In this post, we’re talking about how to improve the design and use of your workspace, which can help you save money and make workers more productive. We’ll get into how to study your workspace and the data you need to collect to make worthwhile changes. You should definitely keep reading if any of the following apply to you:
- You’re in charge of managing assets like desks or conference rooms.
- You want to help people improve how they interact with their office space.
- You’re considering renovating your office.
- You don’t have enough space for everyone on your team, but you can’t move your office any time soon.
- People in your office complain that they can’t book conference and meeting rooms.
Office Space is Expensive and Underutilized
For most companies, office space is the second biggest expense. Unfortunately, most companies waste a fair amount of their office space. At any given time, 77% of private or executive offices and 60% of cubicles and workstations are unoccupied (source). Additionally, more than 50% of meeting room chairs are unoccupied during meetings. Overall, 60% of all corporate real estate is unused at any moment of the day. Knowing how you’re using space and finding ways to use it more efficiently will help you to not only make changes that help your team work better, but also find ways of reducing costs and eliminating waste.
Actual Use of Space Study: What It Is and Why to Do It
The first step in making those changes is to get a handle on how your people are using the existing office space. Called “actual use of space”, or AUS for short, an AUS study is when a company studies how its people use the office and the equipment in it. Offices are supposed to help people get work done. If the office is being used inefficiently, or if the design of the office is harming productivity, then the company is going to suffer. An AUS will provide you with the data you need to make your workplace more user friendly and efficient, help workers to be happier and more productive, and make data-driven decisions about if and when to move into a bigger space.
How Will Workspace Utilization Data Help Your Company?
Reduce Rent with an AUS
The most common takeaway from an AUS study is figuring out that the company can reduce its rent by eliminating unneeded office space. If the space is big enough, the company will sublet the space through a real estate agent. If it’s just a few desks, companies can list the space on PivotDesk and ShareDesk, which list desks and small spaces for sublease. Larger spaces can be sublet through a commercial real estate agent.
Shut Down Unused Space
If subleasing isn’t an option, you might be able to at least close off certain spaces or even floors. That will allow you to shut down heating and cooling, which will save money on your electric bill, and will also reduce your janitorial and cleaning costs.
Plan for the Future
Next, by maxing out your efficient use of the space and capturing usage data, you’ll know exactly when you need to move into a bigger space. You’ll be able to see usage trends and better match your moves or expansions to the needs of your team. That will prevent moving too early and wasting money and will also prevent moving too late and causing headaches for your employees.
Reconfigure Conference Rooms and Meeting Rooms
You will also get better insight into how and why your conference rooms are being used, which can impact employee productivity. For example, Kimberly Clark conducted a study of meeting rooms and found that people were using large meeting rooms for 3 and 4 person meetings because the larger rooms had teleconference equipment. Armed with that knowledge, Kimberly Clark chopped up the large rooms into smaller rooms and installed A/V equipment in the new rooms. That allowed them to greatly increase the number of meeting rooms, which made everyone in the office happier. The A/V equipment also allowed some workers to spend more time working from home, which allowed them to hire more workers without expanding into new space.
Alternatives to Conference Rooms
There are qualitative benefits as well. If you see people using spaces for less than 20 minutes, and then you talk with them about their meetings, you might find that they’re having informal conversations that are too complicated for email/chat, but they don’t necessarily require the privacy and A/V equipment of a conference room. In that case, enhancements to the common areas with furniture designed for collaboration might be the way to go. Even simple changes like putting in smaller or large tables in the lunch room to facilitate casual conversations could lead to more conference room availability.
Data for Remodeling and Build-outs
Providing this data back to your teams will go a long way on selling your employees on working in the office during a remodeling effort. If they’re going to accommodate a remodel or move, having the data show the need will help get buy-in. It will also show that you’re paying attention and you want to help them be as comfortable as possible with their space.
Identifying Opportunities for Remote Work
Lastly, you may even find that certain people spend most of their time working alone and rarely interact face-to-face with other workers. If so, they might be good work from home or remote workers. That frees up their desk for someone else to use.
How to Measure Actual Use of Space
Collecting Data Manually is Ineffective
If you want to conduct an AUS study at your company, how do you make it happen? You might be tempted to walk around and tally how many people are at their desks, working in the kitchen, or gathered in meeting rooms. Known as a bed check, this is the most traditional, but least effective way to gather data. A bed check won’t give you the full story. What if you’re being thrown off by the time of day you’re looking? Or you happen to look at the meeting rooms on the days that your teams gather to discuss reports? You really need data from a few weeks and from all hours of the day to get the whole story. And can you imagine the cost of having someone go around all day collecting this data? Not to mention that they can only be in one place at one time, so no matter how quickly they work, they’re going to miss some data. In one AUS study that leveraged technology to passively collect data, Herman Miller found that meeting rooms had an average occupancy rate of 38%, even though the client’s self-reported data showed a 67% occupancy rate. It also found that while a meeting room was being used 90% of the day, only 43% of the chairs were being used in those meetings. That led to creating more spaces for smaller and informal meetings.
