The value of utilisation
Irrespective of the economic climate it has long been understood by Estate, Facility and workplace professionals that the second biggest cost after wages is property. Without getting in to strategies at this point it’s plain to see that if we understand a proportion of this resource is not used efficiently and we can identify it then we can remove and / or reassign it.
The level of detail – Why more is better?
Firstly, what do we mean by detail? In this sense I mean measuring more of the property for longer, and over more time increments. Traditionally the possible granularity has been governed by various limiting factors ranging from technological to financial, political and ethical. We often accept poor granularity and call it “high level information” because of available capability.
Let’s look at what utilisation detail actually gives us. Firstly and most importantly it gives us objectivity; the removal of doubt about the data. It provides more comparison between activities, departments and floors (profiling), allowing a greater understanding of the occupants’ needs and therefore allowing for more reliable strategies. This objectivity allows the business to justify and explain strategies and benefits from day one or before applying. It may also allow a counter argument to be compared.
When should it be done?
This could be a topic on its own but usually it’s driven by a business strategy or project, a lease break opportunity for instance. If we are talking about a survey then obviously the time of year will be important as will the length of the survey. It may be obvious, but try to measure at peak times avoiding holidays. A four-week study would ensure a good comparison for daily activity and typically ensure that all personnel are included in the study for at least two of the weeks, allowing for holidays.
A common problem of course is that a strategy is looking to be implemented at a less than ideal time of the year to gather the best data. Two options to consider here maybe:
• Measure proactively to a high granularity, thereby profiling by department and activity. This ‘profiling’ will provide the objectivity previously mentioned and therefore remain highly relevant even over time.
• Consider permanent or constant measurement. This is not a new idea, many companies attempt to do this with varying levels of success.
Long term continuous evaluation
Let’s assume for the moment that we have a successful method of gathering permanent utilisation information. Firstly we deal with the issue of project or strategic demands coming at the worst time but more than that we pre-empt issues or requirement across a given floor plate or building. This continuous information, if accurate, will lead to a greater understanding of use and requirement, offering the highest levels of flexibility.
Benefits of continuous measurement
The benefits of continuous measurement may be desirable but at what cost? If we are to do this we need to make it cost effective without sacrificing ‘detail’ or quality. Realistically we are talking about the use of technology, especially if we are looking at large or complicated floor layouts.
We will look at these methods shortly but with something in place we can start to look at additional benefits. We can start to keep an eye on process, meeting rooms booked but not cancelled or inefficient use of rooms (habitual use of say a ten seat meeting room for 1 or 2 people). I am sure you will agree this is common. Further you may have or are planning to use a booking system to maximise use - but this doesn’t allow for the human element and this continuous but discreet monitoring will ensure the systems being used effectively.
There are technological benefits too that are already possible, switching of Air Conditioning based on occupancy or the infinite adjusting of LED lighting based upon seats occupied. We will see the use of Building Information Modelling (BIM) become more common place in the years to come and accurate occupancy and utilisation information will be essential to monitor and maintain accuracy over the life cycle of these buildings. There will also be a gap between new build and legacy buildings that this information will help bridge and help promote better building performance.
How can we gather this information?
Primarily this falls in to one of three areas.
• The traditional method of using people to ‘walkthrough’ the site.
• The use of existing information such as entrance swipe cards, possibly computer log on information or even key strokes.
• The physical installation of motion sensors to detect presence at spaces or desks.
These all have their place and have strengths and weaknesses. To further complicate matters there are many variations on the theme for each of them. I am biased here towards the third method as it’s the only option for gaining the true and all-important maximum or peak use but as a general point for evaluation, be wary of an unproven claim or a claim that just happens to suit the vendor’s particular product.
Also be wary and listen to advice regarding unions, as some technologies measure the individual rather than space and possibly contravene personal rights. This is also potentially true of the second method. My objection to the suitability of the first method is more down to practicality and level of detail. If you capture more detail you add cost and disruption, but still without capturing true detail. The third option is likely to be the most expensive as it will typical run for longer but is more likely to be the most cost effective overall.
The biggest objection by unions or personnel groups is the potential for misuse of captured data, closely followed by the requirement for interpolation and judgement of data. This comes full circle to the need for detail and objective data which only truly comes by measuring complete days and covering a suitable period for long enough to produce a fair outcome. Measuring the space rather than the person is also clearly important as it avoids modified behaviour, providing it’s not requiring occupants to do something in order to be measured. If swiping / logging in is required this is often viewed as “clocking on” - not a helpful message!
Capturing utilisation is not a “them and us” thing and shouldn’t be seen that way. While it’s true that a survey is often undertaken with the expectation of finding wasted or underutilised space and with a view of reassigning, possibly desk sharing, this is not necessarily a negative point. An issue typically comes when a strategy is implemented globally supported by a ‘sample’ survey that is not very detailed.
The staff should be fully aware that everybody is part of the measured survey including management and all spaces including meeting rooms and collaborative spaces are included in the survey. It’s not a per person survey, rather it’s a measurement of space and will be used for the design of more appropriate layouts going forward.
Why the staff may wish to be measured
This has been seen as a hard sell in the past, hampered by all the points previously made. This led to minimal communication to staff fuelling suspicion and the vicious circle. The fact remains that human efficiency will make a greater difference to the bottom line than packing a few more people onto a floor. If the communication is right the staff will appreciate that everybody wins by providing the appropriate spatial resource.
Along with consultants’ interviews the captured utilisation data will help support their wishes. For instance, is not necessarily wrong for a single person to use a meeting room - it may just indicate the requirement for more quiet spaces which in turn frees up a meeting room.
In conclusion, it’s fair to say that utilisation surveys in one form or another will always be relevant on a per project basis, but the major change we are seeing is how the process will become part of something much larger in helping to manage buildings and reconcile BIM systems as we go forward. Organisations who are forward-thinking enough to embrace the technology at this stage will be placing themselves in the best position to take full advantage of new developments as they come to the market in the years to come.
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