How to Implement Ratio-Based Seating:

Plan for Remote Work with Flexible Space.

Flexible space reduces real estate costs by up to 30% by incorporating remote work. Learn how to successfully manage the transition.


As organizations search for creative ways to control real estate costs, they are asking themselves fundamental questions about the role that physical workspace should play. These questions have become hyper relevant in a world where remote work is increasingly popular and where employees prefer to get things done on their own terms.

Enter flexible workplaces. Ratio-based seating enables organizations to provide fewer seats than people, while offering employees greater freedom to choose where and when they work. Instead of bloating real estate portfolios with monotonous rows of underused desks for every employee, organizations can lean down with engaging environments of diverse spaces for employees to share… when they need them.

This guide lays out how to successfully implement that transition, step by step. Learn how to factor remote work into your portfolio strategy while enhancing engagement in the workplace. 

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Chapter 1

The Importance of Ratio-Based Seating

What Is Ratio-Based Seating?

Ratio-based seating is the result of a simple reality: In an office, no person remains at their desk 100 percent of the time. Even in the most traditional office, there are sick days, PTO, training, conferences, and any number of events that draw employees away from their assigned desks. In turn, anytime the owner of that desk is away, that resource is wasted.

Ratio-based seating strategically sets up seating arrangements so that there are fewer desks than people—allowing businesses to reclaim wasted space, maximize their capacity, and give workers the freedom to work the way they want. These flexible spaces are often referred to as Agile environments or Activity Based Workplaces.

How Agile Is Your Office?

Every office has a unique culture, unique goals, and unique workforce needs. As a result, ratio-based seating will look different depending on how mature your organization is in terms of workplace flexibility. Here’s the typical journey a business takes as it matures and how ratio-based seating fits into each stage:


A traditional office generally refers to workspaces that use fixed seating. These workplaces often take a one-size-fits-all approach to both space and the structure of the work day—typically including a combination of private offices and open desks. Generally, employees in traditional environments are expected to physically come into the office for work each day. 


Transitional offices offer a mix of assigned and unassigned seating. While private offices and open desks still exist in this setting, the environment starts to allow employees to move between shared settings. For instance, in this type of workspace, new spaces may begin to be introduced, such as quiet spaces for employees who need more isolated areas for concentration; or common lounges where workers can collaborate. In this setting, knowledge workers are often allowed to work remotely on occasion. 


Modern workplaces are the most flexible. They eliminate the majority of fixed spaces, making exceptions for those who absolutely need it. These environments offer a wide range of shared spaces where employees have the flexibility to choose the workspace that best fits the task they’re currently working on. They often include neighborhoods that are designed to meet the specific needs of teams. Modern spaces also usually focus on building a flexible culture—in both office design and work schedules. In this setting, leaders may introduce additional resources, including storage facilities, spaces to enhance wellness, and tools to promote seamless wayfinding. 

Benefits of Moving to More Flexible Seating

Studies show that 25% of employers are introducing unassigned seating, and 52% of the rest plan to do so. That is because the benefits are significant for organizations and employees. Here are some key advantages that Agile workplaces can provide:

Reduce Real Estate Costs

Flexible seating has been proven to reduce real estate costs by 30%. That is because elevated seating ratios increase capacity. Enhanced mobility frees up empty seats, ensuring that every space is put to good use.

Attract and Retain Talent

Flexible spaces have also been shown to be the preference of employees, and can provide an edge in the race for talent. In fact, 70% of employees say that working in Agile spaces is more stimulating.

Enhance Productivity

Employees in Agile spaces are also more productive. Employees in Agile environments demonstrate a 16% increase in productivity over their peers in fixed workplaces. That adds up to 6.4 hours per week, per employee. 

Chapter 2

How to Implement Ratio-Based Seating

Before implementing a ratio-based seating plan, it’s critical to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all formula for setting up ratios. It may be tempting to set a fixed ratio across the board throughout the whole organization. However, ratios should fit the demand and workflow of individual teams. 

For instance, it is often the case that the sales team naturally will be out of the office more often. Conversely, the financial or legal team may spend extra days running through paperwork on-site. Consider this example of a potential departmental breakdown:

  • Financial/legal: 1.1 ratio
  • Typical baseline: 1.2 ratio
  • Technology: 1.3 ratio
  • Contact center: 1.4 ratio
  • Sales team: 1.5 ratio

A 1.0 ratio should be read to represent 100 people per 100 desks, with 1.6 representing  160 people per 100 desks. In the above situation, ratios differ substantially by departement but the organization still saves by cutting out extra desks that aren’t being used. 

Steps for Implementing Ratio-Based Seating

Not sure where to start? You can follow a few simple steps to implement ratio-based seating:

1. Establish a Baseline

Before any alterations can occur, it is important to start measuring how much space is actually being used, by whom, and how often. This data can be captured with space audits, or captured in real-time through robust workplace technology.

2. Set Up Pilots 

As you’re transitioning, a good starting point is deploying pilots on floors. Set strong examples by selecting groups that are in most need of mobility and most likely to adopt and sponsor the change. You will learn key lessons from these initial transitions and set a strong foundation from which to scale.

