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Orchestrating Multiple Kinds of Occupancy

modern workspace Workspace data and technology

After discussing the remarkable cost savings generated by:

We are now elevating our point of view and discussing the value that orchestration of multiple kinds of occupancy can provide to the Real Estate stakeholders.

One Kind of Occupancy is Not Enough

One of the main goals of the Real Estate Management function is to balance the trade-off between facility cost and employee productivity while minimizing workplace frictions. If the objective were pure cost reduction, then mere accurate occupancy metrics would allow you to achieve a sufficient result. However, much richer data is needed to guarantee productive frictionless office operations and achieve further savings through layout optimization.

Imagine you are a worker at a company that decided to implement open seating through a desk reservation app, without having the ability to detect physical occupancy. You booked a free desk for the day, but when you get to the right location, you find somebody else sitting on what is supposed to be your chair. Although you have the right to show your reservation to the squatter and kindly invite him/her to find another desk, the situation has created stress between two people. In this scenario, the combination of data plus technology is not enough to provide frictionless operations.

Similarly, think about a company that collects only accurate binary room status – occupied or free. How can Real Estate optimize the room layout? How do they know if the room is running above or below its maximum capacity?

In synthesis, simple occupancy allows you to reduce a good amount of the office footprint, while richer data enables optimization and meaningful office experiences, boosting employee engagement and productivity.

Three Main Occupancies

Let’s look at the various kinds of occupancy Real Estate and IT should keep track of:

  1. Physical Occupancy of a Resource

This metric is generated by sensing physical presence in a workspace where users carry out productive activities. For instance: open space desks, board rooms, focus rooms, team rooms, etc. As pointed out previously in this series, a large part of Real Estate space savings is dependent on this metric, as it provides insights on the amount of space that is really needed to do the work.

  • Planned Occupancy of a Resource

This is the kind of data that is typically generated by a reservation system. A user decides to book an open desk for a day or a room for a meeting. Historically, IT has been owned calendaring services and access to resources such as bookable rooms. With an increasing focus on desks, the data ownership boundaries between IT and Real Estate are getting blurrier. Planned occupancy data alone is not very actionable, and often requires being crossed with other kinds of occupancy to generate considerable value and helpful insights.

  • Physical Occupancy of Shared Spaces

This kind of data is usually related to any space, which is neither a room nor a desk: huddle spaces, kitchens, hallways, elevators, staircases, lobbies, etc. The metric could encompass something as simple as knowing how many people are into the office at a certain moment. There is a challenge for this type of data: often shared spaces do not feature any collaboration technology to rely upon to collect accurate data and, unfortunately, tracking personal devices does not allow to fill the gap. For instance, it will be nearly impossible to exactly know, by device tracking, how many people are left in the building after an evacuation procedure took place through the emergency doors. People might have left their phones on the desk; the phone might have run out of battery, or the Wi-Fi network might be off. Some use cases will be hard to implement without deploying specific technologies and policies.

A more borderline instance of shared space occupancy is gate data: the data collected by access control technologies. All buildings have main doors or backdoors to enter/exit the building itself or specific sub-areas. Let’s pretend you, as a Real Estate Manager, want to keep track of the building occupancy through the gate data. The solution accuracy depends on the technologies implemented at the gates. For instance, a company enforcing gates that require badging to enter or exit will be in a good position to track the overall occupancy of a building throughout the day. In case of an evacuation, the number people left in a building may be determined by comparing the occupancy right before the evacuation and the number of people present at the emergency gathering areas.

The good news about shared space occupancy is that a ton of value may be extracted from imperfect data. For example, tracking a large enough set of personal devices throughout all the spaces is a great proxy of how frequently and for how long the spaces are utilized. A typical application that relies on device data is the Heat Map, which highlights usage patterns and allows the Real Estate stakeholders to associate a presence rate with specific areas of the floor plan, contributing to space optimization. 

Orchestrating Occupancies in a Common Scenario

Imagine being an Enterprise Real Estate Manager in a traditional company with cubicles, assigned desks and no remote work policy. Your boss, the VP of Global Facilities, sets the goal for you to save 30% of the Real Estate cost by:

  • Implementing open seating and remote work

You provide your employees with a desk reservation app through which they can find an available desk and book it for the day. IT gives them everything they need to be productive at home.

