Office utilisation management

Best Practice in Office Utilisation Episode 2: Who should be involved?

Office utilisation: Who should be involved in managing real estate decisions?

We hope the previous chapter makes the case for a team approach to maximising the value of office space. Clearly, that means bringing together people with different skill-sets and experience to pool their ideas and know-how. To ensure that any diverse group of people work together well, it’s a good idea to set out roles and responsibilities, and that is certainly true when embarking on a corporate change programme. Your office real estate is such an important asset, altering how you use it – or even deciding to divest yourself of some of it – can have a very significant impact, both on the bottom line and on other critical efficiency and productivity measures.

For that reason, key management must be fully involved at the highest level across the C-Suite. Here then is our guide to the roles and responsibilities for each director. We also look at how those roles and responsibilities will change in response to the global technological and cultural influences shaping tomorrow’s corporations.

Our belief is that there is a triangle that symbolises the traditional and emerging roles of the C-Suite in office real estate management. Its three corners are finance (still hugely important, of course, hence its position at the top) but now underpinned by HR and IT.

Having said that, we begin not at the top of the triangle but with the person at the top of the tree.

CEO

It is only natural, you might think, for the CEO not only to have ultimate responsibility for office real estate but also to take a keen interest in its management (office utilisation), and yet it is remarkable how many organisations let important strategic office utilisation decisions slip down the delegation ladder.

Seeing the big picture

Why does such an important asset as a corporation’s office real estate get short shrift at the top level? Is it that Chief Executive Officers and Managing Directors are unaware of the scale of wasted space and the potential cost savings? Perhaps so, but even if the CEO has read that 30 per cent of office space is wasted, he or she may perform a quick calculation and decide to focus on other priorities. That erroneous calculation goes like this. If real estate only accounts for, say, 25 per cent of your overhead, cutting costs there by a third only equates to total saving on overheads of around eight per cent.

This approach is flawed for several reasons. Firstly, the 30 per cent figure for office utilisation occupancy that is widely accepted across the industry may seem dramatic – so much so that many corporations find it hard to believe – but in reality, it is actually quite modest. We know from experience with hundreds of corporations worldwide that far larger amounts of space can often be freed up by intelligent application of flexible working backed by effective technology. In fact, savings of 60 per cent or even more are possible.

Read our views on why firms need to make sense of their space in CCR magazine

Secondly, the other 75 per cent of a corporations’ assets are going to take a lot more time and energy to reduce. After all, they have had the CEOs’ and CFOs’ almost completely undivided attention for years, if not decades, with many costs honed to the bone through successive economic downturns. In other words, the potential costs savings from reorganising your office real estate are going to be much easier to realise than anything you can achieve by cutting costs elsewhere. This is especially true as there is now a strong body of evidence against which you can benchmark your own office utilisation. Add to that the opportunity to use specialist expertise and space monitoring technology, and there has never been a better time to review your office space use.

Thirdly, and most importantly, restructuring your office space presents opportunities beyond the obvious cost savings on leases and rates or the potential to free up capital by divesting yourself of part of the asset. As we have said before, effective flexible working has the potential to make the organisation more agile, invigorate employees, attract high-calibre recruits, increase productivity and – when tied to smart building technology – to reduce energy and other building management costs.

When it comes to driving and managing change, it is time for the CEO to take the helm

A significant reason that CEOs do not grasp the nettle is that real estate is one part of the business that might be expected to take care of itself. After all, practically every corporation that has a significant investment in office space will employ a real estate/facilities management (FM) team, whether internally or outsourced or both.

Admittedly, leaving the day-to-day running of your office space to the people who have it in their job description is a completely justifiable piece of hands-off delegation. However, when it comes to driving and managing change, it is time for the CEO to take the helm. Yet even getting the opportunity to do so can require the CEO to be more proactive in this area of the business than hitherto. He or she may also have to overcome institutional intransigence to move the corporation towards a better, different way of managing office real estate.

For one thing, it is possible the real estate manager may not want the CEO to be involved in any review of office utilisation because he or she doesn’t understand or can’t explain the implications of flexible working. Another reason the FM team may try to shield the CEO from the issue is that – like many over-worked managers in other roles – they fear being saddled with a new set of responsibilities for themselves or their team without additional staff resources.