3. Build Neighborhoods

Even in a flexible environment, teams need an element of predictability. By allocating "neighborhoods" to teams, you provide employees with general areas where they can expect to find their most common collaborators. In this way, employees can drift, but still maintain a practical homebase for when it's time to meet up.

4. Determine Neighborhood Size 

There will be more opportunity to find efficiencies with larger neighborhoods, as larger groups of people will have more variation in attendance than smaller groups.

For example, it may be hard to set high ratios for small teams of five or six, where employees may often all come in on the same day, but in a group of fifty, the chances of everyone showing up simultaneously are greatly decreased.

5. Account for Storage Needs

To pave the way for shared space, start by looking at the current office setting. As you make plans, imagine if you were to make all desks shared spaces today. From there, ask these questions to guide your planning: 

  • What would I find as I move from desk to desk?
  • What would I need to take with me to a new desk in order to do my work?

This simple thought exercise will help you determine what resources employees will need to operate in a ratio-based seating environment. For instance, you may decide to provide lockers to house personal items. Additional shelving alone may work as an adequate exchange for the fixed storage at desks. Regardless of the final resources, it’s important to determine what employees need to feel comfortable in a shared environment.

6. Develop a Social Contract

Because employees will be sharing space and adapting to a new way of working, guidelines can promote a smooth transition. Sharing these guidelines can set expectations, legitimize common complaints, and empower employees to become advocates for the new office culture. Guidelines don’t need to be long and drawn out. Instead, there are three key points your employees should commit to:

  • A clean desk policy 
  • Reporting when things are broken
  • Calling out bad or distracting behavior

7. Anticipate Health and Safety Needs

Even though ratio-based seating encourages more flexible seating arrangements, assigned seating is not a villain. It certainly shouldn’t be treated as a taboo concept when employees have special physical limitations or require a fixed permanent desk. For instance, you may have a 7-foot-tall worker whose desk has been specially designed. There’s no problem with letting that employee remain at a fixed desk. 

As you’re setting up a policy, work with HR to make sure every person has a voice and every person’s needs are met. 

8. Ensure Leadership Is on Board

Ratio-based transitions depend on the support of team leaders within your organization. Beware: Stubborn leaders can submarine plans. If they don’t buy in, they may restrict the movement of their teams. A good way to get leaders on board is to inspire other leaders to sponsor the cause. As leaders see other teams succeeding in a more Agile environment, they’ll be more likely to adopt change.

9. Evaluate and Refine

Ratios are rarely, if ever, optimized on the first go. It is absolutely critical that you continue to track utilization. Learn from how your teams use their spaces, make data-driven adjustments, and respond to evolving needs and changes.

Data-driven reporting is also critical to demonstrating efficiency improvements and cost savings. Proving ROI enhances consensus and support for future initiatives.

Chapter 3

Driving Optimization with Data-Driven Technology

Without data driving the strategy for transitioning to a flexible workplace, organizations are effectively flying blind. This requires a powerful system for tracking, planning, and managing space at every step. More specifically, a robust system should enable you to:

1. Centralize Data and Establish a Strong Foundation

Space optimization software should, first and foremost, centralize all of your floor plans and HR data on personnel. Capturing where every individual and business unit is seated, with clear visibility into how your spaces are laid out, is critical to developing a high level understanding of your current workplace strategy. Automated space audits and chargebacks can help establish initial metrics on occupancy, space efficiency, and costs. 

2. Track Utilization to Set a Baseline and Measure Improvement

Utilization data tells you not just how space is assigned, but how often it is actually used by personnel. This is key to establishing a baseline and also to optimizing flexibility ratios over time based on the real needs of your personnel. A robust system should provide clear metrics on peak utilization, current utilization ratios, and how those metrics change over time. It is not uncommon for organizations to discover that their utilization ratios are actually below 1.0, where seats outnumber people.

Utilization data can be captured from multiple sources. Simple badge-swipe data at the entrance of a building can tell you which people from which teams are present on your busiest days. More advanced smart sensors can actually heat-map spaces, so you can understand which spaces are in high or low demand.

3. Optimize with Scenario Planning and Moves


Powerful workplace technology should support your transition from planning through implementation. This means that planners should be able to create multiple scenarios and measure their potential impact on space efficiency, costs, and experience on the ground. Once an optimal scenario is identified, automation can convert plans into move projects to streamline transitions with minimal disruption.

4. Empower Employees with Wayfinding

Wayfinding technology supports transitions by enhancing transparency across the entire workplace in the midst of changes, while also increases the potential range of flexible spaces by making even the most distant spaces easily discoverable. 

Once an organization has the technology to support its plans, the company will be in a strong position to measure progress and continuously improve along the way. 

Chapter 4

Fostering Success with Strategic Consensus

Moving to a more Agile environment is an incremental process that requires ongoing measurement and adjustments. Success depends on a cultural change, with long-term buy-in from the many stakeholders involved.

