Office Occupancy: Watch This Space
Why and How to Keep Tighter Control of Office Occupancy
Driving down office rental costs is a hot topic, set to remain at the top of most company agendas for the foreseeable future, regardless of size or sector. Long after the recession-based reasons for reducing overheads have passed, the age of flexible working will be forcing businesses to constantly reassess space requirements. As employees gain better, faster access to information and business applications outside the confines of corporate headquarters, under-utilisation of office premises will account for a frightening amount of unnecessary spending on wasted resources.
But making the case for a workplace re-configuration can be difficult without the right evidence. By gathering comprehensive data about your workspace, you can analyse usage and create effective strategies to make sure that capital is deployed much more effectively.
Where to Start
Capturing anecdotal (instead of actual) levels of utilisation is often responsible for the perception of overcrowding, when in reality occupancy is often at around 50 per cent or less. Just because a meeting room has been reserved, or a jacket is hung on the back of a seat, doesn’t mean it is actually being used. When vital budgetary decisions are based on unsubstantiated figures, you stand to lose thousands of pounds on office expansion or retraction that will do nothing to improve business performance.
So where do you start to build a clear picture of how to create an efficient, productive environment for your organisation that fully supports the needs of its inhabitants? Before trying to draw up any plans for innovative new layouts or flexible working practices, you have to quantify the opportunity by building a definitive picture of the way space is currently used. There’s no better way of doing this than by capturing occupancy data with a workplace utilisation audit.
An increasingly sophisticated range of high-tech tools and services are flooding onto the market, promising to capture real-time utilisation with unquestionable accuracy. Movement sensors that can track and record details of traffic through buildings are becoming popular with larger organisations. But the cheapest, easiest, and perhaps least invasive method is still human observation.
This technique simply involves a small team of people walking around a building once an hour over the course of a week, noting occupancy levels at desks, meeting rooms, recreational areas etc. If a more detailed breakdown is required, auditors can also record the way in which space is being used (e.g. using computer, formal or informal meetings, leisure breaks or phone calls).
All data gathered can then be broken down by function and a clear presentation of how the company is using its space can act as a cornerstone for any decision relating to consolidation or the acquisition of additional space. It will also clarify ways in which you could hone your facilities, removing under-used resources and replacing them with elements that are more in tune with your staff’s needs.
With accurate statistics you can confidently evaluate the appropriateness and impact of open plan environments, increased density of occupancy, mobile and enabling technology or flexible working policies, and draw up cash flow models to identify likely returns on investment.
One typical area where space is frequently underused is the meeting room. There is often a significant discrepancy between the size of meeting rooms and the number of people attending meetings at any one time. Rooms designed for eight to ten people will probably be used by meetings of three or four people on average. The result is a 300 square foot room being used when a 150 sq. ft. room would do.
Small changes can make a big difference to the amount of space your business needs, without having to resort to an overcrowded environment. By introducing a clear desk policy, creating a computer-based room booking system, or supplying lockers for mobile workers to leave personal effects in whilst at the site, you could ensure workstations and storage facilities are always available when required for a minimal investment.
As important as this process is to secure a robust future for your organisation, it can present a risk to employee relations and motivation if details of how the study will work and the reasons behind it are not communicated effectively. In these uncertain times job security is always a concern and the thought of big brother watching their every move might be met with suspicion and resentment if an audit takes place without prior explanation.
If people understand that you simply intend to measure general trends of traffic around the building (not the movement of specific individuals) any negative feeling or mistrust should be avoided. It will also help to emphasise the potential benefits to staff realised as a result of the study, rather than potential savings.
Adapt to Change
A final, yet important point to remember in your bid to keep better control over workplace utilisation is that the process of collating and analysing changes in occupancy should be an on-going process and not a one-off event. Some space planning companies can now provide on-demand access to regularly updated information about a building’s layout and occupancy via a secure, hosted website, allowing managers to make quick decisions to continuously maximise workflow and efficiency.
If your organisation is still reluctant to adapt its space to fit workforce changes, consider this: an office workstation in the UK costs between £5,000 and £20,000 per year. By measuring and managing occupancy the average employer can save at least £2,000 per employee per year. For those organisations that choose to dedicate a budget to a workspace strategy that continues to monitor the business, the technology and the social networking needs of employees, the reward will be a company that is fit for purpose, ready for the future and with a financial performance to be envied.
By Martin Atkinson, Managing Director of PiMS Workspace