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Can workplace analytics rescue firms from under-utilisation?

As organisations reimagine space strategies for their businesses, new research analysis by global workplace experts reveals three key areas where the biggest real estate mistakes are often made

Despite warnings from workplace experts, the cost of acquiring and maintaining real estate has continuously been the single biggest expense to organisations throughout the history of the office. In recent years, this model has been criticised for attracting misplaced fiscal priority while employees and the people in the business are considered secondary.

Covid-19 has further reinforced that this approach is outdated as the pandemic has left portfolios of under-utilised real estate in its wake. New research has found that poor utilisation of real estate can cost businesses upwards of USD $150 billion a year. This research has highlighted the importance for organisations to take back control of their real estate and understand how it is being used.

While metrics on real estate have traditionally been calculated on educated estimates, the introduction of digital methods have significantly helped workplace management to define specific areas of real estate that are under-performing and why. Having this granular detail can aid decision-making to increase usage in certain spaces and even reduce associated costs. Data analytics tools can stretch the entire length of the workplace, from every meeting room and flex space to beyond the office for remote employees. This research has identified three of the core office areas where the biggest margins can be won by data analytics: meeting rooms, workstations and the restrooms.

Meeting Rooms

Meeting rooms are a consistent pain point for many organisations. While they are a necessity for many organisations, they are also the most frequently misused spaces. A classic case of this is when meeting rooms are seemingly all booked but in reality, there are a series of no-shows or large meeting spaces are occupied by one or two people. In this instance, it is key for workplace management to understand the data to know how to fix this issue.

The graphic above shows the occupancy rate of five meeting rooms on a floor. Red squares mean the meeting rooms are being used. It is clear to see that the occupancy rate of meeting room no.3 for up to 12 people is the most popular one, and its occupancy reaches 70 per cent during work hours. However, further analysis of the data shows the number of people using it throughout the workday, in this case room no.3 is used by nine people at both ends of the graphic, and only used by three people around noon. Therefore, the utilisation rate is only 30 per cent for this meeting room. Even when it is being used for intended purpose, still only few of the seats are ever filled. This is because while the meeting room is built for 12 people, most meetings consist of three or fewer participants. This level of insight allows workplace managers to understand the pain points of the booking system and address the demand for different-sized meeting rooms.

Workstations

Alongside meeting rooms, workstations in non-fixed desk environments are difficult to draw accurate analytics from unless a digital utilisation method is used. The graphic below shows an example of the analytics of a sales department in an office, demonstrating the usage of six workstations in a normal workday. Due to the nature of the role, salespeople are often away from their desks leading to low desk occupancy rates. A reasonable conclusion to make from this data is that not every salesperson needs a desk for the entire duration of the day.

This insight allows organisations to experiment in real time with different reconfigurations of desks. For example, in this case three desks were allocated to hot-desking which still gave enough desks to accommodate a growing sales team and make a significant amount of cost savings as well.

Restroom

Although much less glamorous than meeting rooms and workstations, restrooms are frequently an area of contention for management and employees. Employees often find it difficult to find an empty yet clean toilet when they are in need, this is often due to poorly scheduled cleaning times. Making office restrooms safe and hygienic is an essential requirement, especially as employees return to the office amid the pandemic. Therefore, it is critical to understand the frequency and best timing for restrooms to be cleaned throughout the workplace.

For example, the graphic below shows the data of a gents restroom that has five toilets in a normal workday. The data shows that the restroom was used 22 times in total, with an average of 10-20 min occupancy period for each time. And it is mostly used between 12:30 to 13:30. This level of detail helps workplace managers understand when to schedule cleaning times and how much staff is needed. The cleaning schedule that is not based on real-time data increases the costs for paying cleaning and administrative forces beyond the actual needs of the office.

Collecting and measuring space metrics

Analysing workplace usage can provide a clear evidence on which workplace managers can base decisions. Data is typically captured using real time occupancy sensors, this data can be projected into a digital tool which create visual graphics to help determine what actions to take. This digital method takes the onus off the facilities management to have data analytics skills because the dashboards can cut the data digitally leaving management with the decision-making tasks.

To ensure greater accuracy, occupancy sensors often collect image data. Traditionally, sensors identify people walking through areas covered by the camera to get an accurate foot traffic count. However, due to privacy regulations and concerns businesses have often opted for methods that can anonymously collect data without intruding business safety and privacy. This has led to more organisations opting for thermal sensors which can be used to collect accurate and anonymous data. While image data may ensure more accuracy, the trade-off is that confidentiality is compromised – a compromise organisations are rarely willing to make.

The benefit for management understanding the space utilisation of the workplace is significant. Accurate data can be used to complement spatial strategies for improving the workplace and improve return on investment. As the future workplace moves towards a more resilient and flexible structure, having insights about when and where each area should be used and how could be the difference between an organisation’s survival and failure at this time.

 

9AM provides spatial data analysis services and the overall solution of digitalised height-adjustable workstations for enterprises, which will lead to data-driven workplace strategies and efficient and healthy new working methods.

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