Space & Move Management

Workplace utilization: why presence data is key to optimization

CJ Frey
March 16th, 2023

Understanding workplace utilization is a key factor when developing any plan for either more optimized offices or more cost-effective real estate portfolios (or both). 

As companies work to implement and optimize hybrid work, they need robust utilization data that illustrates where things currently stand. And where they could be going. 

Hybrid leaders know they need to rightsize their corporate real estate without sacrificing employee experience or engagement.

And most want to actively improve their hybrid offices, making them desirable places that naturally draw employees.    

To do that, decision makers and space planners need to understand their current workplace utilization on a granular level, using a synthesis of complex workplace data from a variety of sources. And as we’ll explore below, gathering presence data needs to be at the top of the list.  

In this article, we explore workplace utilization, and why it’s essential to include presence data (and a lot more) in your workplace metrics.   

Workplace Intelligence by OfficeSpace

The importance of understanding workplace utilization

The importance of understanding and optimizing workplace utilization has grown hand-in-hand with the rise of hybrid and flexible working

In the past, you simply looked at how big your office was, comparing your square feet to your number of desks, and called it a day.  

But simply knowing your square footage isn’t enough in a dynamic work environment, where office use is always in flux. For example, if employees share workstations and work on rotating hybrid schedules, how many people are actually in the office at any given time? 

For example, as outlined in the OfficeSpace 2023 Workplace Strategy Report, 50% of desk bookings in our system happen less than 48 hours in advance. I.e.: most desk bookings are relatively last minute decisions. 

Employees highly value this flexibility. It’s not surprising the report also shows leaders are almost evenly split on whether to mandate office use. Many want to continue to allow employee-choice. This is thanks to its positive ripple effects on culture, workplace wellbeing, and talent retention and attraction efforts. 

But of course, true employee flexibility also means that predicting the number of people who will be using the office on any one day is much more challenging. And if facility managers (FMs), space planners, and other decision makers don’t have good space utilization metrics, they will also struggle to create engaging spaces that enhance workplace experience. 

That’s why space planning today requires data around actual workplace utilization. I.e.: which parts of the office are being used by which employees, and when? 

OfficeSpace CEO David Cocchiara highlighted these challenges in a recent discussion on workplace metrics in our post-pandemic environment. 

“It’s challenging to understand true workplace utilization—so when, where, and how people are using the space,” he says. “Are people coming on certain days of the week or month or quarter? And are they coming in in connection with a project? Or are they doing it to connect with their peers? Or are they looking for heads-down space?

You’ve got to be able to answer these questions and measure how people are using your hybrid office in real time.” 

Ultimately, understanding nuanced office space utilization requires space occupancy data that you can’t get from traditional data collection methods and linear models of the past. Walking the floor simply can’t give you an accurate idea of your utilization rate anymore. 

Measuring workplace utilization

So if simply walking the floor doesn’t work, what does? 

To support decision-making, smart companies can use space management software to help them combine data from a variety of data sources into actionable workplace reports and analytics.

These reports can collect and analyze any (and hopefully all) of the following:

As we’ll explore next, presence data in particular is becoming crucially important in dynamic workplaces. 

“The more dynamic your workplace is, the greater the need for analytics.”

Kathleen Williams, Senior Product Manager, OfficeSpace.

The importance of presence data

As companies of all shapes and sizes grapple with optimizing their spaces for the future of work, presence data is emerging as a new best practice to capture real-time and accurate space utilization

For all the reasons discussed above, company leaders and other decision makers are recognizing the importance of collecting the right presence data to refine the in-office experience. In fact, of the 150+ leaders surveyed for the OfficeSpace 2023 Workplace Strategy report, 70% want to measure and track goals for office use. And 86% plan to use badge swipe data to do so. 

In this scenario, assuming they have a badge system in place, companies can collect badge data to determine when and where employees are logging in and out. 

Much more cost effective than using occupancy sensors, using badges in this way can still give a more specific accounting of workplace utilization than many other metrics.  

As the Workplace Strategy Report also makes clear, the office is still very much in flux. 49% of leaders still aren’t even clear on what to benchmark and what targets they’d like to see over the coming year. 

Yet despite all this uncertainty, one place where there is consensus is on the value of presence data when assessing space usage. 


The importance of combining workplace utilization, presence data, and more

Yes, badge data is quickly becoming a go-to for measuring workplace utilization, and with good reason. 

