The Workplace Management Framework – Capacity Management

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Capacity Management is probably one of the most important parts of Workplace Management because capacity costs money, it often comes with long term cost commitment, consequences and (depending on the nature of the capacity), can be efficient or ineffective in supporting an organisations processes, culture and workplace experience. Capacity Management, therefore, is about making sure that there are sufficient physical facilities, workplace services and technologies available so that people and business units can do their best work.

The new world of workplace capacity

Traditionally leaders have thought of workplace capacity purely as the number of square feet or metres that a building provided. Real Estate agents around the world, if asked by clients how much space they would need in the future would do a simple calculation taking the typical space per head, multiplying it by the number of people it expected to employ, add in a percentage for ‘growth’ and come up with a number of square feet it might need… but not anymore.  

Increasingly that notion of capacity is looking out-dated. The real capacity of a workplace is associated with the volume of work activity that can be supported by that workplace. And whereas in the old world we assumed everyone came to the office and worked at ‘their own’ desk and proceeded to stay at that desk all day and do all their work there, now for many organisations work simply isn’t like that anymore, people are working everywhere, anytime. So, the game has changed.

Going forward we need to recognise new meanings associated with old terms and understand how they relate. The terms we’re talking about are ‘supply’, the amount of raw space provided by a building and it’s ‘infrastructure’, ‘demand’ the organisational and work needs of the organisation, ‘capacity’, the maximum amount of work activity that can be supported by the workplace. 


Workplace Supply: The number of square metres and associates infrastructure being contracted for.

Workplace Capacity: The maximum demand the workplace can support after all constraints removed.

Demand: Number of people, work needs, work activity.

Building Capacity: The maximum number of work positions the building can legally support.

Capacity Management and workplace experience   

Whereas in the old world the capacity of the building was determined by the number of desks you could fit in it, now we define it by the size of the work population and activity it can support. So today, even for predominantly ‘office based’ organisations (i.e. not field working organisations) we could expect the workplace to support up to 40% more people than in the past by using the supply more effectively by modifying the behaviour of people in the workplace.

Also, the provision of workplace capacity has direct links to the ‘Workplace Experience’ workplace ‘consumers’ have every day. Too little capacity to meet the work demands of the population (i.e. the right combination, locations and characteristics of space and infrastructure) and the ‘experience’ suffers. Too much capacity and there is a potential financial inefficiency and the potential for a loss of workplace ‘buzz’ or energy. So, keeping a balance is key in a way that in the old world was easy. But how do you do it?

Managing workplace capacity 

First, you have to spend time understanding the nature of work for your organisation. What do people do, how do they do it, where do they need to be to do it, how many of them are there, what seasonal, monthly, weekly and daily patterns exist and what needs do people have in terms of spaces, technology, information etc. Crucially, what needs do people have for physical co-location and physical (and expensive) facilities. Additionally, we need to understand any factors that limit flexibility such as the need for ‘chinese walls’ to separate people in units that may have commercial conflict of interest. Conversely, we also need to understand the need for close co-location of units.

Then we need to fully understand what supply is provided in terms of space types (collaborative, breakout, personal and open plan), numbers of workstations and their locations along with factors that constrain ‘capacity’ including floor loadings, fire evacuation requirements, power, HVAC and IT network limitations, security requirements and restrictions, employment policies and business processes.

From our studies, we know that the utilisation of most desks in most buildings is under 60% as measured by observation studies. Meeting rooms are generally over-sized, under-utilised and peoples’ perception is that you can never find one when you need one. And taking a macro view only 60 of the 168 hours a building is available every week are actually used for meaningful work.

By modifying the behaviour, practices and processes of work and introducing more mobile styles of working, we can dramatically change the ability for the building to support larger populations of workers whilst giving people an effective experience.

Going beyond this, if we make people totally mobile, give them the technology tools, knowledge, competence and confidence to work without daily physical co-location (i.e. move to a predominantly digital workplace) then it is possible for a physical workplace to support a population many times the size indicated by the capacity of the physical workplace.


Managing workplace capacity is not a one-time gig

But managing workplace capacity is not a one-time gig. The way workplace capacity is consumed changes day-to-day and is dependent on seasonal business demands, the day of the week, weather and the changing headcount and ways of working of occupying units all have an impact on workplace utilisation. True workplace management is about influencing the demand and supply on a daily basis to maximise utilisation and provide people with an effective experience that helps them be the best they can be every day.

To deliver this more sophisticated model for managing workplace capacity requires new and real time insights into the patterns of utilisation in a building at a high level and at a detailed level. Sensors are being used by many organisations to track the utilisation of desks, social spaces, meetings rooms and provide data to workplace consumers about the availability of space on different floors and parts of their home floor. Sensors are tracking queue lengths, toilet availability (like on aeroplanes) temperature, humidity, noise and light levels. We have the tools to give us data on utilisation and environmental conditions and if we are clear (through analysis) on the conditions needed to support a particular unit, we can predict when the conditions are likely to impact their performance.  

So, in summary, Capacity Management is probably the most important capability in the operational side of the Workplace Management Framework. Predominantly it is about making sure workplace consumers get the experience they need in the most efficient way possible, making maximum use of the buildings an organisation is paying for.

The next blog in the Workplace Management Framework series is Resource Management.

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