Writing in Construction Week recently, Ben Hughes of Deloitte Corporate Finance notes the potential cost savings that can be achieved through more effective space management. However, managing space efficiently across a large corporate estate can be more challenging than many people realise.

Clearly, knowing how much space is occupied is very straightforward. In order to optimise it, though, it is important to have a clear understanding of how that space is used. Is all of that space fully utilised or is there scope to rationalise and, potentially, reduce the overall space required? A study in 2011 of workspace utilisation by HoK Advance Strategies, covering a number of buildings, found that workspace utilisation was well below 50% of capacity and overall space utilisation was under 70% of capacity.

One of the key challenges is understanding usage. If an office was full of empty desks this would be very obvious, but in a large multi-functional environment occupancy is very fluid. Churn rates, re-structuring, flexible working and team working all have an impact on which desks are used and for how long.

Most large organisations do attempt to understand their usage, of course, but often through outdated methods such as drawing lines around desks on CAD plans. A time-consuming, laborious task that typically takes so long that the information is out of date by the time the exercise has been completed. Nor does this approach provide an accurate picture of workspace usage through the day.

The latter will only be achieved by surveying the workplace and traditionally this has involved walking around with a clipboard and pen, making notes of which workspaces are in use. Again, this manual process is so time-consuming that only limited sampling is feasible in most cases, typically resulting in incomplete results and a somewhat hazy picture.

This is where technology can streamline the whole process by enabling fast data collection in the workplace, writing back to a central resource. Causeway’s FM Locator Corporate Real Estate Management solution, for example, can be used in conjunction with an Android ‘app’ that allows users to enter usage and floor plan data directly into a tablet PC or smartphone as they walk around the building, automatically updating the central FM Locator database. Crucially, the software can be configured to each user’s requirements, including grouping workstations by status and using barcode scanners to locate and track assets at the same time.

For one user of this system, the duration of such utilisation studies has been reduced from over two hours to just 14 minutes.

The key message is that companies need to switch their focus from endlessly measuring the space itself, and think more about how that space is used so they can manage it more effectively. Deploying the right technology turns this aspiration into a reality.

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