But alone, it’s just one piece of a much larger and more complex puzzle.  The more companies can access multiple data sources and avoid data silos, the better they’ll be able to improve employee experience while still making cost-effective decisions for their real estate portfolios. 

It’s when multiple data types are combined that workplace analytics can provide a more complete picture of in-office activity. That’s why while badge data has emerged as the top data source, it’s quickly followed by desk and room reservation data. In fact, 73% of workplace leaders plan to track this data as well. 

Given these numbers, it’s clear that many companies plan to use both badge data (which broadly answers the question ‘who’s in’) along with desk and room data (which answers the questions ‘what types of workspaces are employees using, and when?’). 

“As you think about engagement and more nuanced utilization of rooms, about what types of projects are being done and where—what part of the office are people actually in?” asks Cocchiara. “You just can’t get this nuanced picture from badge swipes or walking the floor alone. That’s why today, we’re talking more about real-time presence data. Are you at a desk, are you in a meeting room, are you sitting in an open space, are you at a high-top near the kitchen because that’s just how you like to work?”

To do this, you need to break down silos between data, actively layer different datasets.

Layering datasets

For example, seeing if someone checks into their desk (and if they stay there all day or move around) answers a variety of questions that you can’t access with a badge swipe alone. You’re not just looking at if employees physically present, but how they move around your floor plan throughout the day. 

So layering desk booking data over badge data can help decision makers understand true presence. They can also see whether employees are keeping their reservations, whether the percentage of employees making and keeping reservations changes throughout the week or month, and how far in advance the reservation is made. All of these stats can point to the suitability of any proposed changes. 

You’ll have a lot more confidence in any hybrid workplace change strategies when you’re able to combine all these background points, and then also survey employees and, yes, see what you pick up from walking the floor. Whether your goal is to cut 25% of floor space to save money or revamp your conference rooms to support more collaboration in the workplace, you’ll have the relevant informatics you need to support your decision.  

“It’s when you pull these different workplace metrics and data points together you can feel more confident that if you make a change, it’s not going to have a negative impact on your people because you have all the data to support this decision,” says Cocchiara. “This is why I believe space management software is going to be imperative as you start to make these decisions.”

You need different data sources that can triangulate with one another to see what’s really happening in the workplace. The right data should provide visibility beyond resource booking alone, into a truer picture of employee presence in the office.  

Kathleen Williams

The importance of agility

Ultimately, having access to a variety of workplace reports and analytics is what allows FMs and decision makers to experiment with new ideas and options. True workplace agility comes from being able to test new configurations and — critically— then measure the results. This allows leaders to learn, iterate, and adapt. Iteration in particular can lead to better workflows and office setups. 

Workplace transformation can’t happen overnight, and it can’t happen in a vacuum. That’s why leaders need to understand their true workplace utilization if they want to improve it. 


What’s actually happening in your office?

Gaining clarity here allows you to focus on what matters most: creating better workplaces for your people. 

To know what’s actually happening in your office, you need to move beyond simple occupancy rates alone. Using complex presence data layered with a variety of subsets is how you cut real estate costs, without cutting employee engagement.  

See OfficeSpace in Action

Get a personalized demo and create a
hybrid workplace that works for everyone

OfficeSpace combines presence data with other data sources to create a fuller picture of true workplace utilization. Reach out for a free demo. 


How do you measure office utilization? 

There are a variety of ways to measure workplace utilization. Traditional offices may be able to simply measure occupancy rates. But offices that use any amount of flexible seating and/or hybrid work will need to combine multiple data sources that describe how employees are using the space. This will often include badge data and desk and room reservations (known as ‘presence data’), along with wifi logs, employee self-reporting, and manual office censuses. 

What is presence data? 

In an office setting, presence data refers to metrics that highlight both whether an employee is in the office, and where in the office they are. Often collected through badge swipes, sensors, or desk/room reservations, developing a clear picture of presence data can point to new opportunities to improve workplace utilization without sacrificing employee experience. 

What is presence-only data?

Not to be confused with workplace presence data, presence-only data is used in ecology studies to create species distribution models. When scientists study biodiversity and species occurrence, it can be challenging and/or cost prohibitive to determine species absence. Popularized by Elith et al. in a 2006 paper, scientists can use algorithms to develop better models of geographic distributions, using presence-absence data. 

What is MaxEnt used for?

Short for Maximum Entropy Modeling, this is a machine learning technique used for modeling and prediction. It’s often used in environmental science. 

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