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Let’s Discuss Data: Tech Data and Office Space Utilization

How new tech analytics tools are shaping the evolution of office space utilization

Recently, the popularity of the open office concept has been met with hesitation, and its efficiency with doubt. A lack of privacy, too little personal space and too many distractions are all critiques of the popular concept that has swept through offices both nationally and globally over the last few years.

So, are these factors a foreshadowing to the demise of the open concept space?

Not necessarily.

Some suggest that the model is not dead, but rather in transition and being shaped by a critical new tech tool: data.

Employers, and the design firms that they hire, are collecting heaps of data on how employees use their workspace. Using seat sensors, surveys, infrared cameras, analyzing email patterns, office foot traffic, badge swipes and conference room reservations, employers are able to develop office configurations that not only optimize space, but improve the employee work experience.

The people-focused approach has become necessary when designing space in an effort to not only recruit talent, but also to retain it. More and more companies are now thinking not just about space, but also the work experience within the space including, conference room availability and comfortable room temperatures – basic elements that are often overlooked.

Employers and their design firms are using employee surveys as well as data from infrared cameras that detect foot traffic and space occupancy to determine how, when and where employees are interacting with each other.

Recently, a well-known design firm conducted a study analyzing this very data, revealing that some of the most beautiful parts of their office were underutilized. In addition, the data revealed unexpected places that had become natural gathering areas for employees that, while allowing some to connect with their peers, served as a major distraction to others that work at nearby desks. This data allows the design firm to plan a space redesign with the employee top of mind. In the new design, the firm reconfigured individual desk space and provided “collaboration zones” for quick and impromptu meetings between employees.

The redesign isn’t just about the space, but also about the process. The quantifiable data helps leadership commit to change and encourages skeptics to go along with the new changes. The rise of data enabled by tech has also paved the progress of “activity-based working”, which created huddle spaces for focus work, collaboration zones for meetings and enables technology in each space to help optimize usage.

The idea of sensors and tracking devises does not sit well with everyone, and some companies are concerned that creating a “Big Brother is watching” environment may generate resistance from employees. Another drawback of relying too heavily on data is that it can lack context and not always be accurate. Companies looking to utilize their space need to examine various data sources of the findings and pair them with human conversations, interactions and observations to provide a complete image of their current space and how to satisfy their future goals.

Employers have to be transparent and communicate with their employees about the data gathering process in order to ensure privacy and accuracy throughout the process, sharing the results and outcomes the analytics provide. Engaging employees, especially early in the process, makes them feel a part of the change and produces better results for the design, which can lead to various cost saving opportunities.

The office model is constantly changing and employers are beginning to notice that the needs, wants and interactions of their employees is a massive factor in the transition of space – where it is and where it is heading.