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Space Optimization for the Hybrid Workplace

Space optimization is the process of aligning your real estate with your organization’s needs and goals. In the past, businesses have used space optimization to efficiently (and comfortably) reduce the square footage per employee. But today, many companies are using space optimization to lower occupancy costs while improving employee satisfaction and productivity.

At times, space optimization may involve drastically altering your space and making major overhauls to a facility. But for modern organizations, space optimization is also a continuous process of making minor adjustments. You collect utilization data to learn how your space is being used and analyze opportunities, optimize your space to fit your goals, collect more data to see if your changes have the intended effect, re-evaluate your goals, optimize again, and so on.

In this article, we’ll explain:

Let’s start with what you have to gain by optimizing your office space.

The benefits of space optimization

Optimizing your office space looks different depending on your objective. In some cases, optimizing for one benefit may come at the cost of another. Here are some of the most common benefits that organizations experience after reconfiguring their space.

Reduced real estate costs
Real estate is one of your biggest operating expenses. Many organizations turn to space optimization specifically to eliminate square footage they don’t need.

While this can mean simply reducing the office space density (square feet per person or per seat), it can also mean repurposing underutilized space instead of buying or leasing more. Perhaps there’s an amenity, storage space, or private office that could be converted to something else you need.

The point is to consolidate the space you’re actually utilizing into less square footage so that you can do one (or a combination) of the following:

  • Sell or sublet that extra space
  • Eliminate the need to invest in more space
  • Downsize to a smaller office

Increased capacity
Say you’re expanding a department, or trying to merge teams from separate floors or buildings into a single space. As you explore the various ways to configure your space to fit more people, you’ll eventually find the optimal floor plan for capacity. This will often mean increasing office density, but it may also simply require you to repurpose space, converting meeting rooms, offices, or unallocated space into more workstations.

Improved collaboration between departments
Sometimes the optimal way to use your office space isn’t about real estate metrics—it’s about alignment. Suppose your marketing and sales departments have been historically siloed, and their efforts are interfering with one another rather than supporting each other. Or the development team feels too inaccessible to sales or customer support. Placing teams, leaders, or even entire departments closer together can help increase cross-department synergy by making interactions more frequent and convenient.

Increased employee satisfaction
Altering your office space will impact how people feel about their work environment, especially if it changes whether they have the space they need to be productive and effective. It’s simply not possible for everyone to have their desk by a window, their back to a wall, or an entire room to themselves, but it is important to think about how your floor plan will change people’s satisfaction with their workplace.

Without generous parameters around square feet per workstation, there’s typically an inverse relationship between optimizing for capacity and optimizing for employee satisfaction. Nobody wants to feel like they:

  • Don’t have personal space at their workstation
  • Can’t get comfortable
  • Don’t have the privacy or ease of access to colleagues they need to be productive

What your employees need to be happy and productive in the workplace depends on your unique employee population, including the mix of preferences, personalities, and roles. You may have some teams that need better access to shared workspaces to be effective, and others that need more isolation for heads down work.

If you’re using space optimization to improve employee satisfaction, it’s critical that you use surveys and other communication channels to ensure you’re creating the spaces everyone needs. And as many employers seek to make returning to the office feel meaningful and valuable, optimizing for employee satisfaction is an increasingly common and important way to think about the space your employees work.

How to optimize your office space

The best way to optimize your space depends on what you’re optimizing for. Are you trying to reduce your occupied square footage? Lower your occupancy costs? Increase utilization? Improve employee productivity? Maximize opportunities for collaboration?

It helps to start with a goal. Maybe you’re trying to eliminate the need for off-site storage. Or expand or add a department. Consolidate nearby locations. Sublet a floor or terminate a lease. Perhaps you’re trying to find the minimum space you’ll need for an employee population that’s 70% virtual while still providing workspaces that make everyone feel productive.

When you start by narrowing down what optimizing your space means for your organization, you can build your models around the tangible outcomes you’re looking for and align the process with your larger initiatives.

Space optimization involves four main components:

  1. Evaluating how you’re using space right now
  2. Identifying the types of space you need
  3. Choosing the right model
  4. Monitoring how employees use your space afterward

When you adopt a new model, space optimization can feel like pulling a lever that makes major changes to your workplace. But after that, optimizing your office space should feel more like adjusting a dial, where you make minor adjustments based on what your employees and your business need moment-to-moment.

