Last week, I focussed primarily on the methods for understanding how office space is being utilised however that alone will not enable you to get the most out of your institutions office space. What this data does do is provide you with a platform and a reliable data source that can be used for the next step – user engagement.
User engagement is critical to not only improving but also understanding how space is being used. The office space utilisation survey data alone, will often not paint the full picture rather just provide a snap shot in time that offers little back story or explanation. Only using this data to make decisions regarding the use of office space can end up causing more harm that good, hampering departments performance and growth as well severely impacting upon the relationship those effected have with “Estates”.
I see this final point as a critical element to managing space and it is often a point that is over looked.
The relationship between departments and those responsible for space management is typically a delicate one. This is understandable, departments are often competing for space and ultimately there is often not enough to fulfil everyone’s needs, therefore there is a lot of scope for staff feeling unsatisfied, ignored and marginalised by “Estates” decisions creating an attitude of us and “them”.
It doesn’t however need to be this way.
User engagement is the critical process that helps to prevent this from happening. By involving all the users potentially effected by a decision regarding space, you help to ensure that you fully understand all the factors that effect it. This fill in the blanks and creates a full picture of the reasons behind the problems raised via the office space utilisation survey data. This information can then be used to start creating a strategic plan or decision for improving how office space is used, recognising all the different factors that effect the users as well as the survey data.
Not only this, but engaging with the users in a constructive problem solving manner helps to build a working relationship between yourself and these departments. This often isn’t easy, especially if this has not been done in the past, but the effort of doing this over time does help to build a closer and more understanding relationship that in the long term brings with it the rewards, these type of working relationships have. Ensuring the departmental space users understand why you are investigating their office space, what your are trying to achieve and why you are engaging with them will really help them to start to want to work with you to ensure their needs and wants are heard.
It is of course important that the estate constrictions, whether this be space or budgetary or both, are understood by all those involved. It is no use giving the users the belief that all their needs and wants will be met if ultimately you know this will not be feasible. Therefore as mentioned, ensure that you clearly convey what you are looking to achieve, why you are doing this and what your constraints are. You should look to understand the users needs and wants, but ensure they also understand that ultimately you may not be able to fulfil them. This can be tricky, however the way to prevent dissatisfaction as a result of these discussions is to maintain engagement throughout the decision process even after completion.
Therefore once you have discussed any office space utilisation issues with the users and carried out this initial engagement, ensure that their feedback is integrated into the decision making progress and is documented as such. The worst thing to do, is to reach out to the users of the space and then ignore the feedback they have given you. I am very pro making information available and I would therefore try and make reports or documentation put together as a result, available to the user representatives and they are actively shown where to find this information. Ask for their feedback, to make sure you have clearly understood their needs and meet with them again if needed to clarify any issues.
Ultimately the decision as a result of this engagement is still likely to leave some users unsatisfied, as their needs and wants may well have not all been met due the constraints the estate is under. Therefore, even after a decision has been made I would recommend again engaging with all of the users effected, i.e. the departments user representatives. In particular I would recommend that they are the first to hear the decision and that they hear this directly from the person making it, know-one wants to hear of a decision that effects their daily life second/third hand and this is a sure fire way of intensifying dissatisfaction unnecessarily.
These discussions may be difficult, but they offer an opportunity to explain why this final decision was made and why certain needs have/haven’t been met as a result. This will help to continue to build the working relationship between “Estates” and the departments, despite the result not always satisfying each of the users needs. I would certainly recommend that user user engagement becomes part of a documented process for making decisions over space, with each milestone/checkpoint noted. This will help to ensure the users know what to expect and also recognise that the institution understands the importance of user engagement.
By the end, you will (hopefully!) have reached a effective result that incorporated both the user feedback and the space utilisation results in order to meet your office space objectives. Whilst doing this, despite some users needs not being met, you will have hopefully also built more confidence in the process and built stronger relationships with the users.
I mention hopefully a couple times here, as ultimately this process will not always go as well as you hoped and there may be results that some users disagree with you despite your efforts. In the long term however, if user engagement is practised in the same way for each space change – whether this be office space or any other type of space – you are sure to build more confidence between the departmental users and yourself/estates. Confidence in the systems that are in place and those responsible for making the decisions that effect people, will go a long way to helping the institution make the most effective decisions and getting the most out of the space they have available.
That’s it for this article I hope you have found it useful and interesting, I would certainly welcome your thoughts on user engagement within office space management and how you manage this within your institution. Please leave your comments below, I always reply to each comment and your feedback is also useful for others to see and engage with to continue discussions on this topic.
If you are interested in getting the most out of your office space and are looking to gather information that will help you to do this, whether this be survey data, departmental user information or both, please don’t hesitate to get in contact with me. As Director of Education Space Consultancy, I offer an experienced office utilisation survey and consultancy service, that is adaptable to your objectives and I would be very happy to put a project plan together free of charge for you to outline how Education Space Consultancy can help you to get the most out of your space, so again please don’t hesitate to contact me if this would be of interest to you.
All the best