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Space oddity

7 April 2016 | Martin Read


Go back six, seven or even eight years and you’ll find a lot being said about the importance of space usage in these pages.


“It’s a hot topic this year,” we told you in 2010, to quote one of many examples. But on this topic we weren’t exactly soothsayers then, and we’re certainly not claiming to be now. Likely as not, use of space will loom large on next year’s agenda as well. Maximising an organisation’s investment in space is, after all, a continuing element in any FM’s role.


What does change is the way that use of space is measured. Technology has broadened the depth of detail in data we can expect, allowing for a greater variety in the response and the adoption of new working practices as a result.


Walkthrough surveys remain an option, while technologies have progressed through video assessment to new generations of ever more capable sensors. The data is allowing companies such as Condeco to give clients illuminating insights and suggest new patterns of working. Andrew Howells, head of the company’s workplace consultancy, told me how one organisation was able to save money on slowing down the lifts during particularly untrafficked times. And then of course there are the more standard issues, such as identifying the fact that 40 per cent of meeting room appointments are not kept, meaning that hugely valuable space is going unoccupied.


What’s also interesting here is the response that often comes from elements of the workforce – a sense that such surveying is equivalent to ‘Big Brother’, that their every move is being documented. Consultancies and others always confirm that any data is analysed in aggregate form, its analysis confined to showing overall patterns and not individual performance. But for many workers, these surveys are a gloomy proposition that is only accepted when, several months later, new and better ways of working are introduced as a result from which they benefit.


As the technology evolves and surveying tools become cheaper to install and use, there’s a growing recognition from organisations of their long-term value. Which could leave those people who worry about being monitored all the more frustrated. And yet, in our everyday lives these questions of “where do we draw the line?” are already here. The smartphone has changed the conversation. We casually accept the need for our every move to be tracked if, for example, we want access to local restaurant or travel information while we’re out and about. The more such information we seek, the more comfortable we seem to be with accepting the trade-off involved in giving huge corporations such as Google, Apple, railway operators and software developers the sort of personal data that would have shocked us had we read about it years ago.


None of which should mean organisations becoming lax in how they communicate space surveys to employees. If anything, the data revolution should make users more accepting of the process, even looking to feed more data into the process. Everyone understands the logic of not heating or cooling a half-empty space; the more the personal data revolution makes conversations about space usage more inclusive, the better.


Martin Read is managing editor of FM World