Increasing Utilization with Workplace Sensors

Real estate is the second largest expense for many organizations, making it a logical place for business leaders to explore for efficiencies now that personnel levels – typically an organization’s top expense – are running lean after years of trimming.  Even as many businesses are gradually ramping hiring levels back up to grow with the economy, many are doing so with minimal or no additional real estate space.

As a result, many workplace design professionals are being tasked to not only optimize workspaces, but also to do so without negatively affecting employees – and ideally finding ways to enhance the workspace experience to accommodate the way an increasingly mobile and dispersed workforce interacts and collaborates.

Actual vs. Planned utilization

The initial challenge many workplace planners face as they begin the design planning process is a lack of awareness of the many inefficiencies that exist in the space.

Business travel, off-site meetings, vacations, leaves of absence, and other factors can result in workspace utilization rates of 40 percent or less. And, as telecommuting trends continue to grow and a growing number of mobile workers no longer need a “permanent home” at the office, more organizations are open to exploring hoteling arrangements and collaboration spaces that are better equipped for the highly mobile workforce of today.

Meeting spaces also are frequently used under their designed capacity. The spacious conference room with window views designed for groups of 20 may be “busy” almost constantly, but it may be used at a portion of its designed capacity while other appropriate-sized spaces with less attractive views or ambiance sit empty.

When planning workspace redesigns, many designers rely on room/space reservation systems and/or “bed checks” to determine space utilization. However, room scheduling systems only show that a space was reserved, not whether it was actually used, how long it was used, or to what capacity. Bed checks are subject to human error and only provide a snapshot of a point in time.

Very simple yet powerful technology can provide robust data and analytics on actual work and meeting space utilization and traffic levels to help identify opportunities to reduce space or repurpose existing spaces to optimize productivity.

Activity and traffic sensors are simple technologies that can be used to passively detect utilization more accurately and over time to show patterns. Activity sensors detect and report when a space was used and for how long. That data can be collected and analyzed over time to determine actual workspace utilization rates, which can be particularly helpful for planning special configuration projects.

Activity sensors also can be used in meeting spaces to detect when and for how long they were used.  Traffic sensors provide an even richer level of data in large spaces, enabling planners to also measure and track the capacity to which the space is being used.

Use the data to support planning

The real benefit of workspace sensors is the objective and actionable data they can provide to support informed decisions on how to add, reduce, or redesign existing space.

Robust business intelligence systems can collect and analyze data using real-time interactive graphic dashboard reports that can drill down into the details of workspaces – from macro to micro levels – in order to identify utilization trends and potential inefficiencies.

What’s more, these systems can present utilization data in dynamic, interactive report formats that resonate with executive team members who ultimately review and approve the organization’s space plans and costs.

Measure utilization over time for better data

Ideally, sensors should be used for up to a year to account for seasonal fluctuations in office space traffic to due holidays, business travel cycles, and other variables. This approach helps to establish the baseline for current space utilization in order to plan for the future.  While shorter monitoring periods also can be used, longer periods render more accurate data. In fact, ongoing monitoring can help the organization to constantly monitor for opportunities to improve space design.

With careful data collection and analysis, organizations can reduce excess real estate, reconfigure and repurpose existing real estate, and improve the density of the workspace – all while providing a better experience for the employees who use the space.

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