Focusing the Future of Space Management
Little Partner, Susan Hensey, breaks down the current state of space management and how work flexibility and technology are helping shape it.
Space management has historically been a difficult function of facilities management to consistently master. With an abundance of mobile technologies and evolving work styles, it’s gone from a complex puzzle to a Rubik's Cube.
Susan Hensey, Partner at Little, specializes in influencing the future of the space management process. She tells us how CRE and FM professionals can adapt in this changing landscape and what new metrics need to be understood and analyzed to attain success.
How much has changing technology within the workplace played a role in the way you and your team approach the strategy of a real estate portfolio?
Hensey: The entire framework for space management has fundamentally changed with the advent of workplace flexibility and mobile workers. For example, there used to be one seat for each employee; the ratio of seat-to-employee was one-to-one. It was fairly simple, therefore, to onboard 200 employees by just finding 200 vacant seats. Okay, finding vacancy was not necessarily easy, but the math was — those days are gone.
With flexibility and wireless technology, the new workforce is used to working anywhere. The majority of our clients have a large portion of free address with a wildly different ratio of seats to employees. They have less seats than they have people. They’re still going to on-board those 200 people, but they’ll ask how they work first to determine if they need a dedicated seat. It’s now about how people work and what type of workplace will make employees most productive.
As you can imagine, the complexity of workplace planning and strategy is increasing. Instead of guessing how many seats are needed via a headcount forecast, or assuming the size and number of conference rooms required based on industry benchmark, we perform sensor studies to pinpoint how space is actually being used then we’re designing for reality.
Desk sharing is a trend that seems to be consistently tried and tested by facility teams. What elements have you seen that can make this strategy a success?
Hensey: Success is usually achieved by a robust change management program. It’s critical that everyone is aware of the reasons for an alternative workspace such as desk sharing. Communication leads to buy-in and active participation. Workplace protocols also help in letting employees know how to use the new space. Communicated correctly, the employee gets what they need and the employer achieves their goals as well.
The other thing is giving flexibility. If it’s perceived you are taking something away from an employee, it’s nice to make them feel they’re getting something in return. It sounds cliche, but providing amenities like a big-screen TV for World Cup viewing or a ping pong table for an active break can improve workplace satisfaction and, in turn, improve productivity.
Also important is the need for plenty of options to find their quiet place for focus work, private meetings and calls. Movable storage or lockers are often overlooked as well. Employees need adequate space to store their belongings as they work in different work settings throughout the day.
We find a lot of FMs struggle to know what to measure and what not to measure. What kind of space management metrics do you find most valuable?
Hensey: We have several different clients from varied industries; we find there are some fundamental metrics that are key to any space management program. Most teams will measure metrics that are regulatory because they want accuracy, accountability, and historical data.
Metrics that will improve behavior are also important. Whether it’s number of work orders per day or collaboration square feet per person, measure to improve decision making, behavior, or lead to a desired outcome. Some teams want to measure and track everything but because it’s not affecting change, it’s not always recorded accurately or consistently — I have come to believe that at times “no data” is better than “bad data”.
It’s also advantageous to measure or track something for a short period to uncover a trend or collect specific data for a one-off decision. You don’t have to track it forever. Just like utilization studies, don’t take on the entire facility, do more focus-tracking of things that are going to initiate positive change.
What are some aspects of space and move management your clients struggle with and how do you help?
Hensey: One process challenge FMs often encounter is struggling with a request to hold a space for future hires. It’s valuable to have a request / hold system in place that will hold space for a department. At a specified date, it will be released if it’s not assigned as expected — it’s very similar to the seating assignment process for airlines.
We have also addressed the free address occupancy and vacancy challenge by utilizing zones. That is the fun part of our consulting, solving the client’s needs and experiencing the increase in efficiency.
We work very hard to blend the existing processes CRE and FMs have in place with the built-in processes of software. A robust needs analysis phase is very important to getting that part right.
How important is it to have some level of future-proofing attached to offices and buildings you help your clients maintain? How difficult is it to actually execute this in reality?
Hensey: It goes back to flexibility. Spaces must be multi-functional: what may serve as a conference room one day may be a workspace the next. We build a lot of flexibility into our spaces to respond to the new workforce.
New tools like Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality give us the ability to communicate flexible design more effectively. Virtually experiencing the space and how it works improves approval time, alignment of expectations, and most importantly, a happy client and design team.