Understanding how space is used
HOP Associates has developed an online
tool to support facility managers and space planners as they seek to optimise
their office space.
The tool starts by collecting basic
information on all buildings, rooms and workplaces - size, equipment,
main users, etc. It then collects workplace utilisation data each half-hour
from 8.00am to 6.00pm, determining whether it is:
unoccupied but claimed
unoccupied and free
The data collected is correlated with information on
buildings, rooms, workplace facilities, departments and job functions.
Numerical and graphical analysis of this information
allows office space to be specified more optimally and the facilities
impact of flexible working to be assessed.
Why is this important?
In most organisations space is under-used. And in an age of flexible
working supported by new technologies, this under-utilisation will increase.
After salaries, accommodation accounts for
the highest costs in most office-based organisations. There is constant
pressure for more space, but this is often because current space is poorly used:
workspace is cluttered with storage for
paper - shelving, cupboards, filing cabinets, etc.
standard issue desks have grown in size to
accommodate safe working with large PC screens
workplaces are empty - not only outside
office hours but often during much of the working day
space is considered a perk, with the
most space allocated to the most senior people, who tend to be at their
desks the least.
The assumptions that have led to current
office space planning arrangements no longer hold true:
electronic storage and communications
are replacing paper as the primary medium for most business processes
flat screens and small profile PCs
(coupled with paper-free working) are eliminating the need for large desks
staff need to visit the office less, as
they can access information and business applications from wherever and
whenever is most effective.
But it's an uphill battle to make the
case for change unless you can provide the evidence. Nothing makes the
business case like numbers. By gathering comprehensive data about space use,
managers can analyse current usage, and plan to use space more effectively.
What can be achieved?
There is no simple answer to this
question. The aim of the exercise is to improve business performance -
reducing the demand for office space is just part of the equation. Other
factors include productivity, service, staff recruitment and retention and so
Theoretically, many employers could reduce
office space needs by well over 50%, whilst guaranteeing that everyone always
had somewhere to work. In practice, the reinvestment of some of the
potential savings into "unproductive" space - relaxation areas, water
features, extra meeting rooms, staff facilities, etc. - can pay dividends in
terms of staff motivation.
A useful, but non-scientific,
"rule-of-thumb" is to re-invest half of the potential space savings
back into improved staff facilities. In practice we have found programmes
such as that outlined above can deliver typically a 30% reduction in office
space per employee and a substantial improvement in the overall working
For more information on office space issues, please see the seven-part
tutorial article on Flexible Facilities.