1. Evaluate your current use of space

One of the most crucial steps in space optimization is collecting and analyzing the right workspace optimization metrics. You need to know how your space is being used (and how your employees feel about it) before you can make decisions and predict how those decisions will impact your business.

Some of the most essential space utilization metrics are building blocks you need to calculate other, more comprehensive metrics. For example, your occupancy and vacancy levels tell you how your space is being used at a specific moment, but collectively, occupancy and vacancy levels help you calculate your utilization rate—the percentage of time a space is in use during the workday.

With manual walkthroughs, you might only collect occupancy data a few times per day, observing how many people were using a space and how many seats or workstations were still available. But with IoT sensors like blurred vision cameras or Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), you could collect this information hundreds of times per hour, giving you much more accurate occupancy and vacancy levels. You may find that a conference room with seating for 20 only gets used by groups of 3-5. Or that a popular neighborhood rarely has extra workstations available throughout the day.

Your peak occupancy and vacancy levels are helpful to consider as well. There might be critical times throughout the day, week, or month when particular spaces are in high demand, or need to be used for specific types of meetings or projects. If your utilization rate is low, but your peak occupancy is at or near a space’s capacity, it could be a sign that you need to make this space more flexible, or find an alternative space for those unique times where employees use it most.

You’ll also want to consider things like your office space density. Divide your rentable square footage by the number of employees or workstations, and you’ll see a rough approximation of how much space you’ve allowed per person or workspace. If you’re comfortable with the amount of space, but plan on changing the number of employees or workstations in the building, this will help you maintain a similar level of comfort.

Office density is highly related to your cost per seat—your facility-related expenses divided by the number of workstations. If your cost per seat is too high and you can’t rent space in a more affordable location, the way to reduce your cost per seat is to increase office density.

Don’t forget: your employees are one of your most important inputs. Be sure to use employee surveys to gauge how workers feel about the various spaces you have available. The last thing you want is to optimize your space to reduce occupancy costs and then see employee satisfaction take a nosedive.

Space utilization metrics remove the guesswork from optimization, illuminating the dials you can adjust to better use your space and achieve your goals. There’s obviously a lot to analyze here, and that’s why space management software like Tango Space is so valuable to modern enterprises. With Tango Space, you can feed these datasets into a single system, making it easier to analyze your occupancy data and explore potential changes to your floor plan. You can also filter by department and space type to examine how each part of your organization uses your space.

2. Identify the types of spaces you need

Based on how your space is being used right now and how you would like to use it in the future, it should become clear which kinds of spaces you’ll need more of or how you’ll need to reconfigure your space to meet your goals. Identifying the types of spaces you need should emerge from a combination of space utilization metrics, employee input, and your company goals and initiatives. You’re trying to balance demand for space with your desires.

You might’ve learned exactly how much you can afford to downsize, either by renting a smaller facility or subleasing parts of the space you have now. Or, maybe there’s room to expand your sales or customer service department. Or perhaps you want to increase collaboration opportunities with more shared spaces. You might be looking to increase the appeal of working on campus by adding amenities your employees have been asking for.

Suppose you plan on changing your work from home policy. Whether you add flexibility and let more people and roles work from home or you make it more restrictive to bring people back to the office, changes to this policy could have huge ramifications for what kinds of space (and how much of it) you need. Before finalizing your new WFH policy, you’d want to be sure you could configure your space to handle the increase to remote, in-person, or hybrid employees.

Your employees can also play a valuable role in identifying the spaces you need and the ones you can do without. Through employee surveys, you can learn how your staff might feel about the kinds of changes you’d like to make and what kinds of spaces they’d prefer. This can prevent you from adding spaces your employees won’t use or getting rid of spaces they appreciate. You might learn, for example, that while a space is underutilized, it’s vital to a percentage of employees. Instead of eliminating it altogether, it may make sense to reconfigure part of it, find a smaller space with a similar design or purpose, or make it a flexible, multi-purpose area.

Office bookings can also help you gauge demand for space. If spaces are always reserved, that’s a strong signal that there’s demand for that type of space, even if the rooms or areas tend to have high vacancy rates. Say certain conference rooms are always booked, but there are always unoccupied seats. That’s an indicator that your employees may need more of these types of spaces, but with fewer seats per space.

Once you’ve determined the types of spaces you need, it’s time to find the best way to reconfigure your space.