People have busy day jobs. Few people want to be the leader or driver for something that can look like a daunting new initiative. Neither do they want to rattle cages by bringing ideas up the ladder.

So the CEO needs to be aware of the potential benefits of investigating and implementing flexible working. He or she must be committed to direct budget to the process, including bringing in experts to apply their specialist know-how and technology as well as increasing organisational capacity to meet the challenge.

CFO

The C-Suite executive who is most likely by far to be in charge of an office utilisation review has almost exclusively been the Financial Director, at least until now. There are now signs that this is beginning to change, as you’ll see in our other roles and responsibilities sections. Nonetheless, for now and foreseeable future, the FD still has responsibility for the organisation’s real estate/FM team, so reviewing any significant change in the way the asset is managed will certainly form part of his or her remit.

As you would expect with the job title, the FD is someone who appreciates the direct financial drivers, so the potential for cost savings can certainly be expected to pique his or her interest. The FD should indeed see it as one of his or her key responsibilities to properly manage any real estate asset or liability. The FD’s cooperation will also be required to make available budget to survey how the company is using its real estate and to design and implement a change programme, as well as installing technology to manage the new working system into the future.

Opportunities to impact positively on a company’s finances can be nuanced

Of course, cost savings – however obvious they may be – can’t always immediately be realised where there is a long-term lease or for whatever reason, you find yourself stuck with a particular real estate asset. Even so, the opportunities to impact positively on a company’s finances are sometimes more nuanced than the obvious ones of terminating a lease or selling a building.

As an example, we worked with a major insurance company as it was intending to move premises. At some point, the management made the decision to cancel the proposed move and to stay put to save on the costs involved with the relocation. That could have been that, but instead the company decided to create a budget to reorganise its current premises, and to bring in our know-how and technology to ‘sweat’ the existing asset.

Another less obvious cost saving is to be found in the satellite office. The exponential rise of co-working spaces in big cities on both sides of the pond and elsewhere has given organisations an easy ‘out’ when they feel they are running short of space, but it’s not ideal. The whole idea of having people physically in the same space is so that they can work collaboratively and interact face-to-face with other teams and management. So, rather than put ten new people into a co-working space or a small office in a separate building, look to flexible working to find a way to absorb those people into your existing space. A fast-track four-week survey of your current office will immediately highlight how that can be done as well as pointing you to many of the other benefits that flexible working has to offer.

Head of Real Estate/FM

Like any game-changing new concept, a major office utilisation review could be regarded as disruptive. Flexible working has already begun to transform the office real estate market, and for people in office management roles, it could revolutionise job descriptions.

For heads of real estate and facilities managers, the changing workplace might well be viewed as an opportunity or a threat. For those with the opportunity mindset, it’s a chance to align their roles with mission critical processes and vogue themes, hugely increasing their visibility at the top level. Flexible working is in many ways a product of the digital transformation of business. Likewise, smart buildings are one manifestation of another big business issue. The move towards ever greater energy efficiency has come mostly in response to governmental and consumer pressure but also as a conscious decision by some corporations to gain a competitive and reputation advantage. Taking on a new kind of job spec that has these big issues at its heart will make the real estate manager’s role much more strategic.

An exciting opportunity for real estate managers and FMs willing to embrace change

For those real estate managers and FMs willing to embrace change, new ideas about office utilisation are an exciting opportunity for career development. For others, the future may be about managing the physical space that’s left once the smart aspects of real estate have migrated to someone else’s job description.

We completely understand that just maintaining the status quo means work is already hard enough for many real estate managers/FMs, without venturing into pastures new. However, we urge you to make the case for additional resources, internal and external, to move your organisation forward. We all need to overcome that natural fear of change and to take responsibility. It’s our great hope that people in real estate roles see the rise of flexible working, together with all the associated technology around smart buildings, as their chance to shine.

CIOs (and beyond)

All the factors we have looked at regarding office utilisation so far are leading to a trend that we are just beginning to see with CIOs becoming increasingly involved in real estate decisions and change management. As technology and buildings become more intertwined, we expect that trend to continue and, ultimately, to see a new management role combining the CIO’s building-related responsibilities with those of the Head of Real Estate.