Here are some tips to ensuring that everyone is on board.

Identifying the Key Stakeholders

As with any business decision, it’s important to demonstrate how ratio-based seating is improving the organization as a whole. Here are the key advocates you’ll need on your side as you navigate your transition: 

  • Leadership: These are generally C-suite decision makers such as CEOs, but they also include leaders within every department that the new policies will touch. The more effectively you can communicate the benefits to leaders, the more receptive to change they’ll be.
  • Bring together HR, CRE, and IT: The human resources, corporate real estate, and IT departments all play a deciding role in ratio-based seating. In order to make any move to a flexible workplace, it’s important that these departments understand their responsibilities and the benefits they’ll see.
  • Secure investment agreements early: It’s easy to realize cost savings throughout the transition to ratio-based seating. But it’s critical to make plans early on that leave room for ongoing workplace improvements. That means an important early step is to secure agreements that let you reinvest some savings in the workplace. 

Demonstrating Value to Your Organization

While the benefits of Agile workplaces are well documented across industries, every organization is different. Building the support you need means demonstrating how your unique organization benefits, every step of the way. This means:

Document the Transformation Process

If your organization’s goal is to create a workplace that improves the way people work, you’ll need to make early plans to secure the right data. This means taking photos and documenting how people are working before implementing ratio-based seating. 

Prove ROI with Quality Metrics

With a robust Workplace Solution feeding hard data into your transition process, you can use your KPI metrics to demonstrate cost savings before and after the process begins. Here are some KPI's that are critical to demonstrating the success of your transition. 

  • Capacity: This is the total number of people who can be assigned to a building. A core benefit of ratio based seating is that you need less space for more people, so look for increases in capacity.
  • Occupancy: Occupancy tells you how close you are to reaching 100% of your assigned capacity. Measuring increases in occupancy signals that you are eliminating wasted, vacant spaces.
  • Utilization: Whereas occupancy measures how close you are to assigned capacity, utilization measures how close you are to actual capacity. In other words; if Bob is assigned a desk, that desk is at full occupancy, even if Bob stays home. Utilization tells you how much space is being used by the people who actually show up. Enhancing utilization rates provides an even more precise view into how much wasted space you are eliminating.
  • Costs: Whether you closed a building or avoided new leases by creating space with flexible ratios, reports on the financial value of those spaces influence stakeholders more than any other metric.

Measuring How Ratios Help People

From the start, it’s important to measure and track the qualitative impact of your transition on the experience of the people in your spaces. This means gathering statistics on wellness, collaboration, job satisfaction, and any information that will support your transformation story. These data points are valuable to your organization because they represent less tangible but equally critical benefits, such as:

  • Attracting and retaining talent
  • Maximizing productivity
  • Enhancing competitive edge

To capture this data, surveys are still your best bet. Directly align your survey questions to the new workplace itself to eliminate other variables from the equation as much as possible.

Ask the same questions before, during, and after your transformation to gather as many data points as possible and substantiate improvements throughout the process.

Chapter 5

Tips and Timelines

Timeline Expectations

As you’re mapping out your journey to a more Agile workplace with ratio-based seating, it’s important to understand that change won’t happen all at once. In general, ratio-based seating may take approximately 12 weeks to implement. 

However, it takes much longer for those changes to become a habit. In many cases, it takes 12 months or longer for ratio-based changes to fully embed themselves in the workplace culture.

Tips for Making the Move

By this point, you should have a solid grasp on how to implement ratio-based seating and what to expect as your organization moves to a more flexible setting. Still, there are some common challenges organizations face throughout their journey to more Agile workplaces. Here are some tips and tricks for overcoming common pitfalls:

How to Get Change-Resistant People on Board

One of the biggest challenges you’re sure to face in any transition is change-resistant people. Individuals want to know how the change will impact their lives. The best way to overcome these headwinds is to be honest and transparent. Talk about culture and explain how each person will benefit. 

Additionally, connect with leaders right away and give them the resources to champion the cause. When they understand the big-picture benefits, they can address their team’s concerns head on, rather than letting small frustrations fester and boil over. 

How to Overcome Cultures Fixed to Desks

Simply put, some cultures won’t be receptive to ditching their desks. To overcome this challenge, look to leaders who will sponsor the change and invite them to the floor. When leaders move to shared spaces with their teams, they often realize how easy it is to communicate with their teams, hear common issues, and solve problems on the spot. From there, they’re more likely to become fast change advocates.

Where to Make Investments

With the savings that result from ratio-based seating, there are opportunities for investments. And those investments should go back into improving the employee experience. That means putting money toward technology to track and improve the workplace. At the same time, that money can go a long way in adjusting furniture or making layout changes that promote a more productive workday.

Chapter 6

Serraview Workplace Solutions

Serraview is the world's leading Workplace Solution for tracking real-time utilization data and transitioning to a flexible, Agile workplace. Serraview clients have a proven track record of creating bold workplaces that reduce real estate costs and stand apart from the competition. 

Find out more and contact a workplace expert today!

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