Space Planning In 2020: Challenges And Opportunities

High real estate prices, an increase in mobile working, and the need to attract and retain employees has encouraged facility managers to look at space planning in new ways.

By Ross Leibowitz

Against a backdrop of new work styles, new work patterns, and greater workplace agility, space planners and facility managers are under constant pressure to reduce the total cost of occupancy. They’re expected to deliver greater building efficiency and better utilization of workspaces.

Suffice it to say, space planning has changed drastically. The combination of high real estate prices, a movement toward mobile working, and the realization among businesses that attracting and retaining employees is the key to long-term growth, has encouraged facility managers to look at space planning in new ways.

space planning
(Photo: Trimble)

With this shift, more organizations are realizing that real-time, accurate data is a critical element of the space planning process. Facility managers need visibility into how space is being used and when. Those who simply base workspace decisions on what they think they are using, could end up facing long-term consequences. As an example, determining whether or not to renew leases or if space can accommodate staff growth projections can be hard to do without data.

For large enterprises, poor space utilization can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per year and yet, many have no idea how much space is actually wasted across their portfolio. They may not have standard space classifications across locations or lack visibility due to insufficient or disparate space management software systems. All of this points to a growing need for facility managers to capture quantifiable, real-time data so they can answer those big picture questions and make more effective decisions.

An Increasingly Mobile Workforce

According to a study by Global Workplace Analytics, remote work among non-self-employed remote workers has grown 140% since 2005.¹ This shift toward a mobile and flexible workforce is changing the way people interact with the workplace and forcing facility managers to think about utilizing and optimizing space in new ways.

Planning of space was once fairly standard. In most offices, conference rooms were scattered among row after row of cubicles. Organizations would drive more value from space by increasing the density and reducing the amount of square footage per employee. Each employee had a dedicated desk and each desk looked identical. Vacant space was used for moves and stacking projects. While this approach was fairly predictable, it was far from efficient.

Today’s flexible schedules and remote working have changed space planning. It’s no longer necessary for every person to have a dedicated desk. In most offices today, 40 percent of available office space is under-utilized or not used at all on a typical working day.² To improve this number, some organizations are using shared desks or flex workspaces. Applied across a building or entire portfolio, this can reduce the total amount of square footage needed and thus, lower costs or create space to accommodate growth.

Successful Space Planning In The Modern Workplace

The transition from a dedicated desk to a flexible work environment has created cultural, behavioral, and operational challenges. Companies that successfully transition to a flexible work have followed these steps:

  1. Collect and analyze data. For example, understanding the total number of desks, where they are they and how they’re being used. Many companies use security badge swipe data to begin understanding their utilization. They create rules about how often an employee must be in the office to get a dedicated desk or get assigned to a neighborhood of desks. Sensors allow them to dive deeper to conduct more detailed analyses.
  2. Establish clear Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). “Do I have enough conference rooms?” might not be the right question. Yes, it is important to understand if the conference rooms are being occupied, but are they underutilized? Are larger rooms being used by only two to three people? For example, smaller conference rooms may be a better option or perhaps a large conference room could be subdivided to better utilize space.
  3. Get buy-in from the business. Different groups may want to work differently. Some may like open team areas while others want higher cubicles. Interview and listen to employees across the lines of business and give them choices. Including them in the process will go a long way to increase adoption. Have follow-up meetings to gather feedback and make modifications if possible.
  4. Become aware of special cases. Regulatory and ADA compliance needs to be considered when moving to a flexible workspace. For example, fire wardens and floor leaders need to be identifiable and distributed correctly in the building. In addition, consider cultural norms and operational efficiencies. There may be circumstances where an employee requires a dedicated seat.

Sure, space planning today is complex, but it also has the potential to change the business for the better and contribute to the bottom line, if done right. Integrated space management technology can help facility managers and space planners navigate the intricacies of managing and fully utilizing an ever-increasing amount of flexible workspace. It can streamline the tactical job of managing building processes and also provide the data needed to optimize space based on changing needs, effectively perform moves, and allocate space back to the organization. Historic data can then be used to build future scenarios for a mix of traditional and flexible workplace styles.


Space PlanningRoss Leibowitz is the director of product for Trimble’s Real Estate and Workplace Solutions. He has over 20 years experience in creating solutions for the facility management industry, working with the world’s largest technical, financial and pharmaceutical companies. Prior to joining Trimble, Leibowitz was CTO of Manhattan Software and CTO and founder of CenterStone Software. He holds an MBA from Boston University and a BA from Cornell University College of Engineering.

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