Too difficult, too vague, too expensive? Time to banish the myths of occupancy management
Space utilisation and occupancy management have long been two of the biggest buzz-phrases in facilities management.
That’s hardly surprising when you look at the impact that real estate has on a typical corporate P&L. Real estate and facilities usually represent a large organisation’s biggest expense, and the 2009 downturn did little to alleviate the pressure – commercial property prices rapidly rebounded while maintenance fundamentals including heating, electricity and water continued to rise.
So, an understanding of the need to maximise space utilisation has been around for a while now, and there have been some high profile attempts to get the utilisation ball rolling. Projects involving everything from pen and paper surveys to desk sensors and RFID tags have been tried for a number of years, but most have fallen some way short of firing the FM industry’s imagination.
Whether it was down to the cost and disruption of dedicated hardware; a lack of real time accuracy; or a lack of detail in the data – each new solution failed in turn to establish itself as a clear leader.
The real game-changer began to emerge a couple of years ago when Excel launched DeskQUERY™ as the first of a new breed of IP-based occupancy management tools. The industry buzz around this new technology grew rapidly until, by the start of 2013, it was widely predicted to be THE big FM trend for 2014 (FM Magazine – Top 5 Workplace Management Trends for 2013).
And to an extent that was true – interest in tools like DeskQUERY™ did gather momentum at an impressive rate, and we have now seen a wide range of highly successful implementations by organisations which now regard occupancy management as a complete ‘no brainer’.
There’s always a ‘but’, isn’t there? In this case it is this: But nearly two years on from those predictions, we are still hearing the same objections to workplace utilisation that we were hearing before these new-breed IP-tools arrived.
Objections which no longer apply; which concern problems that no longer exist; and which are now needlessly standing between a great many organisations and the significant cost and efficiency gains they could, and should, be making.
So here they are then: the top 5 myths of space utilisation which we think need to be finally put to rest (and you can read more about our space & occupancy management here).
Myth #1: The data is not accurate or timely enough
The first and fundamental objection to space utilisation analysis has always been that the data is either inaccurate or out of date. It’s easy to see how this myth was born: sensors do generate double-positive results, for example, and paper-based or walk-round surveys take little more than a snapshot in time – hardly helpful as people move in and out of desks on a minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour basis through the working day.
IP-based utilisation tools render this objection a myth by tying utilisation data to real time usage of IP enabled devices – computers, tablets and other mobile devices. This means that the utilisation data can never be anything other than 100% accurate and in real time.
Myth #2: The data is not detailed enough.
Again, it’s easy to see how a perceived lack of granularity in the data has become a deep-seated objection. RFID tags show you where someone is, but not what they’re doing. Sensors show you that someone is sitting at a desk, but not who. Surveys tell you that someone was at a desk at a given point, but not how long they were there and who came after them. And none of these record the huge complexities of remote working that most organisations experience every single day.
IP-based tools like DeskQUERY™ render these objections a myth because logging-in procedures ensure each IP device can be traced back to an individual. From there working patterns can be identified, and the usage of desks, meeting rooms and other facilities assessed by individual, team or department. And just as critically, off-site activity and own-device working are recorded with equal accuracy.
Myth #3: The process is too complicated and too disruptive.
Installing bespoke hardware like sensors or RFID readers will always be disruptive, and also tends to generate plenty of objections around intrusion into personal space. The complications are multiplied when you start to consider multiple buildings or sites, let along countries.
But a tool like DeskQUERY™ requires no new hardware and no physical intrusion into the workspace. A simple installation on an existing server, followed by some integration with information from other intelligent building sub-systems and databases, is all you need to start identifying under or over-utilised work areas, floors or buildings across local, national or global estates.
Myth #4: Space utilisation always fails to deliver the promised ROI
There seem to have been a number of factors involved in the building of this myth. Specialist hardware installations have historically been expensive of course. A lack of detail in the data has made it hard to identify how companies should best respond to, say, a quoted 55% utilisation rate. And a lack of real-time accuracy has made it hard to proceed with any confidence. As a result, expensive analysis has often failed to lead to action, and so return on investment has been low or non-existent.
IP tools have changed every part of the equation. There are no expensive hardware installations; the data is reliable and accurate in real-time; and DeskQUERY™ goes way beyond a simple analysis of utilisation rates with sophisticated spatial planning and moves functionality in DeskQUERY™ to help you not only assess utilisation rates but also identify, assess and implement different moves scenarios.
n addition, the software can help workspace users to optimise and manage their own use of the workspace for improved operational efficiency, with real-time hot desk and meeting room booking, support for desk ‘hoteling’, and a people-finding function that accurately locates individuals across the flexible workspace.
Myth #5: Occupancy management is only for major corporates
This myth represents the logical conclusion to all of the above. If occupancy management is so difficult, expensive and unreliable, then surely it’s best left to the world’s business elite – the blue chip companies which have the expertise and resources to drive the process through to its bitter conclusion?
But as we have seen from installations over the last 18 months and more, this is very far from the truth. Simple, affordable and effective toolkits like DeskQUERY™ have now streamlined the whole process so that organisations with as few as 400 employees have been able to implement occupancy management solutions and generate real and rapid returns on investments.
And it’s far from a private sector issue – many pioneers have been public sector bodies all too aware than in an age of austerity, their legacy real estate infrastructure can be a potential source of huge savings with no impact on frontline services.
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So these are the big five – the myths which we believe need to countered, with the FM profession surely leading the way. At the end of the day, we couldn’t do more than confirm the analysis made by FM Magazine way back in February 2013 when they identified occupancy management as one of the biggest trends for that year:
“To help offset [real estate] costs, leading companies are turning to automated, passive space utilisation detection and analytics technology to capture and analyse space utilisation rates.
“When the most accurate space utilisation data is captured, organisations can cut real estate costs by as much as 30 percent just through using their space more efficiently. Common practices include reducing or repurposing existing workspaces, implementing hoteling practices and properly planning for future expansions.
“Capturing space utilisation rates also enables companies to align their workspace with the changing mobile workforce. As more employees work remotely, their primary purpose for going to the office is to collaborate.
“Understanding workspace utilisation rates allows companies to improve workspace density by increasing worker-to-workspace ratios to 1:3 or greater as part of their office hoteling initiative while simultaneously incorporating a more open, collaborative environment within the workplace.”