Office space is a core component of every institution and its availability is typically a very hot topic with demand often outstripping supply and departments very resistant to releasing any space that they know they aren’t using efficiently. This can create an environment where everyone wants more space but at the same time aren’t prepared to release space they aren’t utilising efficiently.
‘Build more space’, is something I have heard often as the ‘solution’ to this problem. Admittedly this would create more space……. but the huge investment and maintenance costs associated with creating additional office space would have to be found from somewhere and ultimately this would mean funds having to be moved away from other projects that would have also brought their benefits. The big pot of money typically doesn’t exist. Institutions can’t meet all their demands without running themselves into the ground and therefore have to decide which of the demands bring the greatest rewards.
As with any project, there is a need to assess whether there is truly a demand, what the demand is and what the solutions are. In this case, assess whether the institutional demand for more office space actually exist and if so, how much office space is required and what the potential options are for solving this shortage. This isn’t to say the demand doesn’t actually exist – but it must be tested, to not only indicate whether additional office space is required, but also determine how much, what type and who for.
In order to do this, an institution needs to know how each department is utilising the current office space they have assigned, what their current space requirements are (typically not the same thing!) and what the future demands on this space will be. This information can then feed into an institutions estates plan, to ensure the current and future office demands are recognised and considered alongside the other estate demands as funding becomes available.
The first step is to determine how well your office space is being used now and therefore this is what I am going to look at this in the article. In order to ensure the institution has an unbiased view of how office space is being utilised, I typically advise that an office survey is carried out. I see this as a critical step to providing an institution with real, unbiased data that can be used to continue discussions regarding office space and find potential solutions.
As hinted, collecting and analysing this data is only the first step in my opinion – the results should also be discussed with department representatives , ensuring they each provide input throughout the analysis and recommendation stages. I will come to this part in my next article, so remember to look out for it next week!
An Office Space Survey!
Unlike teaching space utilisation surveys, there are differing routes for collecting office space utilisation data that are dependent on what an institution is looking to achieve.
What I typically advise is a one-time check of all office spaces, confirming which office spaces are being used by which departments, how many people from each department have been assigned to each space as well as determining whether this space is solely used as an office space (or does it include a kitchen area? A waiting area? A meeting area?). The list of all office space can typically be taken from an institutions space database and usually all space will also be assigned a department – but as mentioned it is worth checking as there will often be differences between what is on the database and what is on the ground!
I also look to match each department’s staff list against the office space that they occupy. This information is very useful, as it provides the extra level of detail on who is using what office space and how much space they have been provided. This information can highlight those staff that have to little/much office space helping to provide extra detail when considering solutions later on.
If departments have hot desk space, then I would typically also advise that this space is surveyed similarly to how teaching space is surveyed with all hot desk spaces surveyed once per hour with the occupancy recorded. There is no need to record who is using the space, rather just how well it is being used, as all you are looking for is whether the capacity of this space is being used or whether it could support additional staff.
I have previously carried out office space surveys that recorded the total number of people using each space once per hour, but have found that the usefulness of the data doesn’t always stack up against the cost of carrying out this type of survey. You may now know that an academic’s office is only used 25% of the week, but if it is an institution policy that academic staff have their own office, there isn’t much you can do to improve how it is being used. On the other hand, if you are looking at the option for moving staff from a singular to an open, or an open to a hot desk environment then I would suggest this type of survey would be useful as it provides you with measured usage throughout the week that you can use to find out what the peak demand is during the week.
Now you have the data…..
You can create a departmental map of what space is being used, who it is being used by and how well it is being used. For those spaces that have only been surveyed once – the “utilisation” of space, is the number of people divided by the total area of the space (that has been assigned as office space). If the size of the office space assigned to staff is dependent upon their position within the institution you can then also use the staff information you collected to compare what has been provided against what is recommended (i.e. office space norms)
This information can be used to not only highlight individual office spaces that are under/over utilised, but also analyse the space at higher levels – comparing how departments are utilising their space. Are departments using their space equally? This information can highlight shortages and be used to confirm/challenge office space shortage demands, however the data alone shouldn’t be the only source of information that results in additional office space being granted/denied.
It is also critical that the departments included in the survey are also included in discussions regarding the office space. The survey results should be discussed with department representatives in order to ensure there is clear understanding on why space is being over/under utilised. These discussions should also uncover what their actual demands are for the present and future in order to ensure that the estate can evolve in line with these requirements.
Involving department representatives is a critical step and is something I will come to in my next article. This will look at why departments should be involved and what should be discussed in order to ensure the estate can not only get the most out of its available space, but also ensure that the space it does provide matches each department’s requirements creating a positive and engaging environment for their staff. So remember to look out next week for this article!
Some of you may also have different practices such as “space charging” set up at your institution that are focussed towards insentivising those that release space. Again I will be looking at these types of practices in more detail within a future article, so also look out for this over the coming weeks!
If you are interested in finding out how well your institution is utilising its office space, I would be very happy to discuss this further with you so please don’t hesitate to contact me.
I hope you have enjoyed this article and found it useful, I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on office space utilisation and how you ensure you get the most out of your office space. Please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section below, any experience, suggestions, ideas or questions you share help to continue the discussions and explore this subject in further detail – I always reply to all comments, so fire away!