Measuring the efficiency of the office environment is about to be revolutionised through the analysis of human behaviour.
In recent years, the benefits of understanding exactly how well a workspace functions have become widely recognised and as a result, many forward thinking organisations are already conducting regular studies to monitor utilisation.
Over time, the tools and methods used to analyse the workplace have advanced, with technology allowing us to capture real-time data with great accuracy. Through the use of web based applications, we are now able to use hand held tablets to record occupancy and activity at a desk (or in a room) or ‘under desk sensors’ to provide almost real-time analysis of desk occupancy, as we assess all areas of a building. This analysis allows us to produce occupancy reports that enable the user to identify issues such as vacant space, fixed location utilisation, and staff presence within the entire estate.
For some time, this data has been used to influence decisions associated with matters such as lease renewal, churn, down-sizing and expansion. The findings of such reports have revealed data that has enabled organisations to make informed decisions based on evidence as opposed to expectation. However, whilst this form of analysis is still a powerful method for understanding the basics in workplace utilisation, it tells us very little about an organisation’s most important asset- its people.
Whilst the existing methods of conducting a workspace analysis can offer identification of areas of high and low usage – the information on why specific areas are utilised is definitely limited.
For example, consider a standard tablet based space utilisation study that examines office occupancy. The assessor may review a specific desk and report that there are ‘some signs of life’ (such as a laptop plugged in or a coat over a chair) – but where is that member of staff? Why are they not at their desk? Are they in a meeting, collaborating or in an informal conversation? Perhaps there is a better environment elsewhere in the building for the task they are performing – and if so, why are their possessions on a desk that is not sufficient for their needs?
Access to all of this kind of information would of course, enable you to develop a working environment that fully supports staff requirements. It would enable you to encourage and facilitate collaboration, interaction and communication, whilst optimising space. The question is, how can this data be accessed? The answer is of course, through the analysis of human behaviour.
Activity sampling – Understanding behaviour
As a working nation we are now more agile and flexible than ever before and consequently, working behaviour has changed significantly. In addition to desk sharing and other more basic implementations of agile working, activity based environments are becoming more common – and as a result, most organisations have a more fluid workforce. However, this fluidity causes complication when assessing the utilisation of the workplace. We no longer spend all our time at one desk – therefore we must reassess the methods we use to measure our workspaces.
The most efficient way of doing this is through activity sampling. Here, much like tablet based space utilisation analysis, human activity is recorded via a web based application. However, when an assessor monitors a building, rather than make a regular assessment of the occupation or utilisation within an area, an observation is also made to evaluate behaviour and activity within each space. Depending on the activity occurring (whether it is an informal gathering, a group related collaboration, a form of relaxation, solo work or an informal discussion) details of each staff member, their behaviour and location, can be recorded by an evaluator.
For example, consider the interactions and activity within an office corridor (a space whereby important activity can easily be overlooked). The assessor may discover that one person is using the corridor to make a phone call- and others are engaging in an informal, impromptu discussion at the other end of the corridor. All of this information can be entered onto a handheld device and, when evaluating the final results of a study, the regularity of similar occurrences can then be reviewed and assessed.
Once the analysis is complete, you may find that there is a significant pattern in terms of other mobile phone users in the corridor, or those using it as a hub, as incidental meetings may often occur here. This is where we can begin to identify existing issues through human behaviour and make steps in considering why staff are using this space. It may be because the building lacks any form of privacy or, that noise in the office is an issue, meaning certain phone calls are taken in the corridor. It may be that two departments are located at such a distance from each other that they don’t regularly communicate- but should (hence the gathering). It might even be that the building lacks the kind of environment that supports any kind of incidental interaction.
The point is, monitoring, recording and assessing human behaviour in this manner allows you to understand activity and tap into its meaning. This information may then enable you to react to these findings, allowing the results of the behaviour to illustrate staff needs and pave the way for positive, strategic change.
Workplace Analytics and People Power
Good working relationships are critical for any organisation and understanding how these can be developed or enhanced can offer huge value to the company and its staff. Relationships developed through incidental meetings, or chance gatherings at a coffee point, printer or other shared facilities, are important and build trust between people as well as add enjoyment to the working day. These valuable ‘by chance’ gatherings happen all the time and usually go unnoticed because they occur in open space.
Capturing the details of such meetings through activity sampling will enable you to answer questions such as -where and when do people stop and talk? What are they talking about (be it formal or informal), what’s the value of that conversation and why did it happen? Answers to these questions will enable you to develop your space to further encourage these interactions.
Equally, understanding where staff are moving to can demonstrate a wealth of information about how your workplace is functioning and most importantly, illustrate the importance of certain members of staff and their general location. For example, understanding why there is a well-trodden track to a particular desk, may lead you to ask- Why is this person’s desk a focal point for others? It may be that this person has good knowledge of a specific topic, or that they are a team leader or mentor, or it may be that they have experience in a particular area of interest, or maybe they simply have an outgoing personality. Which may then lead you to ask, are they located in the right space? Are they better placed in a different department or, (from an HR perspective) are they better suited to a different, perhaps managerial, position?
Changing working patterns requires new assessment methods
In summary, as more and more organisations embrace new, more agile working models, the current methods for assessing utilisation become increasingly irrelevant, only measuring part of what is occurring in our workspaces. If we want to improve our workplaces we must first analyse how our staff currently work, assess their behaviour and review their preferences. Once we monitor, record and collate the evidence of behaviour, then we have a core understanding for what is truly required.
Human behaviour has been withdrawn from the current observation process of workplace analytics, and as a result, it only offers evidence of the – ‘who’ ‘what’ and ‘where’ of our workspaces. However, activity sampling and the analysis of behaviour holds the answers to most pressing question of all: Why?
More Information on Workplace Analytics
- Baker Stuart launched ActivityLOOK, a smart solution that facilitates and captures workplace activity sampling, this week. Find out more here.
- Read our other blog posts on activity sampling
Feature Image: Yurolaitsalbert/BigStock.com