Space utilization metrics: workplace transformation by the numbers

With so many changes to today’s workplace every year, it seems that space really is the final frontier. How can you possibly know if you have enough workspace for your employees—and what happens when you think you have too much? How can you plan for growth, or respond to a growing demand for flexibility from employees?
Every Facility Manager, Head of Workplace, and company as a whole must face these questions about space utilization and have answers ready before it even becomes an issue.
As the old saying goes, change is the only constant in life and work. And the changes happening now in the world of business are extraordinary. In a booming economy with almost full employment, you might expect that space occupancy would be bursting at the seams. But that’s not always the case. More often than you’d think, expensive leased office space goes unused or under-used.

The evolving workplace experience: productivity over conformity

The truth is, we don’t work the same way we did even ten or fifteen years ago. Cubicles, which at one time measured 80 to 100 square feet for each employee, filled out office space occupancy quickly. Today, that space has been cut down by more than half. We just don’t need that much space anymore. We don’t print as much, so there’s less to file, and heavy, immovable desktops have been replaced by flat-screen monitors plugged into laptops. Collaborative work environments and more casual offices let employees get to know and trust each other, so productivity and job satisfaction went up. And the constricting walls came tumbling down.
Companies suddenly had a new problem. Space utilization had turned upside-down. Because of long leases, they found themselves paying high prices for real estate they weren’t using. Workplace professionals could let the spaces sit empty, or they could get creative and craft an experience that optimized the area for new styles of work.

Space utilization metrics put a fine point on your exact needs

Right-sizing your office space is about innovation and design, but before you pick out paint swatches and sofas, start with some robust metrics about your needs. The numbers you need come from observation and surveys, but also from workplace technology that can keep tabs on usage trends over more extended periods.

What should you be looking at? These metrics are a good place to start:

1Capacity versus occupancy. The size of your space stays the same, but occupancy is always in flex. Some companies have begun using sensors to track where people go, and when. Occupancy sensors pick up everything from how many people are in the building at any time to traffic patterns, places where people tend to gather, how many people generally attend each meeting, and even where people choose to go to do different types of work. Metrics like those provide a clear picture of how employees use the space.
2Overall space utilization score. The equation for understanding exactly how much space you’re using is simple. Divide the number of employees you have by your total workplace capacity. If you have 75 employees in an area designed for 100, your space utilization score is 75. You’re using 75% of your allotted space.
3Demand for space. How much space—and where—do departments or teams need, and how much do they actually have? The question of supply and demand can be answered by metrics that provide an in-depth picture of group-specific situations.
4Daily variables. What would happen if every full-time, part-time, and remote employee and contractor were to come into the office at the same time? Would you be able to accommodate them all? If not, how many people actually need dedicated space every day? It might not be all of them simultaneously, but you should know the average density of your space occupancy.

When space occupancy has you feeling the squeeze

You probably don’t need to calculate your space utilization score to find out your company is growing out of your leased space. If you’re running out of space, you probably already know it. But moving is expensive (not to mention disruptive), and even if upsizing the office was a possibility, getting out of your lease may be more trouble than it’s worth. So what are your options?
Using the same metrics you’d gather if you discovered you had too much space, consider a redesign based on the trend toward agile and flexible workplace experiences.
Ask your employees for input. You might get thousands of different ideas, but that’s the point. If you make a workspace that meets the needs of long-distance commuters, parents, extroverts, introverts, and night and morning people, you’ll not only help your employees be their most productive, but it can solve your space issues, too.

Some ideas for your office transformation might include:

  • Phase-out cubicles altogether in favor of open and equal workstations—and while you’re at it, think about whether you really need all those private offices anymore. Even for executives.
  • Instead, create small private spaces for one-on-one conversations and personal or sensitive phone calls.
  • Check out space utilization patterns in each meeting room. Find out–are there enough large-scale meetings happening to justify large boardrooms—or whether you need more than one.
  • Add small breakout spaces with comfortable seating for impromptu gatherings and social interaction.
  • Make sure that you have a quiet space for deep work and areas that encourage collaboration. Track where people naturally gather and where people go to concentrate. The patterns will tell you where to place each area.
  • Let every employee work the hours that are best for them. Staggered hours reduce commute times and allow for multiple people to use the same workspace at different hours.
  • Get on the telecommuting bandwagon—allow employees whose jobs don’t depend on being onsite to work from home—or any place they wish. Make video conferencing the meeting default.
  • Invest in workplace technology that allows employees to stay connected to the office and co-workers, hop onto instant video calls, get delivery notifications, invite and receive visitors, and eventually, store personalized data to customize the workplace experience for everyone in the company.
  • Use a workplace management system so employees can locate colleagues, schedule time at hot desks and conference rooms, and Facility Managers can visualize space usage to ensure efficient utilization.
By optimizing space occupancy, it’s possible to scale a growing company without having to pack up and move. Employees get the freedom to work wherever and whenever works best for them, too, so workplace satisfaction increases. It’s a win-win, and that’s why this "workspace of the future" is getting its start in the here and now.
Ready to transform your office? Learn more from Envoy’s Head of Workplace Technology, Matt Harris, about Practical workplace tech: Space utilization and going desk-free.