Workspace utilization is coming under the microscope more than ever now that the office sector is facing so much turmoil. While dwindling occupancy is posing more of a challenge in some cities than others, how office spaces are being used and managing the significant cost implications are increasingly critical issues. According to CBRE, utilization is the number one occupancy metric tracked by clients, almost three quarters using it as the primary basis for making changes to office spaces.
What makes space utilisation so challenging however is the fact it is a moveable feast. It has always been an ever-changing dynamic which means tracking it properly entails more sophisticated methodologies as opposed to simple headcounts, examining floorplans or the location of departments. One of the latest methodologies, for instance, harnesses the powers of AI to create what is claimed to be the most cutting-edge occupancy measuring tool of its type. Predictive Forecasting, released by workplace analytics solutions provider Relogix in July, uses machine learning algorithms to analyse historical data and forecast future usage trends. Office managers can then use the information to best reconfigure existing spaces.
"Hybrid work is here to stay,” said Sandra Panara, Director of Analytics, Insights & Innovation at Relogix. “It’s critical for enterprises around the world to make sense of what it means for their businesses and their employees."
Even before work from home and hybrid became household terms, workspaces were not exactly as well-patronised as many of us may think. Pre-2020, workspaces were underutilised by up to 40% according to Relogix data.
A range of studies show not much has changes. JLL research puts the average worker at their desk 40% of working hours and defines 80% of work as ‘collaborative’. And the latest Australian research into the issue by Australian workplace sensor company XY Sense found a third of desks and cubicles across the country are vacant the entire week.
XY Sense head of customer success and author of the research report Shivaun Ryan said bosses were not enforcing their return-to-work mandates but re-designing their offices instead. “Mandates paired with strong efforts to make workplaces more productive and inviting are the most effective combination for many industries.”
How do you redesign an optimal workspace?
Relogix advises those charged with the task to base any changes to an office place around each of the following considerations:
- Consolidation _ Are your workers scattered to the four winds – working on different floors, or even in different buildings? Relogix suggests looking at the possibility of reigning in the spread by consolidating working areas to create a more tightknit team in the physical sense. Why? Because fostering closer employee proximity can promote “a positive work atmosphere and enhance communication” researchers said.
- Seat Sharing _ This is where sophisticated sensor technology comes into its own: a dedicated utilisation study using sensor technology over time can pinpoint usage patterns across an organisation’s workspaces by providing insights into the way in which spaces and seats are used. Equipped with this information, managers can then make the best decisions about how to share space to meet their current and future demand.
- Improving Existing Spaces _ The big one, making your workplace as attractive as possible so that your employees want to make the trek to the office even when they don’t have to. These days the ways in which this can be done are myriad – from the more obvious upgrading of amenities and facilities to more subtle features such as minimising noise, improving airflow, and opening up spaces so that occupants benefit from lighter offices, higher ceilings or views. Advanced tech is a must especially for the younger generation, Relogix emphasising the need to make sure your employees can seamlessly connect with their remote co-workers.
Providing enough in the way of meeting rooms has been identified as another area of growing importance in today’s world of hybrid work. This is because one of the main reasons people come to the office at all nowadays is to meet with one another. The XY Sense report found walled meeting rooms are the most heavily used type of space with those in the office using them almost 70% of the entire time.
- Reallocating space _ Is there wasted, underutilised space in your office? Or are other areas overcrowded? Solving these issues may require a completely fresh look on the physical structure of an office, Relogix researchers said. “This may involve transforming seldom-used spaces into more essential areas such as additional individual workstations, collaboration spaces, or meeting rooms.”
- Right-sizing _ This is about addressing where a company is headed, in every area, and then considering what kind of spaces will be required for optimal outcomes. Decisions around right-sizing workplaces should aim for a balanced approach, and “carefully consider the implications for efficiency, growth potential, financial stability and employee well-being.”
- Creating Multi-Purpose Spaces _ Studies suggest that flexibility is high priority for today’s workers. With that in mind, Relogix advises looking to provide flexible office spaces, ones that can be adapted with perhaps sliding walls or movable partitions or other to accommodate different ways of working or overflow during peak project times.