  • Optimizing office layout and room mix

You aim at reorganizing the layout based on emerging usage flows captured by collaboration technology for rooms and desks and personal device tracking (laptop and smartphone Heat Map) for the rest of the spaces.

In addition, your boss wants all the above while increasing employee engagement and productivity.

How do you leverage on the occupancy capabilities to reach your ambitious goals?

Well, let’s start with quickly addressing physical occupancy at the desk and in the room. Once you have nearly 100% accurate data over time, you can comfortably reduce the overall office footprint by a certain percentage.

The interesting part is what you do beyond the initial reduction to optimize the layout, save further cost, and offer a better, more engaging experience to the employees.

Let’s start by considering bookable resources, in your case rooms and desks, and add the Heat Map in the mix when needed. In Figure 1, you can see four quadrants that correspond to four possible occupancy scenarios:

Figure 1
  1. Physical presence detected and room/desk booked

In this case, the occupancy data will tell us that a resource is used in the correct way. We could almost define it as the perfect utilization, the one that conjugates physical and voluntary aspects. Users who look at the reservation app will see that the resource as currently occupied. Analyzing the “perfect utilization” trend will help you understand the extent to which your employees plan their resource utilization correctly.

  • Physical presence detected and room/desk not booked

This is a very common case. I am sure you have experienced it when you booked a room and, once there, somebody else was having another conflicting meeting. In this scenario, the reservation app may avoid frictions by showing a desk as unavailable; alternatively, the room device may notify the squatter of the upcoming meeting. In this case, combining physical and planned occupancy results in actionable intelligence. For example, knowing the squatter’s trend over time may emphasize the need for correcting negative behavioral patterns.

  • Physical presence undetected and room/desk booked

In the context of rooms, this is the classic no-show or ghost meeting problem. Customers have clearly linked the resolution of the issue with the opportunity to have fewer large rooms and repurpose them into more useful resources.

For desks, the issue becomes particularly interesting and intricate. The main question is: why does a certain user book a desk, perhaps check-in and claim it for the day, and then spend a considerable amount of time somewhere else? Where does the person go, and why? Analyzing the root cause of this emerging behavior requires additional data from room and Heat Map, to unveil patterns and insights useful to optimize the layout or fine tune the number of bookable resources.

In both cases, room and desk, it is possible to set a timeout whereby, when nobody shows up in a room or stays away from the desk for too long, the resource is released and gets back into the available pool, resulting in more people served by the current resources (same cost, more productivity) or less amount of resources needed (less cost, same productivity).

  • Physical presence undetected and room/desk not booked

The resource is available. Users who look at the reservation app will see that the room or desk is currently bookable. The interesting part is tracking the availability overtime against other resources of the same kind and figuring out why there are discrepancies. For instance, crossing the data with the Heat Map may lead you to discover that a room is too far from where the people use to concentrate; these are actionable insights that may be leveraged for layout optimization.

Layout Optimization

How can we elevate our point of view and consider the entire floor plan versus focusing on the single parts?

Correlating the resource occupancy, both physical and planned, with shared space occupancy, both Heat Map and gate data, allows Real Estate decision-makers to redesign the layout and balance the utilization among the various spaces. Looking at the bigger picture will enable cross-space choices like transforming part of a poorly used kitchen into the right mix of desks and rooms, hence, evolving your layout closer and closer to the ideal floor plan. The one that offers always available resources at the right time and in physical proximity with the user.

The examples we presented in this article are based on commonly available technologies that may be easily procured. Soon, further optimization and user engagement opportunities will materialize, fueled by constant innovations in the Facility Management space. Buyers searching for the right layout optimization solution should be aware of the variety of occupancy data and room insights needed to achieve their goals. Cost, scalability and vendor roadmap should be the highest priority factors for selecting a workplace optimization solution. Integrated players like Cisco are in the best position to offer out-of-the-box core value and easy integrations with a rich ecosystem of partner solutions.

After introducing the various kinds of occupancy and the value provided by their orchestration, in the next article of this series Understanding the Impact of Workplace Data and Technologies, we will focus on summarizing the characteristics of the perfect Real Estate Management solution.

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