How to Optimize Meeting Spaces for Hybrid Work
The office will never look the same – and maybe that’s a good thing.
According to a survey conducted by Dimensional Research, 53% of larger organizations plan to reduce the size of their office space and more than three quarters will increase work flexibility. This is a direct and lasting consequence of the recent increase in working from home.
Companies see an opportunity to reduce real estate and save on expenses with remote work on the rise, but is the math really that simple? Unless companies make cuts to their workforce, the number of employees they support will remain the same. And with a hybrid workplace model, they will face a situation where office occupancy rates are unpredictable as employees have more flexibility to choose where they want to work on any given day.
Imagine a company in pre-pandemic times where all employees went into the office. During the pandemic, the occupancy rate fell below 50%. So, the company assumes that reducing the building size by two is a sensible thing to do because they know it is achievable. But what would happen if 70% of employees show up to the office after the footprint was cut in half? Where would they go and where would they sit?
The Real Cost of Real Estate
Building usage is historically suboptimal, and it can get even worse as organizations plan to reduce office space. Given that payrolls cost companies 10 times more than the office space, any cost reduction program on office space that would slightly alter employee productivity is headed for a loss. It’s paramount that before cutting real estate cost, companies analyze their employees’ real needs, and get an accurate reflection on how they use the office building(s).
As companies plan how to return to the office, it’s time to look at how we optimize spaces and improve the experience for all workers.
The 5 Goals of Optimizing Spaces
The perfect blueprint doesn’t exist. Each company is unique, and they have to rely on their own data (needs, offices and objectives) and culture. I have listed 5 non-exhaustive goals of optimizing spaces and foundational guidelines for how office spaces can be optimized.
Executing on these guidelines requires thinking simultaneously on three different axes.
Firstly, real estate and how you shape it. It’s about ensuring that needs of the workforce (present or future) can be fulfilled in the workplace.
Secondly, evaluating the company’s meeting culture and setting a strategy for training or incentivizing your workforce to change their habits if needed. Meeting culture is often based on trust. Employees must feel confident that your building can provide them with what they need, when they need it.
And thirdly, developing a technology strategy because it is unlikely that you can be successful at optimizing real estate and meeting culture if you don’t have the right tools.
1) Real estate is optimally configured
How do you know you have the right number of rooms and desks? Or that meeting spaces have the right dimensions with adequate amenities and the best environmental conditions for your employees?
There is only one way: measure it!
First, measure how much space you have, how your employees use it and their level of satisfaction. Then repeat. Spaces can always be improved, and nothing ever stands still, because as you improve, the company is changing. This is an ongoing process, and you need technology to provide you with data, turn data into insights and turn insights into actions. Sensors with accurate people counting technology, access to room calendars and analytics dashboard will help you achieve this goal as explained in these blogs: Can you See Me Now? When AI Wears a Mask and How Intelligent is Your Workplace?.
2) Meetings happen evenly throughout the day
I’m always surprised to see how routines settle into our lives. If given a choice to choose between 20 different tasks, people will always default to the one they are used to – the one they are comfortable with. Combine routine with the path of least resistance, and you’ve just created habits which can be hard to break.
It’s just so convenient for me to invite Sarah for a 10 a.m. meeting, when I assume she’s ready and coffee-fresh. But 10 a.m. is also peak time for room occupancy in my building. If only I had known that Sarah is an early bird like me, we could both have had a meeting at 8 a.m. and freed up that room for someone else.
Habits like these create high demand and usage peaks at core hours. Knowing the true availability of employees and presenting alternative times could free up valuable space during core hours.
3) Resources are consumed in real time
A colleague of mine working for the facilities department at Cisco measured the probabilities of ghost meetings in rooms based on how far back they were reserved. His results were unequivocal. Rooms reserved minutes before use are actually used 100% of the time. Rooms reserved 2 weeks in advance only had 20% chance of being used. We call overscheduling and no-shows the rooms that were booked by users but that end up being partly used or not used at all. In fact, 89% of the workforce says they are frustrated with in-office experiences, ranking meetings rooms that were booked but not used as the 2nd most frustrating experience, just behind getting meeting room equipment to work.
There is no question that rooms should be consumed closer to when you actually need them. Your assignment then really becomes: why would my employees need to reserve in advance?
You will find multiple reasons, and multiple solutions. But there are other benefits to bringing need and consumption closer together. Conditions rarely change one minute to the next, but they do over 2 weeks’ time. Are there still the same amount of people in that meeting? Are they present in the office or working from home? Reserving, or rather allocating a meeting space closer in time also give you an opportunity to book the right space, and thus optimize capacity and even distance to the room.
4) Rooms are used at full capacity
We also measured the occupation rate of rooms. This was again a revelation. Rooms are quite systematically welcoming fewer people than what they were designed for. This can be due to the amenities in a particular space. For example, employees may reserve large rooms for small gatherings because they are the only ones equipped with a digital whiteboard. It’s also often due to real estate design. The office may be designed for peak usage, but those peaks very rarely happen.
Do you know exactly how much space is wasted by not filling rooms?
We call this excess space capacity, the average empty space that is not used during meetings. Simply put a 10 people room that would be used on average by 2 people represents an 80% waste on meeting room seats. It is then very important not only to measure if a room is occupied, but also its occupation in terms of number of people. Room occupation is something that Webex Rooms devices accurately track on an ongoing basis.
5) Meetings are hybrid
With 98% of meetings having at least one remote participant, video devices become an indispensable component of meeting rooms moving forward. Rooms without video devices will isolate remote attendees – forcing them into the act of listening instead of engaging.
With video in every room, you can create bridges between rooms, with the effect of helping resolve problem 3 and 4 above.
Optimizing spaces isn’t just about saving costs – it’s about truly improving the experiences of the workforce, reducing friction, and allowing people to quickly and easily get work done.
In my previous post, I discuss how Webex approaches and tackles these challenges so you can optimize your workplace, provide safer work environments and ensure employees stay productive and engaged.
Please do not hesitate to share your opinion or tell us how you’re approaching office optimization in the comment section.
Sep 16, 2021 — Aruna Ravichandran