this new workplace strategy as compared to conventional workspace.

Distributed work environments are characterized by a wide variety of smaller individual and group spaces with higher sharing ratios:

  • Smaller, higher density individual spaces
  • A wider variety of individual and group setting types
  • Increased allocation of seats for collaborative spaces
  • Reduced emphasis on large formal meeting spaces

Organizations employing distributed work programs enjoy a number of important financial and employee satisfaction benefits:

  • Substantive cost savings—an average 33% first year cost avoidance over conventional workspace, with consistent savings thereafter.
  • Greater space utilization—7 to 12 percentage points greater than conventional spaces.
  • Higher levels of employee satisfaction—about two-thirds of employees are satisfied with the impact of distributed work programs on their individual performance and 80% feel this way about their team performance.