Digital transformation has given people the freedom to work flexibly with access to the cloud and distributed telephony. This has had a massive effect on real estate. People demanding the opportunity to work flexibly is a powerful driver for change. Now, the technology has evolved to a stage that companies can respond to that demand. This is why we are seeing traditional one-person, one-desk set-ups replaced with collaborative spaces because when people have the opportunity to work alone anywhere, having a place to work together is the real justification for investment in real estate. That’s why we come to the office.

HR

The Human Resources Director and others in the HR team will come to be much more involved in real estate management than they typically are today. Much in the way that the technology-related aspects of real estate bring the CIO to the table, so the people-related aspects should make HR a much more integral part of the office utilisation and management process.

You may be surprised to learn that this is not already the case, but our experience is that having an HR director or senior person properly involved is the exception rather than the rule with most corporations still relying on their real estate team under the directorship of the FD to manage their office space.

Meanwhile, with flexible working on the rise, HR finds itself getting to grips with new issues, such as managing remote working, including how to manage safe working practices at home or in external locations such as cafes or the member lounges of professional organisations. How do we ensure we look after staff welfare when people are in the office less frequently and therefore harder to monitor? How can we keep up to speed with how new ways of working such as fluid teams? How are other organisations adapting their offices to provide different kinds of collaborative spaces. How is the idea of agile working evolving, and how can we make the correct decisions about what will work best in our organisation’s space and cultural environment?

We strongly believe HR should be closely involved in real estate decisions

These questions are too important to be side-lined while someone else makes decisions about a new office layout.

Apart from working from home and the casual use of external space, HR should also keep its eye on satellite offices. As mentioned in the Financial Director section of this chapter, this is an area that is often neglected by companies in our experience. Satellite offices – whether in co-working environments or traditional office space – should be monitored just as vigilantly as your core real estate.

Instead of being seen as a way to devolve responsibility to the co-work or office provider, they should be considered part of the organisation’s own real estate and managed as such. That ought to include installing desk sensors linked to the corporate real estate database so that you can monitor usage. That will demonstrate to staff that you have them covered, and a small number of desk sensors in your satellite space will be inexpensive as you’ll benefit from economies of scale because of the numbers of sensors in your core office space.

We strongly believe that HR should be closely involved in real estate decisions. Too often, HR Directors and their teams have been seen as a potential obstacle to real estate rationalisation by raising challenging questions about the working environment that those traditionally responsible for real estate decisions would prefer not to tackle.

Bringing HR into the mix is an absolutely crucial step in breaking down the silo mentality and bringing genuinely joined-up thinking to the business of office real estate management.

For HR, transforming office real estate should be seen as a well-being opportunity. It is up to HR Directors and their teams with the backing of the CEO to take more control of how it all works in the interest of the business and its people.

The bottom line

In conclusion, big office real estate decisions shouldn’t be made by a single department. It’s crucial to involve all concerned to minimise the risk of getting it wrong and maximise the opportunities presented by new ways of working.

How a growing prop-tech company is helping big business save space and deliver new ways of working

Feature Article

A growing workplace technology specialist is making an impact in sensor-based office space management, as firms seek better returns on real estate and new ways of working and retaining staff.

Hundreds of corporations worldwide have introduced Abintra’s WiseNet system to monitor and manage the use of desks, meeting rooms and other office spaces.

The patented system, two years in the making, relies on industry-leading sensors that detect if anyone is occupying a desk or a seat in a meeting room. The Wisenet software then delivers a real-time visual display of space usage floor by floor. Crucially, it gathers statistics over time that can be used to make space saving decisions such as implementing desk sharing, how many desks are required and rationalisation of office space. This in turn creates opportunities to introduce new ways of working with wellbeing spaces, such as break out and cafe areas.

Once a desk sharing system has been implemented, the system delivers information on communal screens so that employees can locate free desks, meeting rooms and other spaces.

Meanwhile, for managers, it allows for ongoing review of space usage and for dealing with that trickiest of tasks, managing use and abuse of meeting rooms. It displays information about how many people, if any, are in a meeting room against booking information for a better understanding of space requirement.

Abintra says Wisenet sets the standard in space utilisation systems. Unlike competing solutions, it doesn’t rely on employees to log on to a computer, upload an app to a phone or carry a sensor around with them to sense that someone is using a space. Methods like these have obvious drawbacks because they fall down if the employee accidentally or on purposes fails to use them. They also raise the spectre of employers spying on employees whereas the Wisenet sensors effectively record that someone is in a space without reporting on what he or she is doing or his or her identity.

