Workplace strategy has gone mainstream: CBRE

Workplace strategy has gone mainstream: CBRE

6 September 2019

According to a recent WORK_IT report by CBRE, workplace strategy has gone mainstream in recent years as more companies recognise the role the office can play in attracting and retaining employees; promoting collaboration; enhancing organisational culture; and controlling costs.

However, many firms continue to struggle to implement workplace transformation projects, with CBRE identifying one of the main reasons as the failure to accurately gauge space utilisation at the outset.

Outdated or misguided approaches to monitoring space utilisation can result in setting inaccurate and unachievable targets; hamper the effective operation of workplaces; and hurt employee performance and morale.

Obtaining accurate space utilisation metrics on an ongoing basis is therefore essential for companies to be able to make data-driven, quantitative and evidence-based decisions to facilitate change management and ensure the ultimate success of their chosen workplace strategy.

There are many different methods and platforms for measuring space utilisation. In some cases, organisations are already collecting some of this information through existing business systems and can tap into this existing data to at least obtain a basic understanding of their space utilisation.

Such information includes data from security access cards, which can be used to gauge individuals’ presence in the office, and the monitoring of hard-wired and wireless data ports, which can detect employee activity.

Other methods include physical studies such as “bed checks” whereby observers walk around noting attendance; paperbased observations, and electronic based observation studies, whereby observers walk around noting attendance and entering information into a tablet which records the data geospatially and provides a broad array of automated reports and data visualisation.

There is also a wide array of technological hardware and instruments available to help companies gather utilisation data. These include “people counters” which can be installed to count the number of people entering and exiting an area through video imaging and recognition.

Passive infrared sensor systems can be mounted to the underside of chairs and other locations throughout the office to detect the presence of employees, while Wi-Fi tracking can utilise signals from devices and routers to triangulate user positions and monitor their movements over the course of the working day.

People-tracking devices such as badges worn by employees can track movements as well as conversations, tone of voice and general social patterns, helping determine why individuals spend their time in certain spaces. Although such technology invariably leads to apprehensions about invasion of privacy, transparent and early communication of what is being tracked and how data is to be used can help alleviate employee concerns.

CBRE’s MOBY work profiling tool is a web-based platform used by observers to capture a wide range and high volume of information about employee space utilisation, working styles, collaboration and use of technology. MOBY provides observers with a login they can use to access the system on a mobile phone or tablet.

Measuring space utilisation is an ideal starting point for organisations thinking seriously about workplace strategy. While benchmarking metrics such as space utilisation is becoming critical in helping corporate occupiers inform workplace decisions and manage their real estate as a strategic asset, CBRE believes organisations should firstly seek to understand why they need space utilisation data and what data they need before implementing solutions.

Companies often adopt a one size fits all approach that does not consider the local context and almost always fails to recognise the need for different target space utilisation rates for different rooms or settings within a single office.

Workplace strategists should also manipulate space utilisation data to be forward looking and use it to design offices for future and not current workstyles. Accommodating headcount volatility and fluctuation must also be considered. In addition, understanding the difference between peak and average utilisation and understanding how to set appropriate sharing ratios is essential, otherwise a company’s entire workplace strategy can fail.

Once companies have accurately determined their space utilisation, workplace design and planning platforms can be used to provide square footage recommendations for every desk, office and collaboration space, along with built-in amenities such as wellness rooms and community areas for eating and socialising.