What is a Workplace Utilisation Study?

Quite simply, a Workplace Utilisation Study is a vital piece of “evidence” when building a persuasive and convincing case for delivering change in the workplace!

When embarking on a journey to a different way of working, organisations must be able to convince people that what they are delivering will work and meet their needs. Being able to show how the organisation is using its space and resources is a key component in demonstrating that things can be done differently.

How does a Workplace Utilisation Study work?

As part of the workplace strategy and transformation plans, the requirement is to understand how well the organisation is using its space – not just at a macro level, but right down to the individual desk / meeting room level. By measuring the usage of each one of the workplace “assets” during a 2-week period (6 times a day) it is possible to build a picture of overall levels of usage, but also the patterns of usage over time.

By choosing a period that represents “normal” working (i.e. with no unusual events or situations which might skew the results), it’s possible to establish a baseline of occupancy. Naturally it is important to understand what the peaks of occupancy look like – both during the study period but also longer term. Understanding when other peaks occur, and whether these apply to the whole organisation (i.e. a seasonal or market driven peak which affects every department) or just peaks affecting different functions such as Accounting which has peaks associated with month end, quarter end, year end etc.

This information can be gathered from other sources and factored into the results as appropriate. Using the occupancy in Accounting at year end would exaggerate the level of demand throughout the year and lead to an over provision of space, based on one period. That’s not to say that the peaks can be ignored, but there are other ways to meet them. 

What information does the Workplace Utilisation Study provide?

By collecting 6 observations a day for each workplace component in the office space (desk, meeting area, breakout space etc.), we can see how each is being used – how frequently, by how many people, and over what period.

The data reveals that some spaces may be poorly used, even when other data tells us that the type of space is in demand. This enables further investigation to try to see why that space might be under-utilised – for example it may be in the “wrong” place (i.e. an undesirable location with poor lighting, poor connectivity, too much noise), or it might simply be too hot / too cold.

Through gathering data at the ‘building block’ level, it can then be analysed in many ways – by building, by floor, by department, by team, by type of space. This provides a great wealth of useful data from which we can understand the current needs and think about how the space can be reorganised to provide a better mix of spaces in the future.

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Isn’t the level of utilisation obvious just by looking around?

Most people tend to have a view of how well their office space is used. But rarely is that very accurate – for very good reasons.

Many years ago, I had a client that disputed the accuracy of our utilisation study for his team. He believed that all the desks in his area were in use all day, every day. Consequently, he felt that there was no potential for ANY level of desk sharing. AWA’s data told a very different story – essentially that average usage was approximately 53% – with peaks closer to 63% on one or two days during the 2-week study. Further investigation revealed that this Manager spent a lot of time away from his office, but when he was in, people were keen to be seen at their desks and to be able to engage with him. When he wasn’t there – they just went about their usual business – going to meetings and seeing internal customers – so there was nothing ‘wrong’ with what was happening, it was simply a reflection of real life. And that is what the study captures.

The truth was that the Manager’s presence essentially skewed the utilisation of the space when he was present, but this led him to conclude that this was ‘normal’ – even when he wasn’t there.

Under such circumstances it is vital that the data is collected using a robust methodology, which fortunately AWA has developed over many years of practicing and refining our approach. Collect the data at the “wrong time” or show any weakness in the methodology and this can lead to weeks of argument over the accuracy of the data – rather than having a reasoned debate about how the space could be used more efficiently and a range of spaces provided for different tasks and activities.

Why can’t we use access data instead of a Workplace Utilisation Study?

Some clients are reluctant to run a utilisation study and suggest we use data from their building access system. The simple answer is – “No”! Access data only shows how many people entered the building on any given day or period. It shows the gross demand on the building, but nothing about the usage of any areas, desks or rooms during the day. This data can act as a sense check on the utilisation study data (at macro level), but on its own is a very thin piece of evidence which isn’t going to be very persuasive.

Building the “case for workplace change”

In every workplace transition project, it is vital that we can explain what is going to change, why the change is being made, how things will work / how the change will be implemented, and when things will be changing. AWA calls this the “case for change” and it is a cornerstone of our change management process. It reflects all the data we gather about how the organisation works and how it wants to work in the future. Hence it is evidence based – another very important aspect in which we believe strongly.

There is a need to be able to explain the change clearly and logically to people making a transition in the way they work – so that they can understand it, appreciate what it means for them and start to understand how it might work for them. If the case for change is based on flimsy assumptions or information that has been gathered from elsewhere (even from within the same organisation), then people will be rightly suspicious about whether this has firm foundations.

If we cannot demonstrate that there is sound logic and foundation to new ways of working proposals, then managing the transition of change will be very challenging because people will not be convinced that “it will work”.

Providing robust evidence lies at the heart of building trust and confidence in the solutions being proposed.

Author: Karen Plum, Director of Research & Development, Advanced Workplace Associates