Don’t believe it? Take a utilisation study

There are many facets to a thoughtful and informed discussion around workplace strategy as an enabler to business outcomes, and if you begin to tug at the strings a deep level of complexity begins to emerge. So how do you start thinking about workplace without losing sight of what’s important?

We have found through 27 years of leading change in the world of work that one of the most valuable conversation starters is a workplace utilisation study. Why? Because, quite simply, it is stunning how inefficient many workplaces really are. By first uncovering the financial impact this incurs, we can begin having the conversation about what might be better from a strategic and cultural point of view.

What does a utilisation study tell you?

1. Workpoint occupancy:

Based on our long experience measuring client’s workplaces, we were able to quote confidently that 40-60% of the time workpoints go unoccupied. Although this is already a fairly compelling, low rate occupancy, we decided to benchmark again to see if there had been any significant change to this range.

And, well, there has been.

Based on data from the last 3 years, measuring over 11,000 workpoints during working hours, 9 times a day for a week, across industries, public and private sectors, and throughout Asia and Australasia, we have found that individual ergonomic workpoints are now going unoccupied between 50-75% of the time. In fact on average, workpoints are occupied just 39% of the time.

2. Meeting room occupancy:

Across more than 800 meeting spaces measured in the same studies, we found that meeting spaces are, on average, unoccupied 65% of the time. This varies widely with some organisations seeing meeting rooms going unoccupied for as much as 90% of the time.

3. The size and type of meetings: 

On average, 20-25% of the times when meeting rooms are occupied, it is by one person working alone. This includes people who are taking a private phone call, working quietly alone, or waiting for other meeting attendees to arrive. On average, two thirds of actual meeting are between no more than four people, and yet most meeting rooms made provision for between 8-12 people.

Assigned workpoints and meeting rooms are greatly under-utilised, and meeting rooms are mostly used by smaller groups or individuals seeking to get away from the hubbub of the open plan office. Are these things ‘bad’? Well, when an organisation is paying anywhere up to $1500/sqm or more for premium grade CBD office space in Australia, a single workpoint, at an average of 4-6 sqm, is no small investment. If you invested in a piece of machinery for your business, would you accept that it sat idle 75% of the working day?

Redefining ‘work’ and designing for activities

Despite the low workplace occupancy, people still come to work, so what are they doing instead of sitting at their desks all day?

We have to look at what work means in the 21st century. The traditional understanding would be that your individual tasks are your ‘work’, and meetings are there to make sure everyone knows which ‘work’ is most important to do once the meeting is over. Indeed, in workshops, we run into this mindset constantly: “I wish we had fewer meetings so I could get on and get things done”. And fair enough, many employees are reviewed on their individual contribution to the organisation.

What if we define ‘work’ as: a necessary and productive action that supports an outcome? Looking through this lens, each activity/action can be viewed as somehow important and necessary to our individual and shared outcomes; everyactivity is ‘work’ and is therefore valued, not just those tasks undertaken by individuals.

Looking through this lens, we can also view all aspects of our work more holistically as a long term, purposeful, and sustainable endeavor, and each individual can be empowered to find their own workstyle, whether crunching numbers behind the desk, facilitating intelligences in the meeting room, or building relationships in the café. Based on making a conscious choice about what activity is really important and going to be the most productive in this moment, they can discover the right mix for them each day.

Utilisation and work activities

If every activity has its own importance, then every activity could be supported accordingly. Recognising that workpoints consume the lion’s share of a traditional workplace, but that they are typically only needed for a small part of the day, what could the impact be of organising the workspace in a different way?

By starting down this line of thought, these are the types of questions that begin to emerge.

  • How could you share spaces and be mobile and still create a sense of team and human connection?
  • How do we know if people are really doing the work they need to do?
  • How do we measure success in a new way?

As with any journey, it starts with a knock on the door and a first step over the threshold. For each unique organisation, the rest is still unknown until you start your own journey. Conducting a utilisation study might just be that knock on the door, and I guarantee it will knock loudly. Whether you choose to answer is always up to you.

If this has sparked an interest and you have any questions, feel free to reach out to Hamish below. In the mean-time here are a few more fascinating blogs from our team:

Data profile of statistics mentioned in this article:

  • 28 pre-move utilisation studies conducted since Jan 2016 (including 1 x third party study from late 2015)
  • 11264 workpoints measured (including 715 from the 3rd party study)
  • 802 enclosed meeting rooms measured (including 55 from 3rd party study)
  • 60% large organisations (greater than 200 workpoints)
  • Includes data from across APAC – Australia (NSW, QLD, VIC, WA, SA), New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, and China.

For more about this project please contact Hamish Reid

Hamish Reid

Australia & New Zealand

Want to know more?Hamish Reid

+61 448 944 678[email protected]

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