COMPANIES hitting a dead end in the constant quest to cut costs can take heart. A new trend has emerged that can bring significant savings: reducing the amount of office space per staff member

This is not about cramming more desks into smaller areas - a cost-cutting technique that has been used in the past.

Rather, it involves using fewer desks.

This can be done through desk-sharing and taking advantage of the fact that a growing number of employees do their work elsewhere anyway - at home or on the move, using mobile technology.

DEGW Asia managing director Susan Lim said this new approach is increasingly relevant as 'most desks in contemporary offices are vacant 25 per cent of a typical working day'.

DEGW is a London-based global workplace strategy consultancy that advises companies on how to drive up efficiency by fully utilising available space.

Ms Lim said: 'Empowering staff with technology that increases their mobility within and outside the office is a significant game-changer in the world of the workplace, that enables high-intensity use of the increasingly diverse settings being created in the workplace.'

One company which has incorporated the latest mobile technology in its office layout is global bank HSBC. Its new Singapore office at Mapletree Business City is its first foray into the shared-work environment arena. 'Our 200,000 sq ft (office) is home to over 2,000 staff and features an open-concept collaborative work environment which has the mobile worker in mind,' said HSBC Singapore chief technology and services officer Chuck Stegen.

For instance, high-speed Internet can be accessed anywhere in the office, allowing staff to work on the go. The same goes for desktop computers and phones. HSBC's Voice over Internet Protocol telephone system allows workers to access their desktops and phone lines from almost anywhere. As a result, desk-sharing is commonplace.

Common resource 'hubs' are provided, reducing the duplication of equipment. Minimal reliance on paper products also helps to free up space.

Mr Stegen said: '(This design) optimises productivity and efficiency while promoting collaboration and communication between teams and individuals.'

Of course, mindlessly taking the phrase 'space maximisation' too literally is a potential pitfall. Cramming in more people does not make a better workplace.

Said Ms Lim: 'High-density workplaces actually do not support the kind of work most people do.

'(There are problems such as) morale issues, people feeling stifled, (like it's) very hierarchical, boring, not inspiring. They certainly don't encourage collaborative work.'

She added: 'Innovation is a key topic for certain organisations and it is difficult to foster that in such an environment.'

It is important to understand 'what the business wants to achieve, and creating the right mix of spaces to support collaboration and creativity', she said.

Consumer goods giant Unilever, which sells products ranging from ice cream to face cream, has also designed a high-performance workplace. It said its Singapore office says a lot about its outlook.

Mr Mark Smith, senior vice-president of finance for Unilever Asia, Africa, Central and Eastern Europe, said: '(Our) office is bright, vibrant and a true showcase of what Unilever is about - its brands, its consumers, its customers and its people.'

At Unilever, in-house cafes and other chill-out places showcase its different brands in a way that allows staff to use the products they are working with.

The office is also designed with a central connecting staircase. Office activity is centred around it, which means staff feel more connected.

An advanced video-conferencing network, Telepresence, connects over 50 Unilever sites globally, facilitating meetings.

An in-house Ben & Jerry's cafe doubles up as a venue for informal staff meetings - space flexibility at its best.

As Mr Smith puts it: '(This) is not only about maximising workspace... but it is also a concept about providing our employees with a choice - a choice to work where and when suits them best.

'It helps to balance work and personal commitments and enables them to be most productive and effective at their jobs.'