Office occupancy continues to be a hot topic as organizations settle into what hybrid working will look like for their company long term. But is space utilization also on the agenda?
Office occupancy and office space utilization are often used interchangeably, but they are actually quite different. Occupancy data is important, but alone it doesn’t paint the whole picture of how you are using your office space, and what you need or don’t need for the future. That’s where utilization data comes into play.
How they are different:
In short, occupancy data considers the whole office, and how many people are coming and going on any given day. Utilization data on the other hand hones in on specific areas of the office to build a picture of how employees are using the office and what work they are opting to do in-person.
Let’s break it down:
Office Occupancy: the percentage of the office that is currently in use.
Amount of occupied space / the amount of available space = occupancy
Space Utilization: looks at individual spaces and how they are being used over time, rather than the office as a whole.
Individual space capacity (such as a meeting room) / # of people using that specific space = space utilization
Why does it matter?
Hybrid working is a balancing act. And Facilities and HR leaders are often walking a tightrope trying to please everyone. Do any of these challenges sound familiar to you?
- Implementing policies that appeal to both employees and leadership.
- Having enough space for your busiest days but knowing you probably have too much space overall.
- Juggling cost containment with employee engagement and retention.
- Being strategic with building maintenance, cleaning, and energy consumption, while still making sure that employees have access to the types of space they need for the work at hand.
The list goes on.
Occupancy data alone simply tells us how many people are in the office. Whereas space utilization data helps us understand what employees are doing once they get to the office and how as leaders, we can better plan for the future.
To thrive in the balancing act of hybrid working, this data is essential. Once you know how employees are using the office, you can start to build a picture of why they are coming in, and what work they are more likely to do in person.
Here’s a practical example from one of our own clients:
A large government department, with offices across Ireland, our client set out to understand how much of their large real estate footprint they were actually using, and how to plan strategically for the future. Like most, they assumed that employees were coming into the office solely to collaborate, have whole-team meetings, and face time with managers. And while this assumption wasn’t completely incorrect, when they started looking at both occupancy and space utilization data, and which specific spaces and locations were most often used, by whom, and when, they started to understand more keenly their needs.
What they found, when they married both occupancy and utilization data was that a handful of their locations were the most popular based on the overall occupancy. And within these more popular locations, large meeting rooms remained almost empty, but smaller breakout areas and hot desks were in demand. The data fluctuated of course, and varied slightly by location, but distinct trends started to emerge.
They drilled down further to understand the mix of departments occupying these spaces and were surprised to find that most often, employees were booking desks in clusters with colleagues from other departments rather than exclusively with their own team. In the end, what they learned was that employees were most often coming into the office to cross-collaborate on projects that spanned multiple departments, using breakout areas to review ideas and hot desks to continue the focused work from those breakout sessions. This insight, as well as our predictive reporting, helps our client to continue to plan how much, and what type of space they need going forward to drive both cost savings and employee engagement.
How to gather the data:
As you might suspect, to gather occupancy and utilization data, technology is your friend. Basic occupancy data can be collected from swipe cards or overall office bookings. Utilization metrics will require a bit more finesse. A good place to start is with a workplace booking system that allows employees to book multiple space types for their time in the office – from hot desks, to meeting rooms, to even a spot in the canteen. Similarly, capturing basic data such as departments is also a great idea. Heatmap data reporting at this point can start to give you a good idea of how your space is being used. To get even more granular, a second step to consider is using sensors to integrate with your booking system.
Office occupancy is a valuable metric for gauging the broad trajectory of a company’s return-to-office efforts. And when combined with space utilization data, companies are now empowered to make strategic real estate decisions.
Identifying underutilized or overcrowded areas, makes it easier to address resource wastage and employee dissatisfaction.
Utilization data from your booking system, identifies opportunities for cost reduction and carbon emission mitigation in real-time. Shutting down underutilized spaces on specific days can significantly impact utilities and emissions. And keeping an eye on these trends over time means smarter sustainability policies without compromising employee experience.
Additionally, utilization metrics assist in forecasting space requirements and can guide decisions about subleasing, office layout, and the allocation of collaboration versus individual spaces.
For leaders, getting hybrid working, working smoothly is a balancing act. Occupancy data and space utilization metrics play a role in helping companies get this right.
By using occupancy and utilization data to build an overall picture of how employees are using the office, companies can more strategically plan for the future. They can balance cost containment and energy consumption, while still ensuring employees have the right spaces to do the work they’ve come into the office to do. In short, a win win.