Wisenet also scores against systems using off-the-shelf sensors, because its purpose-built devices are more precise and more discreet because they can be mounted underneath and at the back of a desk rather than close to the edge. That precision is important because it enables monitoring of other kinds of spaces than desks, notably individual meeting room seats. Wisenet says other systems can’t match its reliability in those areas and often amazed how companies get talked out of this most important requirement.

Tony Booty, director at Abintra, says: “Most organisations know they could reuse some space, probably a lot of it, but fear staff won’t understand how that can happen without them being cramped together. We can help. Instead of corporate real estate managers being seen as the enemy by building users, we give you a way to prove what will best support the requirement. Once people understand the statistics, they will understand the solution, which can be a better environment with a variety of spaces, better suited to the changing world of work.”

Wisenet maintains that any organisation can benefit from reviewing its space utilisation, but the company is typically called in when a corporation is going through a reorganisation, restructure or merger, or when it is considering moving offices.

“Once you have the data, you might discover you do not need to move to bigger premises, after all, but if you do, you will have a much better understanding of how much space you need in the new location,” says Tony Booty.

Banks, insurance companies and local authorities are among those who have used Wisenet to inform decisions about real estate, sometimes making huge savings in space usage and associated costs. Another significant benefit that Abintra points to is staff retention and reduced HR costs, by allowing customers to reconfigure floors for agile working with collaborative spaces and even coffee shops.

When the system was used to reconfigure one floor of an insurance company’s building, it opened the door to staff welcoming a move to new offices where they knew all floors would be configured that way.

There are other uses for the data, including risk management, providing information on how much space would be needed if an operation has to relocate because of an emergency such as a flood. It can be used to plan efficient security routes and to reduce energy costs and carbon footprint by managing heating and air conditioning based on utilisation. The sensors record temperature as well as occupancy.

Perhaps the feature that resonates most loudly with customers is accurate meeting room scheduling. Unlike button systems or paper trails, the system reports on how many people, if any, are in a meeting room at any time without those people being required to do anything. One customer discovered a senior executive was routinely using a large meeting room as an annex to his office. Another found that staff were regularly booking pricey hotel meeting rooms in Belgravia when, contrary to what their Intranet was telling them, there was meeting space free in the office.

 

Corporations must harness prop tech to adapt to new ways of work – special report

The world of work will continue to evolve in 2019, and corporations must find ways to adapt their office real estate.

That is the conclusion of a new piece of research by flexible workplace specialist Abintra.

Published in a new report, the study highlights how corporations are struggling to manage office space efficiently as the trend towards agile and flexible working gathers momentum.

The publication explores methods for responding through office space utilisation techniques, including the latest tech options.

Compiled by Abintra’s US office, Emerging Trends in Occupancy Management asks if an emerging class of technology services could be the solution to the challenges faced by real estate professionals in 2019.

It sets out the pros and cons of different approaches to managing office space usage, including people counting and tracking, either manually or via WiFi, swipe cards and PIR sensor systems.

Previous research by Abintra has revealed that corporations waste as much as 30 per cent of office space and two thirds of meeting room space because of under-utilisation. The value of that prime real estate in the UK alone tops £10 billion.

The report shows that companies are learning to get by with fewer people and need less space per worker as they allow more employees to work flexible hours, or work at home.

It quotes one US real estate professional as saying: “There is this constant trend to get more productivity and efficiency out of office space.”

But while real estate managers would like to rationalise the amount of space being used, or to make better use of it, the report points out that doing so is increasingly complex. Density can vary significantly due to various factors such as the nature of work, building codes and even the use of space as a reward for more senior personnel.

Calculating how much space is actually required depends on working out how space is currently used and how it could be adapted. Unfortunately, as the report shows, many of the techniques used for measuring usage don’t deliver reliable information. It points out the flaws in many traditional measurement tools and in many of the technological solutions on the market.

Abintra’s own system relies on passive infrared sensors mounted to the underside of work surfaces to detect presence linked to powerful software. It is non-invasive compared with systems that rely on individual workers’ phones or computers to track them. The resulting data is displayed on a live floor plan, available on an app, web browser or a display in the office entrance area so that employees can see where there are available desks within a building and choose where to work.

