The growing trend of businesses away from a hierarchical culture with visible leadership towards a more flexible work environment has resulted in a new set of challenges within the workplace.
This shift, while fundamentally being a cost-driven exercise, provides benefits that go well beyond just reducing operational costs. Companies can see that there is a real opportunity to improve employee engagement, performance and collaboration.
The new workplace embraces technology (laptops, follow-me printing, Wi-Fi, IP softphones, etc) to enable completely mobile and flexible ‘real-time’ work with colleagues within a range of workplace settings. Some workplaces may provide each employee with an anchor point, which is allocated as their ‘home base’, and it is here that their locker and storage usually resides.
The benefits, while including more efficient use of office space and cost savings, also improve collaboration and innovation among employees.
The flexible workplace is not a single solution; rather there is a range or mix of solutions that can be brought to bear, depending upon what best suits a particular organisation.
Major technology and project-based companies are increasingly projecting their unique culture into the workplace to create a better experience as a point of difference to attract the best possible candidates.
It is also important not to overlook the sense of belonging sought by staff, as is the need to create workspaces that are optimised for all generations. It is the sense of connection to a team or project and to the business that helps drive performance.
Some organisations encourage staff buy-in to changes in the workspace, including the look and design of the workplace, often with the freedom to introduce their own unique features.
Design standards for the flexible work environment differ greatly from the traditional fitout approach that used to hard-wire all offices and workstations. Now the cornerstone of space planning and design includes sustainability, access to natural light, shared spaces, views and staff hubs.
Measuring flexible workplace performance
What is clear is that with the introduction of flexible work environments also comes a reduction in business restrictions around the allocation and usage of facilities. Hand in hand with this relaxation comes the loss of formal business processes that, in the past, would have been used to report on space usage.
The traditional space management process used to plan and record churn, track space availability, effect rent chargeback and manage and report on usage is lost when the change is made to flexible working.
In the flexible workplace environment, no occupant has an assigned desk; rather the workspace provides employees with a variety of space types that allow them to do specific tasks in tailored work settings.
This design philosophy encourages increased collaboration and a more productive mode of working. This has the potential to increase the efficiency of the workplace and significantly reduce operational costs.
While flexible workplace strategies may deliver operational benefits such as cost savings, the human capital outcomes are not so easily measured.
So it’s not surprising that there is a growing interest in measuring workplace performance in real time, to better understand how to respond to an ever evolving workplace. Accurate data analytics are essential to show that cost reductions or changes to the workplace have been achieved without a negative impact on employee productivity and have resulted in overall improvements.
Some organisations simply want to know what is occupied and what is vacant, so as to report on usage at a particular point in time or to direct staff to underutilised areas. Other organisations are interested in gathering highly detailed operational performance metrics along with the human capital outcomes.
Real-time reporting of space utilisation
While space users may commission groups to perform observational studies, these only provide one piece of the puzzle as any information gathered is only a snapshot taken at the time of the study. As the demands on a workplace change, the relevance of previous studies is brought into question and additional studies are needed.
In contrast, real-time monitoring of space utilisation from diverse building systems gives flexible space users the ability to actively manage their workplaces rather than relying on historic information.
By bringing together diverse information sources within a client’s organisation such as network utilisation, VoIP (voice over internet protocol) phone usage, security barrier analysis, locker usage, network usage and using technology such as RFID (radio-frequency identification) to report in real time on space utilisation, users can perform meaningful analysis of their workplace to make informed decisions.
Drawing upon existing technology – including barrier gate information, laptops, Wi-Fi, IP softphones, etc – can assist in providing a certain level of reporting. However, utilisation data taken from these systems has a limited level of granularity and value when looking at the harder questions of how specific work settings are performing, particularly in terms of encouraging collaboration between business units.
Flexible working has been championed in recent times by a number of major corporate space users, and reports to date suggest that the initial benefits of a reduction in operating costs have been validated. Longer-term value and the human capital outcomes have yet to be measured.
Reports on utilisation between different work place settings provide important metrics about occupancy and use trends, however information about how staff are using the workplace takes analytics in an entirely new direction.
Daily usage reports on occupancy such as average dwell time by space type can provide very powerful analytics particularly if the tag ID is linked to the identity of a department, business unit or work function. Collaboration reports highlight work settings that promote staff interaction and provide valuable data that facilitates a dynamic working environment.
Other uses for the data include reporting during an emergency evacuation, providing a check of evacuee numbers against building population just prior to an event and identifying the last known locations of tags in a building.
Looking at the investment in a system to capture data to understand how the workplace performs should not be considered a cost. If technology can efficiently and effectively manage the workplace and maximises space utilisation, then the focus should really be on the value of the solution.
Investing in technology and systems to understand how the workplace performs is critical in managing a flexible work environment. As the way in which corporates use and manage their space becomes increasingly dynamic, real-time reporting and space analytics will form the foundation of strategic planning and day-to-day management.
Written by Charles Dalrymple-Hay and David Emerson, this abridged article appeared in a previous print issue of Facility Management.