At present the majority of consultants and real estate managers’ report on office utilisation with a static report containing a series of diagrams and a summary of use showing the overall office utilisation, ideally broken down by building, department, and function.
This is produced as a historical activity to support the case for space reduction and for reviewing the office design and operations (i.e. making the case for changing from cellular to open plan). As ‘new ways of working’ is become ‘ways of working’ this is quickly becoming an out-dated activity.
There is clearly a case for understanding how the office is being used and to what capacity. However, times are changing and only capturing this information does not present the whole picture. As our workforce becomes more nimble, the relevance of these studies is rapidly dwindling.
As the office changes, so should the methodology for understanding how it works
The introduction of smarter working as the industry norm means we need to understand the variety of places employees are working.
It’s far more difficult to measure how informal meeting areas, touchdown space and restaurant areas are being used. Currently it is rare to see information on alternative working areas (the third place office) being captured: meetings in coffee shops, use of alternative offices, working from home, airports, on a train, etc.
Whilst in principle, business understands they need to support (if not actively encourage) staff working in these areas, there is inconsistency in how this information is captured and understood.
There are also many other factors that need to be considered, with the acknowledgement that you can no longer review information in a real estate silo. Many additional considerations need to be reviewed in conjunction with business real estate requirements. For example there’s a great deal of discussion about being seated at a desk all day being bad for our health, but our current workplace measure for space use is based on people sitting at their desk.
In addition to the many factors we need to take into consideration, there is also the issue that we are only capturing a snap shot of the present situation. How are staff using (and adapting to) the space they have been provided. To make an informed strategic decision we need to have an understanding of the ongoing opinion and propensity for change.
Self-reporting study, but not a one off survey
It is now time for us to change our tactics. Trust is at the core for how we implement organisational change, but there is still resistance to the self-reporting study. This is understandable if the study is a long and complicated survey asking for complex information, often out of context and using terminology only someone familiar with the workplace would understand.
This does not have to be the case any longer. We need to start to trust the opinion of our workforce and we need to do it in a way that the audience is familiar with. It needs to be engaging, informative, relevant, and as sophisticated as any other information stream we access.
Therefore, we need to gather and understand a far greater deal of opinion and information. This will be dynamic, changing on a continual basis and the information will need interpreting on a real-time basis to inform business on the best strategic plan for changing working practices.