Solutions for Gathering Data
Companies like Rifiniti, Sociometric Solutions, and Sequentra produce devices for gathering this data. Occupancy-sensing data will help you collect information on how your employees are interacting in work stations, cubicles, conference rooms, collaboration areas, common spaces, and just about anywhere that they gather. Other than at coffee shops, if your people are meeting in a space, you’ll have the data.
Chairs that Gather Data
Herman Miller also makes chair sensors, which collect data based on when people are sitting in the chairs. Apologies for not linking directly; they don’t have a page for the product. Note though that with the chair sensors, you’ll only know when people are sitting at desk chairs. That means you’ll miss out on data about when people are sitting in break rooms or rooms with non-traditional seating.
Collecting Meeting Room Data
Finally, you can also collect data from other sources like conference room scheduling software, ID tag swipes, logs from audio-visual equipment, call logs to landlines, and sign-out logs for resources.
What to Measure
Once you get set up to collect the data, what data do you actually collect?
First start with the quantitative data: For both desks and meeting rooms, the following data is useful for collection:
- At what times of day or days of week are people using the resource? Anything seem seasonal about the use? Is there a pattern to the usage?
- Which resources are constantly used, and which ones aren’t?
- Are the used resources in a particular part of your office? How about the unused ones?
- What resources or people are near the most and least-used desks and conference rooms?
- For what length of time is the resource being used in one session? That is, are people using it for 15 minutes, or are they camping for hours and hours?
For conference rooms and meeting rooms in particular, you may wish to collect the following:
- How many people are in the room?
- How about no-show, early arrival, or late departure data?
- Size of group in the room versus capacity of the room?
Next, collect the qualitative information: Identify the spaces that are maxing out their capacity and compare to those that have low utilization.
- How do they compare in terms of location, size, equipment, capacity, furniture, aesthetic design, proximity to other parts of your office?
- Who is using those spaces, either by name or by position, job title, or role. Are there any patterns to who is using the space? What can thinking about those people tell you about how the space can be better used, designed, or modified to better suit their needs?
If you don’t come up with anything, at least communicate to your people that you saw that certain rooms were being used or not used and then ask them if they can provide feedback on the qualitative differences between those rooms. They might also help you identify what they like or dislike or wish was different about those rooms. Showing them that you’re actively listening will go a long way toward getting feedback about how to use the office.
Potential Problems and Concerns
Collecting all of this data, or even just suggesting it, might get you some pushback from people who are concerned about privacy. Even though it is an office and they’re working for you, people don’t want to feel like they’re personally being monitored. Will the data impact their job rating? Will you compare them to other people? Will you misinterpret the data? It’s important to get them to willingly, even enthusiastically, agree to all of this data collection.
The first step is to clearly communicate how this will benefit everyone. If you don’t get buy in, they will probably change their behavior to make you think they’re doing what management wants them to do. That will completely skew the data and will produce counterproductive results. If workers know that this will impact things like determining how many meeting rooms to create, how to organize desks so that they’re close to the people they need to work with, or adding technology that helps remove speed bumps, they will be much more likely to support your workplace data collection efforts.
Keep Data Anonymous
You could give people tags or sensors to wear, but good luck getting them to wear them. Never mind the fact that tracking individuals could be illegal, in almost any culture, this would feel downright creepy. Make sure you’re not collecting an personally identifiable information like their name or every step they take throughout the day. Instead, you want to monitor usage of resources, not behaviors of people. You may want to check with a workplace or HR lawyer about legislation that covers personally identifying information in the workplace. The ACLU and EPIC are great resources to investigate as you start out.
Secure your Data
Encrypt your data, whether at the collection, transfer, or storage stages. This might seem obvious, or maybe frivolous, but just imagine if the data was breached. Trust with employees will fly out the window and will likely be replaced by phone calls from employment lawyers.
If you call out every specific datapoint, people will feel tracked. But if you show trends or clusters of data over a period of time, people will feel more anonymous. Talk about how one conference room had a 87% occupancy rate between 11 am and 3 pm, not how there were 312 check ins by 17 people.
Keep It Simple!
If this is all new to you, you may feel overwhelmed. Especially if you have a large space. Likewise, you may not have the bandwidth, the budget, or the need to study your entire office. You might start with the resources that are the most expensive, those that you’ve been considering renovating or changing, or even spaces or resources that your employees have mentioned need improving. Asking your team for input can help narrow the options to the parts of your office that are in greatest need of attention.