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Study shows how to make office real estate work harder

Tom Hegge

Space utilization studies conducted by Herman Miller Inc. over the past two years have uncovered important findings based upon quantitative data that provides companies with evidence demonstrating not only how their current space is used but what they might do to improve it.

Fact-based decisions

This research, conducted at customer sites, can be used the following ways:

* See which spaces are underutilized and where work actually happens

* Identify ways to improve space utilization and increase efficiency, usually resulting in significant real estate cost savings

* Develop strategies to improve employee satisfaction and productivity based on their needs and the way they work

* Align spaces to meet overall organizational goals and objectives.

How it works

The research is gathered using patent-pending wireless sensors that attach to the undersides of chairs to collect accurate usage data.

The data is housed in a database that is continually updated to weight new findings against alternative trends. It is then compiled and analyzed by Herman Miller Inc. to determine the actual utilization of a particular space across an entire organization, from conference rooms to workstations.

Data-based trends

Studies have been conducted in a wide range of industries, including electronics, petroleum, business services, chemicals/pharmaceuticals, healthcare, light manufacturing, banking and insurance.

Across these industries, the studies have shown that:

* 77 percent of the time private offices are unoccupied

* 60 percent of the time workstations are not occupied

* Conference room seating is rarely used to full capacity

We know too that while people can work anywhere today, space can and does inspire performance, increase productivity, and attract and retain employees.

Cost-effective solutions

For example, one customer learned the reason employees chose larger conference rooms, even for small groups, was because smaller rooms weren’t equipped with technology. By adding speaker phones and display monitors, they were able to match the appropriate-sized room with the actual usage patterns.

Still another client that had mostly mid- to large-sized conference rooms found that typically less than 50 percent of the room’s seats were used at a time. In planning for a new facility, they have the potential of using less real estate for conference rooms by having fewer and smaller rooms along with some one- to two-person sized studios.

Underutilized space is costly

Underutilization can be costly not only in terms of the real estate itself (and the accompanying utility charges) but also in terms of workplace efficiency and effectiveness.

Ask: Is the space being used to its maximum value? Are we getting the most optimal utilization? Is the space being used in the best possible way to support the work that’s being done there? Is the space supporting people and work they’re seeking to accomplish?

The outcomes of the studies and the resulting recommendations for improving productivity can be used to reduce real estate portfolios and costs. It can also make existing spaces work better for a current workforce, taking into account the technology, work styles, and type of work that is happening today.

Efficient and effective

By comparing utilization to real estate costs, we can create financial metrics to drive solutions to help create spaces that:

* Reduce overall real estate costs and engage current workforces

* Maximize space and align vision with the work environment

* Lower energy usage and respond to new ways of working

* Support work flow and processes and enable mobility in and out of the office

* Use technology to improve productivity and enhance a company’s identity and brand

(To learn more about research into office design and usage conducted by Herman Miller, see http://www.hermanmiller.com.)

Tom Hegge is vice president of Office Pavilion, a provider of commercial office furnishings. Contact him at t_hegge@op-dundas.com or 775-827-1331.