Friday, 31 May 2013

Utilisation Studies: Science or Sorcery?

I have recenty l guest blogged on the i-FM site. Here is a transcritpion if you do not want to log on to their site. 

We have all sat through a workplace consultant’s presentation in which they report that the benchmark workstation utilisation is around 50%. Most organisations that conduct utilisation, or occupancy, studies and benchmark their data report such a figure. This means that typically only half of the office workstations are in use at any one time during the working week, which is wasteful of resources. But what is interesting about this finding is that no two utilisation studies appear to be conducted, analysed or reported in exactly the same way. Are we falling into the trap of comparing apples with bananas?

The WCO Guide to:Utilisation and Occupancy Studies, the most recent publication of the Workplace Consulting Organisation, intends to demystify utilisation studies. The guide helps companies to understand when and how to use such studies, plus how to interpret the results to determine the number of workstations actually required in the office and thus reduce wasted space.
So why might reported utilisation figures vary? Firstly, when it comes to quoting utilisation figures, those that conduct manual surveys may include workstations that are temporarily unoccupied (signs of life) as well as those actually occupied. In contrast, long-term or on-going live automated surveys only record the occupancy status (present or not present) and not the “temporarily unoccupied” state. The WCO guide details the pros and cons of manual versus automated surveys along with simulation modelling.

In most utilisation studies, observations are typically made hourly from 08:00 until 18:00 but some consultants base the utilisation figure on the core hours only i.e. 09:00 until 16:00 discarding other data. Furthermore, some consultants quote peak utilisation figures (the maximum on any one day) whereas others use the average utilisation across the survey period. All these variations affect the consistency of the utilisation figure, so it is best to have the parameters clarified and understand the rationale behind the reported figures.

The number of workstations required is can be derived from a desk sharing ratio which is often calculated from the observed utilisation as a proportion of a target utilisation. Not only does the estimation of utilisation vary, as described above, but some consultants use a target utilisation of 80% and others 100% etc. Such minor differences in these assumptions can significantly affect the potential amount of space saved. The WCO guide highlights these important differences in measuring and using utilisation data.

Once accurate utilisation data is collated and analysed, the results need to be sense-checked with the business. Utilisation data is averaged (across buildings, floors or departments), and to some extent it is the differences how space is used between individuals that needs to be understood to create a productive workplace. The wasted desk space can only be recovered by implementing flexible working and this requires management and staff to first accept the utilisation data but more importantly to be ready for change and a new way of working.

Utilisation studies, whether manual or automated, are critical in understanding how space is used and the potential for flexible working. However, they can only predict the workstation requirement based on the current use of space. This is where the “black art” is applied. Implementing flexible working, changing the workstyles and work culture etc., will all affect the way people use space. Those rare utilisation studies conducted sometime after flexible working is implemented show that the utilisation does not necessarily reach the target of 80% or higher. This may be because once the staff start working flexibly, and accept the associated benefits, they alter the time they spend in the office and at their workstation. Predicting how the space will be used in the future requires engaging with the business and staff rather than relying on survey data.

The WCO Guide to:Utilisation and Occupancy Studies, provides facilities managers and occupiers with practical advice on consulting and interpreting utilisation studies. In conclusion:

  • the process of undertaking utilisation studies requires choices to be made, in particular about survey methodologies – the WCO guide helps clients understand the pros and cons and what would work best for them;
  • understanding and comparing the data produced by utilisation studies is not straightforward and depends on the parameters and method of the study – the WCO guide describes how changing the parameters or method impacts on the results;
  • interpreting the data produced by utilisation studies as an indicator of future space provision is a matter of judgement rather than a strictly numerical conclusion – the WCO guide discusses factors that affect utilisation and draws some conclusions about appropriate utilisation levels for a range of different types of space.

Do go to the WCO website,, to download a free copy of the guide and learn more about the services offered by workplace consultants.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for nice info. It's useful for me. Can you give me some more information with details? I will wait for your next post Thanks a lot. office furniture west palm beach