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The shortcomings of short-term workplace space utilization studies

February 19, 2021
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The shortcomings of short-term workplace space utilization studies

February 19, 2021
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Companies pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to have people walk through their workspace with clipboards, documenting how their office space is used. One Fortune 500 company we work with pays $750,000 every year to conduct quarterly studies at just one location — and they have nearly two dozen locations worldwide.

The result of this massive investment is a workspace study report like this one, used by corporate real estate execs to carve out their master plans and workplace strategies.

Visually, the report is impressive. And, there is value to these reports — they provide qualitative insights hard to acquire elsewhere (example: "Three individual stayed in a conference room for approximately 15 minutes after a meeting had concluded to socialize and finish their coffee").

But in the new, agile workplace, data from these workplace studies can be inaccurate and outdated.

Workplaces can't be measured in snapshots

Manual workplace studies (or bed checking) often take place over two weeks. Many believe this is long enough to create a space use baseline that identifies peak and normal usage patterns. But two weeks isn't long enough — certainly not in the new office.

The new workplace is not static.

The reason people come to your office is regularly changing. Teams that only use meeting rooms in July may want dedicated workstations in the fall. Employees currently excited to return to work to regain work/life separation may miss the comforts of home in a month.

The dynamic nature of the new workplace even impacts room use based on the time of day. Some team members may work from home in the morning, and come to the office later in the afternoon. This could skew utilization rates in a 2-week study.

"I think the days of being at a desk, and being at an office 8 hours are gone." — Izzy Sanchez, Head of Global Workplace and Real Estate, Twitch

The new workplace is not static. Trying to capture trends and peak occupancy over just a few weeks in the new office is like trying to catch a teardrop in the ocean.

It's wasted effort.

Data benefits from duration. The longer you can collect data, the more accurate that data is.

Manual studies are subjective

Manual studies rely on human observations. Humans literally walk through your workspace, counting the number of occupants and jotting down activities people are doing during the observation.

But what does occupied mean? Does a jacket on a desk mean that someone's using that desk? Or could the owner of the jacket be at meetings for most of the day?

This micro-level accuracy matters as you decide if you need new space or a newly designed current space.

Space utilization studies slow down decision making

It takes too long to go from question to decision with manual studies. You have to wait months to get the research findings to find out what space needs you have (if any).

The modern work environment is too agile for that. Three-month-old data is useless. Employees' behavior patterns constantly shift for many reasons. You need to identify these shifts in real-time, and respond accordingly.

How you should measure space utilization

Space utilization data should always be available. This helps you make ongoing decisions in a continually evolving workplace. It also makes your data indisputable. Anyone can argue that a two-week snapshot isn't wholly representative.

They can't argue against continuous data.

Space utilization data should also measure at the building, floor, room, and desk level. Employees don't live at their desks. Certainly not now. They float. They go to different floor levels, soft seating areas, conference rooms, and hallways. Badge access data and headcount-per-square-foot calculations no longer cut it (they never really did).

Years ago, manual studies were the most effective way to build context around badge data access. But manual studies are outdated. They no longer serve the modern workplace.

Continuous and real-time space analytics data is more accurate and useful for identifying how many people are doing what and where — at any given time, in any specific space.

Citations

How do you manage the new, flexible workplace?

In "Breaking through the status quo of space analytics" we uncover the ways workplace teams can accurately measure the new, agile workplace.

Get the guide

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