Data-Driven Design: Leveraging Occupancy Evaluations to Inform and Create Effective Workspaces

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Why data from occupancy evaluations should always inform the design process.

Prior to renovating the corporate office for Easterseals Southern California, H. Hendy Associates observed employees work and communication habits to inform its design. The result is myriad, open collaboration zones with comfortable seating to create opportunities for learning and cross-functional work. Photo Credit: RMA Photography

While professional experience and best practices continue to guide the decision making of today’s architects, designers and consultants, there’s an additional and crucial component that should always inform the design process: data from occupancy evaluations.

Pre- and post-occupancy evaluations are structured analyses of the physical workplace, measured by users’ opinions and experiences as well as an organization’s business objectives. A variety of measurement tools and methods can be used to evaluate these factors, including surveys, interviews, focus groups, observations as well as data pulled from office systems (i.e. key cards).

Data collection – before and after workplace design – enables interior architects to improve the design process. This journey results in evidence-based workplace environments that champion an organization’s mission, vision and core values.

By deploying the following measurement strategies, steps and tools for pre- and post-occupancy evaluations, design strategists can create spaces that deliver on a client’s business objectives, serve to increase productivity and satisfy an organization’s most important asset: its people.

Pre-Occupancy Evaluation

The first step in design planning is to evaluate and document the before state to set a benchmark from which to measure the impact of a new layout. Known as a pre-occupancy evaluation, this process requires participation from the organization’s key decision makers and employees affected by those decisions. The level and depth of staff involved will, and should, be informed by the company’s business objectives.

Key components of a business environment to measure during pre-occupancy evaluations include:

  • Workplace Strategy: A design team should begin with identifying the needs of an organization based on its business objectives. These often range from increasing productivity, corporate wellness to employee engagement, etc. Design strategists also need to diagnose the company’s corporate culture to determine the design elements and work, collaboration and amenity spaces needed. To effectively uncover a company’s workplace strategy, culture and goals, consider leveraging organizational culture assessment tools as part of the pre-occupancy evaluation process.
  • Workplace Effectiveness: A crucial part of a pre-occupancy evaluation is measuring the effectiveness of the current office space. This evaluation looks at several components, including which elements of the space are working best and where improvements may be needed; employee satisfaction and engagement; and technology integration, mobility and targets for improvement through design. Other assessment areas of the physical workplace include thermal and acoustic comfort, air quality and lighting. However, the evaluation tools deployed to measure these factors should never be standardized. Rather, measurement strategies should be tailored to each organization depending on who they are, what they do and how they operate.
As a part of the pre-occupancy evaluation for TriPointe Group, H. Hendy Associates examined the company’s migration patterns, resulting in a glass enclosed meeting room and collision area located on a main pathway. The space is designed to foster a sense of transparency and inspire team collaboration. Photo Credit: Takata Photography

Once data is collected, design strategists should review, analyze the results and present key findings to the organization’s leadership team. This is often a moment when architects and designers show clients who they are today versus who they want to be and align on how to leverage this data to make informed office design decisions.

Post-Occupancy Evaluation

Performing post-occupancy evaluations are critical to bringing the design process full circle. These evaluations enable designers to determine if a new layout delivers on business objectives, balances form and function and supports employee needs. Post-occupancy evaluations should be completed a few weeks after move-in, when the space is new, and then several months later when the layout is familiar to employees. Each evaluation provides new insights to allow the designer to measure success and determine if adjustments need to be made.

A H. Hendy Associates case study includes work transforming an old storage space into an activity-based working environment for Yamaha Music. The objective: boost employee satisfaction, retention and increase opportunities for collaboration. A post-occupancy evaluation deployed weeks after occupancy revealed a healthy increase in employee satisfaction of the company from 56 to 85 percent. When the same survey was deployed months later, Hendy unearthed employee satisfaction levels to be even higher – nodding to Yamaha Music better understanding how to use the new space to their advantage.

The post-occupancy evaluations also revealed that employees found benches in the picnic-style meeting spaces to be uncomfortable, resulting in staff not utilizing these areas. Uncovering this allowed the design firm to trouble-shoot quickly by replacing the benches with soft seating and incorporating more living room-style meeting spaces and lounge areas.

When performing post-occupancy evaluations, the process and tools leveraged should nearly mirror those deployed in the front half of the project to allow the design team to directly examine and measure success. A post-occupancy evaluation should reveal the overall improvement of the office space from pre- to post-occupancy, areas for enhancement and specific adjustments required. Post-occupancy evaluations also can help design strategists reinforce organizational and physical changes in the workplace.

As a part of the post-occupancy evaluation, consider facilitating walk-through assessments of the workplace and anniversary walks with clients. This allows the designer to fine-tune the space by gathering insights not only from surveys and interviews, but by witnessing first-hand, in real-time what’s working, what’s not and what needs modification.

Evidence-based data pulled from employee surveys and observations enabled H. Hendy Associates to design an office environment for Easterseals Southern California that delivers on employees needs and workstyle preferences. The office features a variety of enclosed meeting spaces including “huddle rooms” – designed with sound-dampening materials and technology integration – allowing employees to perform highly-focused work. Photo Credit: RMA Photography

Key Takeaway: Lean on Facts

More often than not, companies believe that to have an efficient workplace, their office environment requires a new and improved layout. One that features the latest trends in office design – vibrant colors and an open office concept – or a fixed amount of conference rooms and specific types of workspaces. But data often reveals that what a company thinks it needs versus what it requires to be successful are not one in the same. Essentially, to create workplaces that serve to improve employee satisfaction, productivity and retention, design strategists need to lean on facts. By doing so, designers can create evidence-based office environments that become strategic tools for business success.

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