You know your work spaces are not used efficiently. Many desks sit empty, conference rooms designed for 10 are mostly used by groups of 3 or 4, and meeting spaces with expensive video conferencing equipment are being used for traditional face-to-face work sessions. With so much waste combined with pressure to reduce property costs, many workplace teams are looking for strategies to take control of space efficiency in the workplace and make the best use of space.

You have probably heard about workplace management tools that can help you improve efficiency in the workplace. Yet implementing these sophisticated new technologies might seem overwhelming if your workplace team is currently managing things with manual audits and spreadsheets. The good news is, you don’t have to sprint out of the gate and you don’t have to do everything all at once.

10 Steps to Space Optimization and Efficiency in the Workplace

We all know “big bang” projects are hard to get right and often fail. By choosing a phased (or agile) approach, you are much more likely to succeed. You’ll see results faster, gain the confidence of your business, and also have the opportunity to get their feedback and bring everyone along for the ride.

Here are 10 steps that you can take on at a pace that’s comfortable and realistic for your organization. With each one, you’ll move closer to optimizing your space and achieving maximum efficiency in the workplace.

1. Start with the basics

Workplace data is the key enabler to driving efficiency in the workplace. That means the best place to start is by gathering the fundamental data you’ll need in order to improve the way you’re managing your workspace:

  • Current floor plans. Floor plans allow you to visualize your space, and provide the foundation for layering further information on top. Your floor plans should ideally be in AutoCAD format, be well polylined and clearly labeled.
  • Cost centers and organization hierarchy. With accurate information about your organization’s structure, you can relate workplace data back to each business unit. Normally this data will come from a finance system such as SAP, Oracle Financials or Workday.
  • Personnel data. To get the best understanding of workplace occupancy and efficiency in the workplace, you’ll need information about all company personnel, including both employees and contractors. This data comes from your HR database or Active Directory (which often also includes contractors too).

2. Overlay space allocations to support charge-back

Space allocations allow you to report on the demand for and usage of space by line of business. They also allow you to charge each business unit for the amount of space they’ve asked for, providing them with a financial incentive to work with you to optimize their own space usage. Charge-back is one of the strongest levers you’ll have to motivate your business units to do the right thing and work towards space efficiency in the workplace.

Even if you don’t have support to deploy a charge-back model within your organization, simply reporting on the cost of space by business unit (a notional chargeback) can often be enough to encourage the right behavior.

3. Deploy a business unit portal to engage your teams

To drive efficiency in the workplace, first you’ll need to convince your business units that change is not only possible, but desirable for them as well as for you. To convince them, you’ll need to gain their trust. How? By providing transparency to your data. When you implement a business unit portal that allow business units to access their own workplace data, there are benefits for both sides:

  • Key business unit representatives have a quick and easy way to visualize the space they have and check who is sitting where
  • Teams can easily provide updates when their space utilization changes
  • Business units can also provide workplace teams with information about their future plans and anticipated demand for space

4. Foster a community of space champions

Once you have a business unit portal in place, the next step to efficiency in the workplace is to find, engage and train space champions throughout your business. Start with your executive and personal assistants, who typically have responsibilities for managing space on behalf of their teams.

You’ll probably find that they have their own ad-hoc spreadsheets and floor plans to keep track of their area and personnel. If so, they will love the business unit portal, because you’re now giving them a system that’s tied into your database and enterprise systems. Easy access to accurate information makes their job easier and allows them to produce professional-looking reports.

Your space champions will also be able to self-service and improve their own efficiency in the workplace: see how much space they have, work out when they need to request more space, and have confidence that real estate will be able to support their growth plans when needed.

5. Get support from the top for driving efficiency in the workplace

Your CFO community is in the best position to drive your business units to get on board with your space management and optimization program. So how do you get the CFO community not only on your side but motivated to drive your initiatives for efficiency in the workplace? Start providing them with monthly reports on space utilization that show how much money is being wasted on space that’s not used. Given the cost of real estate, those numbers never fail to make an impression. Make it clear that every dollar you save goes directly to the company’s profit, and before you know it you’ll have a much easier time getting your processes implemented.

6. Implement a formal space validation process

Your reports and analysis is only as good as the data that goes into them. A formal space validation program, where your space champions confirm their occupancy information on a monthly basis, will give you (and those who read your reports) the confidence that your data is current and a reliable basis for driving efficiency in the workplace.

Validation also prevents arguments with your business units about data accuracy; they can’t deny the accuracy of your data when they gave it to you!

7. Use scenario planning to right-size and align business units

At this point, you’re ready to start using scenario planning tools to quickly see (and showcase) possibilities for improving efficiency in the workplace. With the right tool, you can quickly right-size your space allocations based on occupancy data, utilization data or even target occupancy ratios. At the same time, you can move groups around to take advantage of business synergies and adjacencies. With the latest user-friendly tools, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you can develop multiple plans to give your business units options and test different cost-scenarios.

8. Improve the experience and the cost of relocation

Improving the relocation process is another significant opportunity to increase efficiency in the workplace and ease employees’ anxiety about moving at the same time. You’re probably intimately familiar with the inefficiencies of the manual move process: multiple move champions collecting data in spreadsheets, collating all that data, and then throwing it all away once the move is done.

Can you imagine what happens to the time it takes to complete a move (not to mention the cost) when everyone can collect the required information in an online database?

  • No more 60-column spreadsheets to collate
  • Identify exceptions that could prohibit or delay moves and mitigate the problem in advance
  • Reuse the same data instead of collecting it again for every move
  • Quickly and easily communicate with those who are moving to keep them in the loop and provide helpful information

9. Drive Further Savings with Space Utilization Data

Now that you’ve developed the trust of your business units and shown you can deliver results, you’re in a position to drive towards an even higher level of efficiency in the workplace by overlaying space utilization data.

It’s time to explore implementing sensors and other utilization measurement technologies that capture actual usage of your workspace. That data helps you better understand how much space each business unit actually needs. Then you can use your scenario planning tools to showcase what-could-be, making it easier to get approval for changes that further improve space efficiency in the workplace.

To learn more about the different types of utilization measurement technologies and get advice about how to collect the right data for your needs, read our informative guide to Measuring Workplace Utilization.

10. Consider transitioning to free address space

At this stage, you’ve made many improvements to efficiency in the workplace. Yet there is still one outstanding issue. The increasing mobility of the workforce means few people sit at their desks all day anymore. They are traveling, working remotely, working with groups in a conference room. That means you still have a great deal of wasted desk space.

Further improving efficiency in the workplace means moving to an agile work environment, or free address space based on a non-assigned seating model. It means transitioning from dedicated workstations for each employee to shared spaces that workers use as needed. This model allows more people to share the same space without waste, reducing your overall footprint, and bringing down your real estate cost per employee.

Once you have completed the other steps in this plan to improve efficiency in the workplace, you’ll be in a great position to champion a move to agile working. With fact-based reporting to support your recommendations, you can take emotion out of the decision-making process. You’ll have the data you need to build the business case, and the trust of your management and lines of business, so you can convince them that the move is possible and achievable.

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Jonathan writes about asset management, maintenance software, and SaaS solutions in his role as a digital content creator at Eptura. He covers trends across industries, including fleet, manufacturing, healthcare, and hospitality, with a focus on delivering thought leadership with actionable insights. Earlier in his career, he wrote textbooks, edited NPC dialogue for video games, and taught English as a foreign language. He hold a master's degree in journalism.