Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Building utilization; Efficiency vs. Effectiveness

A great piece by Workspace Design Magazine identified the coming interest in monitoring (and charging for) workspace utilization.
"I predict that the efficient utilization of real estate, resources, and energy will be a critical business focus during 2012. To arrive at astute, accurate financial decisions, management teams will focus on increasing data acquisition so they can analyze workspace utilization trends down to a finite level. They will also place greater emphasis on leveraging flexible space and videoconferencing solutions, all in an attempt to maximize productivity without increasing costs.
To gain a more detailed understanding of how space and energy is used, companies will extend occupancy detection beyond conference rooms and work areas down to individual workspaces, desks, and drop-in space. Monitoring space and energy at the granular level provides details needed to identify the necessary amount of real estate for efficient functions, while avoiding unnecessary expenditures on excess workspace. It also facilitates the reduction of energy consumption in underutilized areas."

Smart Buildings also has this in its predictions for 2012 (.pdf).
"Data and Metrics for Building Occupancy will Finally Move to the Top of the Agenda as Key Indicators  in Building Performance. Aside from the base environmental needs of a building, a  simple  energy management  approach for buildings is to have  energy consumption  aligned  with actual building occupancy. Yet few building owners  know how many people  occupy their building, where they go, when they’re there, etc.  Building owners are more likely to know how many cars entered their parking garage than how many people entered  their building. How can you possibly know when and how much heat or cooling or light should be provided without knowing the occupancy of  your building spaces? A variety of means for gathering occupancy data are now available; we  have lighting control systems with not only occupancy sensors but more sophisticated  occupancy systems  able to track the movement of the occupant. In addition, there is access control, video surveillance with people counting capability,  room and personal scheduling systems,  infrared people counters for doorways, as well as RFID technology able to provide some level of occupancy data. In 2012 occupancy data will drive energy management and  curtailment strategies for demand response and space planning. Expect new hardware and software tools generating or using occupancy data metrics to be adopted by facility management. "

 In a brief exchange of tweets, @workingdesign asked two really good questions.
  • How effective is efficient space?
  • What are the trade-offs between efficient operation and. flexibility and productivity?
 Answering the effectiveness vs. efficiency question will take some thought. This post doesn't attempt to give a proper answer, being more of a place-holder. 
In terms of dollar outlay over the 40-year life cycle of an office building, 2–3 percent is generally spent on the initial costs of the building and equipment; 6–8 percent on maintenance and replacement; and 90–92 percent is generally spent on personnel salaries and benefits. These data suggest that if an investment in physical planning and design could be made that would favorably influence organizational effectiveness and therefore reduce personnel costs, total life-cycle costs could be substantially reduced.”  -  Jean Wineman (Behavioral Issues in Office Design)
 The above quote makes a strong case for effectiveness. The problem, as ever, with people-system integration is that costs and benefits don't come from the same budget. The case for effectiveness needs to be made clearly and in advance of the utilization metrics because so much of office history is against it. The effectiveness ambitions of Robert Propst with his Action Office were undermined by efficiency-driven implementation in the form of the cubicle. People such as Frank Duffy and Stuart Brand have fought the efficiency-driven approach with some success, but, with the new driver of energy consumption, battle will need to be re-joined. The world of work has changed dramatically since Propst and indeed say 'How Buildings Learn'.  The default for office space is becoming "Square feet, how square!". 

In 'Work and the City', Duffy says:" An even bigger blind spot is that architects have little motivation to measure and hence no vocabulary to describe how efficiently office buildings are occupied over time. Because our heuristic seems to be 'Never look back', we are unable to predict the longer term consequences in use of what we design. Yet the handful of space planners (such as my practice DEGW, which pioneered the technique) who do measure building occupancy report that even over the normal, eight hours of the working day most office buildings are lightly occupied—well over half of conventional individual workplaces are empty, even at the busiest times of day. Meeting rooms, even when pre- booked, are also, notoriously, often empty. Total occupancy of all office workplaces, combined with meeting rooms and all other social and semi-social spaces, peaks at 60 per cent and then only for relatively short periods at the busiest times of the working day.To say that office buildings are occupied at only half their capacity is a gross understatement. The actual situation is much more wasteful. The occupancy figures quoted above relate only to eight of the 24 hours and to five out of the seven days that office buildings are theoretically available for use." Plenty for the efficiency folk to go at then.
This post looks at how the effectiveness/efficiency debate might play in different organizational cultures, using Ron Westrum's organisational climate scale.

  • "Tina, that is the third time you have been to the toilet this morning. It is coming out of your wages. Your behaviour is now on the scorecard in the lobby."
  • The cost of meeting rooms is now going to be taken from project budgets. No, we aren't reducing overheads in compensation. Since safety training does not currently have a budget, it will need to meet in Starbucks next door.
  • Communications briefings have been stopped to save costs. Management information is now on the intranet.
  • The steering group is now analysing building usage metrics on a monthly basis. A working group has been set up to produce guidelines on best practice for running meetings.
  • Booking the large conference room now requires a director's signature one month in advance.
  • Staff working late are reminded that prior approval is required. This is particularly important now because of the associated costs.
  • There was an item in the suggestion scheme to try "brainstorming". We have appointed a committee to investigate this exciting idea.
  • We have doubled our facilitator training budget. The money for that has come from savings by running Boosters instead of meetings.
  • Last week's open cafe meeting was a great success. To celebrate, next week's meeting will have extra pastries. Please bring a friend and network.
 One of the many aspects of work that has changed in recent years is the quality and scope of facilitated meetings (Creative Problem Solving, TRIZ, etc.). Really, traditional meetings should be the exception rather than the rule. It might be worth asking whether a facilitator-in-residence becomes part of building management services? She might do more to reduce energy consumption and occupancy than many other measures.

Update: Susan Cain has a good article in the NYT on the loss of effectiveness in pursuit of efficiency.


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