3. Choose the model that best meets your needs

Whatever your floor plan looks like right now, and whatever your goals are, there could be numerous ways to configure and optimize your space to satisfy your objectives. Some of these models are better than others. And while a human is going to miss a lot of the possible solutions, you also don’t want software to make the final call, either.

Solutions like Tango Space can identify all of the possible scenarios that meet your specifications, but you and your administrators will always have a much better idea of how each model would impact your employee population. Turn your “what-if scenarios” into tangible models you can assess. Let the software perform the calculations and show you the optimal ways to use your space, then implement the model that best balances your organization’s and employees’ needs.

4. Monitor how employees use your space

Space optimization is an ongoing process. You make predictions, build models, and reconfigure your space. Then you observe how those changes affect your organization. Increasingly, businesses are seeing the importance of day-to-day space management. By monitoring your space utilization in real-time, you can anticipate and prevent space-related problems and adjust to changing demand for space on-the-fly.

Maybe a conference room is out-of-commission, but a dozen different people have reserved it throughout the day. By equipping your organization for real-time occupancy management, you can find a similar reservable space or quickly reconfigure another available space to meet the same needs and minimize the disruption.

Using IoT sensors, you can detect when spaces are becoming too crowded and allocate more space to serve the same purpose. And of course, if particular types of spaces are booked more frequently than others, and they’re often at capacity, you may need to increase your supply of these spaces to keep up with demand.

Over time, you might also discover opportunities to optimize your space by fostering collaboration. Especially in hybrid workplaces, employees will naturally fall into patterns of reserving particular kinds of spaces with specific people—the colleagues they work best with. Using artificial intelligence, Tango Space can recognize these patterns and recommend available spaces near the coworkers they’re most productive and comfortable with.

With Tango, it’s easy to monitor all of your locations and dynamically react to how your space is being used. Our live floor plans turn your space utilization data into a real-time map of how employees interact with your space.

The problem with manual space optimization

Most businesses lack the tools they need to accurately measure and analyze how they use their space, and so they struggle to identify the best ways to reconfigure their space according to their goals.

In the past, space optimization has involved manual data collection and manual space planning. For years, the best way to learn how your space was being used was to periodically take a walk around your facility, counting people per room, unoccupied workstations, and vacant shared spaces. You might have had some data you could add to this, like badge in/badge out information, or reservation data from your office booking software, but this was so limited that manual walkthroughs were still the most reliable method for collecting workspace optimization metrics.

As you can imagine, this process is inherently flawed. Even if you observed a room for an entire day or completed a walkthrough every hour, you’d have huge gaps in your visibility into your space utilization. Occupancy and vacancy rates change throughout the day, and on a single walkthrough, you might see a room at its lowest occupancy level. It would be a mistake to make long-term changes based on that observation. The more walkthroughs you perform, the lower your risk of making those kinds of mistakes . . . but the risk is always going to be there.

On top of that, when your space planners look at the data available and try to optimize your space according to your goals, they’re probably not going to see all of the possible configurations—and they might miss opportunities to significantly reduce your occupancy costs.

With how rapidly demand for space can change in dynamic workplaces, today’s leading organizations are starting to recognize the need for real-time occupancy management. If you truly want to optimize your fixed supply of space, you need to see current demand. And the old methods can’t give you that. You need live floor plans, interactive reservation systems, artificial intelligence-driven space recommendations, and crowd detection—ideally, all connected to one central platform.

Thankfully, these modern problems have modern solutions. You don’t have to make multi-million dollar decisions based on incomplete information. With space management software like Tango Space, everything you need to intelligently optimize your space lives in one place. It integrates with office booking software (like Tango Reserve) as well as any Internet of Things (IoT) sensors you have installed to track occupancy and utilization in real-time. Using your specifications, Tango Space can automatically generate the models that will yield the best results. Then all you have to do is choose the model that best meets your needs.

Optimize your office space

Space optimization is quickly becoming an area where enterprises gain a competitive advantage. By reconfiguring the space you have right now, you could avoid buying or renting additional space you don’t need, lower your occupancy costs, and improve employee satisfaction and productivity. Real estate is one of your biggest expenses—so why not do everything you can to make the most of that investment?

Want to see what space management software can do for your organization?

Schedule a demo of Tango Space today.


Tango 2023 Sustainability Report

We have released our first Sustainability Report for 2023, marking an important step in our sustainability journey. In the report, we announce our goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030, setting us apart as a pioneer in the larger ecosystem of real estate technology providers.