The report draws on Abintra’s experience in the field as well as publicly-available information from Avison Young, CBRE, Urban Land Institute, Balfour Management Consultants, Harvard Business Review, Deloitte and MarketWatch.

The report is available to download at https://abintra-consulting.co.uk/emerging-trends-in-occupancy-management/

The new rules of meeting room etiquette

Meeting and conference rooms are an essential part of the fabric of most modern office spaces. With many businesses choosing to go open plan, they provide professional spaces for meeting with clients, collaboration hubs for co-workers and private work spaces when confidentiality is required.

As with any shared space, rules need to be applied, but while much common sense meeting room etiquette remains relevant, new technology is set to see some of the old rubrics thrown out.

The first rule today should be for managers to really understand what their people need, says workspace flexibility specialist Abintra. Fortunately, that is something that can now be assessed with precision thanks to advances in office space monitoring technology.

“Workspace consultants can monitor how their clients’ meetings rooms are being used, and use the data to improve flexibility,” says Tony Booty, a director of Abintra, which has worked with more than 100 corporations worldwide to help them make best use of corporate real estate. “For example, we might discover that instead of using space for rigid meeting rooms, we can introduce new kinds of collaborative space and breakout areas.”

“We might discover that instead of using space for rigid meeting rooms, we can introduce new kinds of collaborative space and breakout areas”

So in a world where the nature of work and meetings is changing, what are the new rules of meeting room etiquette?

Do be spontaneous

The old rules would have said think carefully about whether you should have a meeting at all and then to make sure you book well in advance.

Ducking into a vacant room for an impromptu catch-up with colleagues would be a big no-no.

But there’s a reason we’ve all been guilty of doing this… and that’s because we like working this way.  It makes sense to get together to discuss a pressing issue when it is, indeed pressing. Or to take the opportunity of everyone being in the office at the same time to catch up on a project.

Instead of rigid and bureaucratic systems, modern offices should support the way employees need to work.  Flexibility and collaboration can be promoted by creating plenty of bookable and casual meeting spaces whose availability can be monitored by colleagues in real time via screens and Apps.

Don’t waste time managing complex booking systems

How many times have you been in trouble for not booking a meeting room properly;   or irritated colleagues for not cancelling it on the system when you no longer need it? Or trawled through days of bookings to find a clear spot only to find the room sits empty because others haven’t cancelled their bookings?

New sensor based technologies does away with the need for complex booking systems that require lots of proactive intervention from employees by auto detecting when meetings start and finish and releasing space if it is not being used.

If you need a room and one is free, you can just take it. The aim should be to allow people work how they want rather than imposing rules that impede productivity and, frankly, cause high levels of frustration.

And, if you are to avoid awkward encounters with colleagues in the corridor, there are some old rules that still apply:

Do stick to a schedule

Make sure you allow enough time for your meeting, including setting up and clearing away, and make sure it doesn’t overrun.  Even if you don’t cover everything on your agenda, vacate the room as soon as your time slot comes to an end. Your colleagues won’t appreciate having to wait to start their meeting, especially if it’s with important clients.

Don’t hover at the door

“I found myself over-running by barely a minute before someone was knocking on the door. He muttered “I waited” in ill-concealed frustration as we left.  It didn’t look good in front of my clients!”

If you’re early to your meeting, avoid hovering at the door.  It will put unfair pressure on your colleagues to finish up before time and you should also be mindful that the meeting could be confidential.  If the meeting is running late, be careful to bring this to your colleagues’ attention whilst remaining professional and courteous.

Do tidy up

As your mother might say, ‘leave it as you would wish to find it’! Clear away coffee cups, water glasses and food, put away any equipment you have used and be sure to wipe clean whiteboards or clear flipcharts of your notes, plans or doodles!

Don’t use a meeting room as your own private office

“I wouldn’t want to mention any names, but certain, senior members of staff just use our meeting rooms like their private office.”

If you work in an open plan environment, booking a meeting room can be a great way to get some quiet space to make a phone call, write a confidential report or focus on getting a piece of work completed.  But blocking out rooms for days on end and turning the room into your own personal office is a no-no as it removes an important resource for your colleagues.

If you need an office, speak to your boss about getting the right space to meet your needs.