How easy is it to schedule meeting space in your organization?
If you have a paper-based system or one that requires asking a point person to make and change reservations, you may be unknowingly handicapping productivity. Migrating to an electronic reservation system that allows employees to book rooms or desks themselves can cut down on the time needed to book a space.
But there’s more to space management than booking meeting rooms and hoteling desks. Even the most basic software offers opportunities to boost productivity, but to derive the maximum benefits from space scheduling, consider passing over simple calendar systems for a more sophisticated solution that can save you additional time, energy, money, and effort.
Microsoft Outlook may function just fine for smaller companies that are based in one location and have only a handful of meeting rooms, but if your needs go beyond hoteling and room reservations, consider a beefier suite that offers more options.
An Integrated Workplace Management System, or IWMS, is a software suite designed to help users optimize their FM efficiency and real estate usage. Specifics vary by product, but such packages generally include space management and planning, project management, corporate real estate, maintenance and facilities tasks, and sustainability requirements, according to Asure Software. These features add another layer of functionality to the basic space reservation function.
“People struggle for a variety of reasons, including not knowing all of the resources assigned to each room, making sure it has the right kind of power, computer options, or audiovisual technology that may be needed for the meeting. It’s easy to miss out on those details,” says Greg Alevras, vice president of business development for ARCHIBUS, an IWMS package that tracks people, space, and assets. “Homegrown or basic systems are very effective for simple meeting requirements, but if you have a high-level computer demonstration to give, for example, there might be more resources needed than are provided for that meeting space.”
Such is the case at Iowa State University, a public university in Ames, IA, with just over 31,000 students. Instead of an IWMS, the university’s FMs use a scheduling suite by CollegeNET that allows departments to rank available classrooms by preference, then automatically places nearly all of the 6,000 course sections the university offers each semester.
Most classes are booked in the department’s first or second building choice, and the 200 or so classes that can’t be placed immediately generally require only minor troubleshooting before a placement is found – for example, a department might not have listed enough room or building options to cover all of the sections planned for the semester.
“I had one semester of scheduling courses by hand. What a challenge,” says Katie Baumgarn, program coordinator for ISU’s facilities planning and management room scheduling department. “Using Schedule25 to place the course is very quick. When you’re talking about 6,000 individual sections, and the software schedules all but 200 sections within three seconds and in each department’s top one or two building preferences – that’s pretty amazing. People used to spend months and months scheduling things by hand.”
To reap the maximum benefits from space-scheduling software, consider going a step further than the basic functions. Some of today’s offerings allow you to reserve resources and services at the same time you book a meeting room, lowering the risk of human error.
“Having a one-stop shop to set up meetings means you don’t have to go to the calendar, create the invite, contact the audiovisual group to see if they can provide a projector, and then contact the videoconferencing people to schedule,” explains Jeff Roof, vice president of product development for Asure Software, a developer of workplace management software. “There’s no value in having to learn that many different systems.”
All but eight of Iowa State’s 214 classrooms are dubbed “media-ready,” meaning that they have a base level of educational technology available in the classroom (video and computer projection capability, for example). However, a handful of courses require special furnishings and equipment to accommodate team-based learning. The system Baumgarn’s team uses makes it easy to place these classes into auditoriums with swivel seats or smaller rooms with group seating and hanging whiteboards on the perimeter.
The potential efficiency doesn’t stop at making sure meeting participants have whiteboards and videoconferencing equipment. Some IWMS suites are made to integrate with your existing building management system, but even those that don’t can play an important role in your energy management efforts – you just have to develop the right practices to go with it.
“The most important thing is to understand how you want things to work first,” Roof explains. “For example, if you’re going to be turning off heating and cooling in the space, how long does it take to heat or cool the room? Make sure you’re not just turning things on at the beginning of the meeting and turning them off at the end. If there’s another meeting in an hour, it doesn’t make sense to turn the heating or cooling off – leave it on or start the heating or cooling process before the meeting so the room is at a proper temperature. If you square away those kinds of details first, it becomes a lot easier to translate the schedule data into a heating and cooling schedule. Those two things usually do not correlate one to one.”
If you do have a building management system that controls HVAC, consider linking it to the IWMS, Roof recommends. This way, you can implement rules that ensure room temperatures are maintained at a comfortable level during meetings, but raised or lowered to a more efficient level when the space is vacant.
This practice is best adopted for areas that aren’t used constantly and for recurring, regularly scheduled meetings, Roof adds.
“Rooms that have a lot of last-minute bookings may not be ideal candidates for heating and cooling integration,” Roof says. “Meetings that have set schedules or places that tend to get booked in advance but don’t have a high amount of change are better rooms to control. If people are entering throughout the day, it’s hard to turn systems on quickly enough to make the room comfortable.”
The schedule itself can only tell you so much about building occupants’ behavior. Specifically, it keeps track of their plans in minute detail, but doesn’t note whether those meetings actually took place, how many of the attendees showed up, or how long they occupied the room.
If you have plans to implement IWMS software, consider specifying a trending component or tying in occupancy sensors. This will help you develop a clearer picture of how space is utilized, which you can then use to encourage behavior changes or make needed adjustments.
