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Harnessing data for better use of office space

06 February 2015

Graham Perry, client services director of iSite, the technology division of property services specialist Styles & Wood, speaks to PFM about how digital technologies can help businesses maximise the use of available space

Whether your business employs 50 or 50,000 people, the fundamentals of using office space well are the same, Graham Perry, told PFM during a recent interview. “Companies in every sector are looking to capitalise on the ongoing economic recovery and, for many, making the most of limited resources will be critical. With property costs representing a significant overhead for most businesses, using space as efficiently as possible is paramount.”

Excerpts from the interview:

What are the benefits of an electronic system designed to help firms run more efficiently?
Many businesses, big or small, use some form of electronic system, technology or software to help them run more efficiently. Whether this is an access control system, a workplace design software or a HR system. The majority of businesses today use an electronic system to help manage finances. It’s helpful to monitor the payroll, expenditure and day-to-day running of a business on a fully integrated platform, and can help a finance manager to get a solid indication of how well a business may grow, at what rate and how many people it will need in order reach their business targets.

What benefits of an electronic system are overlooked?
Gathering this information on a clever, integrated platform or ‘building intelligence solution’ can help businesses accommodate their employees in the space more efficiently, and even forecast future office requirements, and this is what businesses may be unaware of. While some companies may be tempted to rush out and spend millions on new property leases in order to accommodate expansion plans and new recruits, others are instead asking building intelligence specialists how they can make better use of the space they already have, and harnessing data is key to doing this well.

How can a company stay fully informed with respect to space requirements?
A crucial factor affecting many businesses is how to deal with plans for expansion without biting off more than they can chew with office commitments. One way a business can stay fully-informed of its space requirements is to consult HR records and access control systems and even light sensors to determine how many people are using the office and at what times. Today’s sophisticated building intelligence solutions can help take the headache out of harnessing all the data from disparate and legacy systems and present it in one simple-to-navigate platform. Some systems will even identify trends in data automatically, making it easier and quicker to make informed business decisions.

What are the advantages of using HR records?
In the past, offices have been arranged with individual desk spaces for each employee, irrespective of their contracted hours. By using HR records, a business has all the information it needs to provide full-time office-based staff with permanent desk spaces, and part-time or mobile workers with hot desking facilities or mobile technology. As well as serving as an effective security measure, building entry systems can help a business to spot trends in when an office is at its busiest. Similarly, light sensors that are typically installed to help monitor when rooms are unoccupied and switch the lights off to preserve energy, can provide businesses with data patterns to help establish peak usage times.

Is hot desking a factor in this case?
For call centres, banks or recruitment firms, peak usage is typically during shift changeovers. To address this problem, facilities and estates teams can accommodate extra people in the office by creating hot desking and flexible working zones that can be used when the office is at its busiest. Encouraging hot desking and remote working where suitable can avoid unused desks and make space for more staff in the office.

And what about mobile technology?
The advent of mobile technology has played a big part in making flexible or remote working possible. The ability to work on laptops and tablets has reduced the need to provide permanent computer stations. Money saved on purchasing new commercial real estate can instead be invested in the latest technological capabilities for these workers. In some cases this may help maximise productivity and free-up space for more office-based staff in a company’s existing location.

How can FMs make meeting room space more flexible?
Electronic meeting room scheduling systems, for example, can prove invaluable for businesses looking to manage their facilities to meet the demand for space, and avoid additional expenditure on external conferencing. To make meeting room space more flexible, companies can install moveable room dividers allowing boardrooms to be divided into smaller meeting spaces where necessary. I’ve worked with clients with three eight-person meeting rooms but rarely had meetings of eight people. We were able to help them recognise this trend in their scheduling records, and advised they divide two of the rooms in half to create four four-person rooms instead. Now, the business is able to book more meetings on-site and spend less on external facilities. This is one example of where we’re seeing businesses install a system but not use the information to its full potential.

What is the responsibility of business intelligence solution providers in this regard?
Not only do business intelligence solution providers have the responsibility to create truly integrated platforms, but they must work hard to educate companies on how they can get the most out of their systems in order to reap the benefits.

How can a business ‘future forecast’ its office space?
For all the hot desking, remote working and moveable room dividers, there comes a time when a business simply outgrows its office space. Being in a position to forecast when this is likely to be puts companies in a much stronger financial position. The beauty of modern technology and smart building intelligence software is that it allows companies to make informed commercial decisions both in the present and also the future. We’ve seen first-hand the difference that solutions can make both short- and long-term. Using a combination of data, facts and figures from across the different departments, a business’ finance team, HR division and facilities or estates manager can all work together, informed by the same data, to prepare staff for a relocation and negotiate the best terms and conditions for a lease, all in plenty of time. The economic recovery has led to more businesses looking to expand, while still being mindful of the need to not jump the gun. Building intelligence is more than just a software, it’s a means of saving energy and costs and improving use of space. Our job as specialists is to not only create a truly integrated platform on which to store data and identify trends, but also to use our expertise to help businesses make more informed decisions.

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