Are space utilization studies still valuable in the hybrid workplace era?

‍Companies pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to have people walk through their workspace with clipboards, documenting how their office space is used and measuring occupancy rates across their different types of spaces.

One Fortune 500 company we work with pays $750,000 every year to conduct quarterly studies at just one location — and they have nearly two dozen locations worldwide.

The result of this massive investment is a workspace study report like this one, used by corporate real estate execs for occupancy benchmarking which they then use to carve out their master plans and allocation strategies.

Visually, the report is impressive. And, there is value to these reports — they provide space planners with qualitative insights hard to acquire elsewhere (example: “Three individuals stayed in a conference room for approximately 15 minutes after a meeting had concluded to socialize and finish their coffee”).

But in the new, agile workplace, space usage data from these workplace studies can be inaccurate and outdated.

Workplaces can’t be measured in snapshots

Manual workplace studies (or bed checking) often take place over two weeks. Many believe this is long enough to create a space use benchmark that identifies peak and normal occupancy patterns. But two weeks isn’t long enough — certainly not in the new office.

The new workplace is not static.

The reason people come to your office is regularly changing. Teams that only use meeting rooms in July may want dedicated workstations in the fall. Employees currently excited to return to work to regain work/life separation may miss the comforts of home in a month.

The dynamic nature of the new workplace, including an uptick in hoteling, even impacts room use based on the time of day. Some team members may work from home in the morning, and come to the office later in the afternoon. This could skew utilization rates in a 2-week study.

“I think the days of being at a desk, and being at an office 8 hours are gone.” — Izzy Sanchez, Head of Global Workplace and Real Estate, Twitch

The new workplace is not static. Trying to capture trends and peak occupancy over just a few weeks in the new office is like trying to catch a teardrop in the ocean.

It’s wasted effort.

Data benefits from duration. The longer you can collect data, the more accurate that data is.

Manual studies are subjective

Manual studies rely on human observations. Humans literally walk through your workspace, counting the number of occupants and jotting down activities people are doing during the observation.

But what does occupied mean? Does a jacket on a desk mean that someone’s using that desk? Or could the owner of the jacket be at meetings for most of the day?

This micro-level accuracy matters as you decide if you need a new space or a newly designed current space.

Space utilization studies slow down decision making

It takes too long to go from question to decision with manual studies. You have to wait months to get the research findings to find out what space needs you have (if any).

The modern work environment is too agile for that. Three-month-old data is useless. Employees’ behavior patterns constantly shift for many reasons. You need to identify these shifts in real-time, and respond accordingly.

How you should measure space utilization

Space utilization data should always be available through a dashboard that updates automatically — in real time. This helps you make ongoing decisions in a continually evolving workplace.

The only way to know if you have enough space (or too much) is by measuring utilization over time.

Space utilization data should also measure at the building, floor, room, and desk level. Employees don’t live at their desks. Certainly not now. They float. They go to different floor levels, soft seating areas, conference rooms, and hallways. Badge access data and headcount-per-square-foot calculations no longer cut it for space planning (they never really did).

Years ago, manual studies were the most effective way to build context around badge data access. But manual studies are outdated. They no longer serve the modern workplace.

Continuous and real-time space analytics data is a more accurate metric for space management. This granularity of data empowers workplace and facilities management leaders to know how many people are doing what and where — at any given time, in any specific space.