Open-access content Thursday 15th August 2013
Room sensors can generate important usage data and help inform decisions for future requirements, be they for more or less space, suggests Nigel Clarke.
15 August 2013
Real estate is the second largest expense for many organisations. It's logical area for business leaders to explore for efficiencies now that personnel levels - typically an organisation's top expense - are running lean after years of trimming.
As a result, facilities professionals may find themselves under increasing pressure to not only optimise the spaces they oversee, but also to accomplish the task without negatively affecting employees.
Ideally, this also involves finding ways to enhance the workspace experience to accommodate the way workforces interact and collaborate.
For facilities and real estate professionals with leases coming up for renewal within the next 6-18 months, this is a great time to explore utilisation technology to measure and analyse their organisation's space usage and needs.
Actual vs planned
The initial challenge many facilities professionals face as they begin the workspace design planning process is a lack of awareness of the many inefficiencies that exist in the workspaces they oversee.
Business travel, off-site meetings, vacations, leaves of absence and other factors can result in workspace utilisation rates of 40 per cent or less. And as telecommuting trends continue to grow, a growing number of mobile workers no longer need a 'permanent home' at the office. Rather, the most enterprising organisations are creating hotel arrangements and collaboration spaces that are better equipped for the highly mobile workforce of today.
In addition, meeting spaces often are 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.
Historically, when planning workspace redesigns, facilities and real estate professionals have relied on room/space reservation systems and/or 'bed-checks' to measure space utilisation. However, room scheduling systems only show that a space was reserved, not whether it was actually used, how long it was used, and to what capacity. Bed checks are subject to human error and only provide a snapshot of a point in time.
Simple yet powerful technology can provide facilities professionals with robust data and analytics on office space utilisation and traffic levels to help them identify opportunities to reduce space or repurpose existing spaces to optimise productivity.
Activity and traffic sensors are simple technologies that can be used to passively detect utilisation more accurately, 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 analysed over time, enabling FMs to determine actual workspace utilisation 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 a deeper level of data in larger spaces, enabling FMs to measure and track the capacity to which the space is being used.
It's about the data
Of course, workspace sensors are just a tool, while the real benefit is the objective data. They can support informed decisions on how to add or reduce space, or redesign existing space and manage building automation in real time to save energy.
Basic spreadsheets and charts can be static and cumbersome, and may not be sufficient to win the C-suite's attention and support. Robust business intelligence systems are now available, enabling facilities professionals to collect and analyse 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 utilisation trends and potential inefficiencies.
These systems also present utilisation data in dynamic, interactive report formats that resonate with executive team members who ultimately review and approve the organisation's space plans and expenses.
Facilities professionals are finding that technology - with data-driven workspace planning and management initiatives - allows for greater collaboration with IT management, building engineering and corporate real Estate in order to converge data sources. and avoid solo point solutions, thus bringing more informed discussions and return on investment to C-level executives.
Also, partnership and alignment with human resources also helps to support the cultural change management planning and communication that workspace redesign may entail.
Ideally, sensors should be used for up to a year in order 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 utilisation in order to plan for the future.
Shorter monitoring periods can be used, but the longer the monitoring period, the more accurate the data. In fact, ongoing monitoring can help the organisation to constantly monitor for opportunities to improve.
Workspace sensor technology leasing packages may be available for facilities organisations wanting to try the technology before committing to the investment, or when budget limitations prohibit a purchase. Just remember, it is the data these sensors provide that is the key.
Nigel Clarke, Asure Software vice president and general manager, EMEA sales and operations