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Data-driven workforce: changing the future of the workspace

(Image credit: Image Credit: Bbernard / Shutterstock)

Today’s modern workforce demands increased flexibility and the ability to securely connect and collaborate from anywhere on any platform, or device. Both flexibility and wellbeing are fast becoming key drivers behind workplace design, rather than just innovative and ultra-modern places to work.

Data is key to understanding how employees work and how a workspace is being used to inform  business decision-making processes and enhance employee experience for the long term.

When accurately leveraged and interpreted, data has the power to change the future of the workspace. Yet, how can businesses make the leap from data-pooling to becoming truly data-driven environments, where insights make way for intuition? Another important question for consideration is: what role does data-driven decision-making play in establishing and informing key metrics for business success?

Building a smart workspace strategy

An important place to start with making a smart workspace strategy become a reality is to understand what the key business drivers and factors are behind the need for a smarter workspace. In my experience, there are usually two key drivers: the need for more space from a growing workforce vs. increasing real estate costs, coupled with changing modern work practises, which mean not everyone is in the office at the same time.

Often the need for more space stems from employee frustration that meeting rooms are fully booked, yet if you walk past them, they can often be found unoccupied even though they are booked.

Many businesses jump the gun as a result of these complaints and rent out more real estate, without understanding how the existing office space is already used and occupied. With the cost of real estate now reaching a premium (e.g. £112 per square foot in some areas of London), businesses simply cannot afford to keep increasing their real estate costs without understanding how their space is currently used.

Digitally informed workspaces

Thanks to the internet, employees now have improved means of communication, such as Skype, Teams, Slack etc. and can access the corporate network no matter where they are working from. Connecting dispersed workforces the world over and giving employees greater opportunity for improved work/life balance by cutting down on commute times. This, in turn, often means that not all employees are in the office at the same time, removing the need for one desk per employee and driving many offices to embrace hot-desking, with a smaller ratio of desks to employees.

Creating a data culture

These demands on the modern workplace highlight a clear disparity between the amount of space employees think they ‘need’ and actual utilisation. To gain insight into how space, including desks and meeting rooms, is actually used it is essential to deploy sensors throughout the building in order to understand how often the space is actually used; giving facilities and property  managers data that provides insights into desk and meeting room utilisation, particularly when they think space is near capacity. This data is often very revealing and often highlights that space is not being used effectively.

Property Managers usually base their advice on how busy the rooms appear to be in a calendar. Many rooms are at capacity at 70 per cent to 80 per cent most of the time, so don’t provide the flexibility for ad-hoc meetings but when staff check them for last-minute bookings they are often empty, even though they are booked, which causes huge frustration. Often the utilisation figure is less than 50 per cent and the average occupancy is around 50 per cent of the room’s capacity, which just exacerbates the problem, particularly for larger groups What people think they are using vs. what they are actually using can be poles apart.

By understanding how much space is regularly used and by how many people, businesses often realise they don’t have the right mix of space for the needs of the company or the employees. If all rooms have 60 per cent usage, but only 25 per cent occupancy, businesses can adapt the layout to breakdown 16-seat boardrooms down to multiple 4-seater meeting rooms, instantly providing more space for day-to-day meetings and removing additional expenditure on external meeting space.

Smart solutions for a smart office

By introducing sensors and digital signage at the door or desk, employees that have previously booked the room or desk and haven’t turned up within 10-15 minutes of the booking are prompted to cancel the booking on their mobile devices. On the flip side, employees can also instantly gain access into the room availability and book instant meetings or hot-desks in real-time with their employee ID cards, providing live data on actual utilisation.

Businesses must adapt. Those who don’t embrace data will lose out to those who do. In fact, those who create smarter working environments and leverage data for space utilisation will ultimately attract better talent, and as a result, influence better business outcomes in the long-term.

Ultimately, the less money that is spent on real-estate unlocks budget for employee retention, upgrading existing infrastructure, product R&D or even pay rises. In turn, positively influencing health, wellbeing, employee satisfaction and performance.

Gerry Brennan, founder and CEO, Cloudbooking

Gerry has more than 20 years' experience in the agile workplace market and has a clear vision for what companies need to manage their workspace better.