“If you have less than 40% utilization in your conference rooms or other spaces, people tend to stop scheduling them because there’s always a space available,” Roof notes. “Once you get above that 40% threshold, people become very good at scheduling because they’re not sure whether they’re going to have a space. When you hit around 85%, their behavior changes again and they start booking space just because they might need it – the space is in such high demand that it’s hard to find a location. These are the things you have to consider when you’re looking at your utilization data.”
Responsible for multiple buildings? As you scale your space-scheduling software to cover more than one property, look for trends in the utilization data to see which properties are fully using their space.
“Start tracking traffic and occupancy in and out of buildings or floors and get a handle on where people are at that level first. Then compare between buildings and understand the density ratio to see which spaces are being used the most,” recommends Roof. “A lot of people want to start with a room, but a room is like looking at one spot on a giraffe – you need to understand the bigger picture first.”
One client, a large payroll company with hundreds of properties across the U.S., used this tactic to lease or sell underutilized space.
“Just by being able to track when people were scheduling a place to sit and comparing how many people were there vs. how many were assigned to each location, they saved over $1 million the first year by reducing the amount of real estate they had and changing the type of property,” explains Roof.
After you’ve right-sized your properties, then start looking at the rooms, recommends Alevras. Can you repurpose infrequently used meeting spaces to fulfill other needs?
“The basic principle is that you want to schedule rooms based on the size and need of the group that’s meeting. You don’t want to use an auditorium for four people,” Alevras says. “A common misconception is that there’s insufficient meeting space within a facility, so people tend to overcompensate by building more spaces. That causes difficulties in terms of still meeting the need for space. Your focus should be to better understand the overall utilization and put tighter controls on how the space is reserved.”
Think of your organization as an airline, Roof recommends. Post-9/11 restructuring led the airline industry to reexamine flight data, dump unprofitable routes, and assign differently sized aircraft to some routes where needed. As a result, utilization rates for most airlines have gone up by nearly 10%, Roof says.
“That’s what the building industry is going through right now, figuring out how to be more profitable and determining the right space – or aircraft – to use,” explains Roof. “How should it be configured? Do you need first class and economy or first, business, and economy? In other words, do you need a lot of collaborative space, touchdown space, or dedicated space? The only way to do that is to get a better understanding of how the space is actually being utilized.”
SPACE SUCCESS STORIES
Space Success #1
Portfolio Size: 400 buildings with approximately 12 million square feet.
Problem: Duke’s three hospitals and other clinical facilities used a variety of homegrown systems that tracked space information in different places for varying purposes at an inconsistent level of detail. For example, the Medical Center Architect’s Office had a highly detailed space management system that linked CAD drawings of all Medical Center buildings to its space database. However, most of the large medical school departments had separate systems to track individual space usage.
Needs: The university wanted to create a single institutional space-tracking system that united disparate data from all sources into one accurate database.
Results: All institutional data is tracked in one database. Department administrators and space managers can edit space information as needed to maintain an accurate record of who is using every room and why. The space data is also used for Medicare and Medicaid reporting, indirect cost recovery for research spaces, and allocation of chargebacks for shared services like public safety.
Space Success #2
Metropolitan Area, MO
Portfolio Size: Over two dozen schools and educational
centers serving over 17,000 students, plus administrative space. The district itself covers 117 square miles.
Problem: The district’s existing software package offered
limited opportunities for customization and configuration,
leading LSSD officials to look elsewhere for help with space administration and management.
Needs: Besides bookings and reservations, the district’s
technology department wanted to build in custom options, such as a dropdown menu in the service module for different room and equipment configurations.
Results: Facilities scheduling is now integrated with equipment,
catering, and room setup requirements. Lee’s Summit also
decided to create a website that dynamically retrieves information for each day’s bookings and displays the information on a large screen in the lobby of the administrative building.
Space Success #3
Portfolio Size: 493 buildings with over 5.5 million square feet, plus over 1,000 support structures, 177 miles of paved roads, 14 miles of railroad lines, and 111 miles of electrical infrastructure located on an 889-square-mile reservation.
Problem: The laboratory, one of the foremost nuclear research and development labs in the world, used GIS for facilities management. However, this solution only contained office space data and couldn’t deliver space utilization analysis or other needs. In fact, “the GIS process for generating INL’s annual utilization report was so complex that it took two months,”says David Blain, an INL staffer who took the lead on finding an IWMS solution.
Needs: The lab needed one integrated package that could deliver a level of analysis GIS could not provide. Chargebacks based on square footage were also at the top of the priority list.
Results: After installing space management software, INL spent four months updating existing AutoCAD drawings to identify who used each space in every building on campus. Allocation and utilization reports were created with the resulting information. The team can search for organizations, employees, and vacant rooms, and can now account for employees who use multiple offices. Chargebacks are managed through a web-based application integrated with the lab’s space software, and the costs are based on an evaluation the team created to determine the cost of offices. Utilization reports are created in one week.
Janelle Penny firstname.lastname@example.org is associate editor of BUILDINGS.