Technology to Optimize Real Estate

April 16, 2019

New technologies offer a way for facility managers to make objective decisions based on real, not perceived, needs. Sensor-based technology can measure the actual occupancy of a space, provide actionable data that can reduce wasted real estate and save money.

When it comes to real estate optimization, today’s facility managers often find themselves caught in the middle between senior leadership which usually has an eye on the bottom line, and human resources, which argues that great space is essential for attracting and retaining the most talented workers.

Until recently, HR was likely to lose that argument. Today, though, changing workforce demographics and employee demands for a human-centered workspace in which thoughtful design and integrated technology support employees—and not the other way around—has led to a greater focus on maximizing the effectiveness of space to engage the people who work there.

The result? To be sure, today’s workplace is much more likely to feature a mix of open spaces, quiet rooms and lounge areas than rows of cubicles.

But far too many companies still configure their workspaces by relying on guesswork and sometimes unsound decision-making (“The boss says we need a big conference room, so we want a big conference room even if it’s hardly ever used”).

This approach inevitably leads to underused or unused space, both of which translate into wasted real estate and wasted money.

[Related: How to Create a Positive Work Environment]

Moreover, due to recent rule changes which now require companies to report the cost of their lease and thus the full extent of their real estate-related debt on their balance sheets, it also means investors will have greater visibility into the numbers than ever before.

This undoubtedly will put more pressure on companies to demonstrate the way in which real estate is working for them, and to make changes when the numbers suggest it’s not working.

Fortunately, new technologies offer a way for facility managers to address these issues and make objective decisions based on real, not perceived, needs. The application of sensor-based technology can measure the actual occupancy of a space, provide actionable data that can reduce wasted real estate and, ultimately, save money.

To provide an example of how this might work, let’s say the boss insists on that big conference room. By placing sensors throughout the room, facility managers can demonstrate conclusively that the conference room is actually not in use 90% of the time. And when it is used, that there are typically only six people present, not the two dozen that the room currently is configured to hold.

Does that mean the boss can’t get his way?

[On topic: How to Design to Reduce Workplace Stress]

Actually, data produced by the sensors can enable facility managers to modify that space in a way that provides maximum flexibility.

By using modular design solutions including retractable walls, adjustments to that large conference room can be made quickly and easily. This allows the space to be functional all of the time, while still enabling the boss to have his big conference room if and when a need for it arises.

Similar applications in other parts of the physical space can help a business to reassess its entire physical footprint and make modifications along the way that will help it to better meet day-to-day needs and increase the functionality and effectiveness of the space.

Managers benefit from more informed decision making, while their team members feel more supported and thus happier and less stressed when they’re in a space designed to help them do their best work. This combo leads to improved employee productivity—a huge boost to overall ROI above and beyond the real estate savings.

Sensor technology can also play a key role in allowing companies to test the effectiveness of a new space design or even a new furniture installation before committing to implementing those modifications companywide. This is particularly important for businesses that have multiple locations.

Perhaps just as important, workplace data provided through sensors can be invaluable in long-range planning for space beyond what a business currently occupies. If real data about current occupancy and space use, as well as anticipated growth needs, can be factored into the equation, companies can better position themselves for future renovations or acquisitions.

It’s important to recognize that the insights sensor technology can provide are typically available instantaneously. Without use of the technology, this kind of actionable data would take months to observe and then interpret.

In addition, it is worth noting that the data collected by sensors does nothing to violate personal privacy, which is always a concern where technology is involved. Because they track work activity and not specific employees, sensors simply measure how a physical space is being used.

They do, however, provide managers with greater insights into the ways in which work teams are accomplishing specific tasks. That data subsequently can be leveraged to adjust the workspace in a way that better supports both the workers and the work product while allowing for configurations to shift as needs change.

While it may seem counter-intuitive, long-term workspace design strategies work best when using short-term configurations that can be adjusted to meet changing needs.

As a result, modular design solutions that allow for space to be reconfigured quickly as needs arise also allow for that space to remain functional and effective over time. Simply put, workplaces remain relevant longer when they are dynamic, living and growing with the people who inhabit them.  

Creating this kind of agile workplace truly takes real estate optimization to a significantly deeper level. Because it is no longer static, such workplaces truly support and reflect the individuals who work there, as well as their work product. They also enable facility managers to get a much better handle on the delicate balancing act between what a company “wants” and what a company actually “needs.”

About the Author:

Steven Lang is President & CEO of dancker, a leading interior solutions firm working with clients to create spaces that maximize the flow between people and ideas by providing seamless integration of architectural, furniture, technology and logistics solutions.

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