To optimize the workplace, you must know what data to look at

With the right information, you can take the guesswork out of office design and create a space where people can do their best work

Space is a powerful tool to foster engagement, inspire innovation, and drive productivity. But what exactly does an optimal space look like? In the Science of Space, we explore how the science of intentional design can turn any work environment into a holistic experience.

Technology has made working more convenient than ever before. Videoconferencing and other software collaboration tools mean your team can work seamlessly across the world—one major reason why distributed teams are on the rise

But in some ways, the physical workplace can still be a frustrating place to navigate. It’s rife with limited resources and space that doesn’t always cater to how people really work. 

At Teem by WeWork, we create technology solutions that make it easier to find and book space, so that your employees can focus on generating new ideas and collaborating with each other. Traditionally, technology was plopped into a workspace and teams were forced to use it. We have a different philosophy. 

Making technology work for employees

Technology should work in service of people, not the other way around. That’s why we approach our work as anthropologists trying to improve the workplace experience. In order to design solutions, we first have to understand the experience of workers: how they are actually interacting with their spaces and with each other. People, after all, are a business’s most valuable asset. Our goal is to elevate the entire work experience with tools so that people spend more time connecting with each other and less time scrambling for a conference room or collaborative workspace. 

‘There’s never an available conference room

Business leaders often hear from employees that “there’s never an available conference room.” Not having the right space at the right time is frustrating (and unproductive). But why is that? And how can we solve that issue? At Teem by WeWork, we start by looking for information on how and why a space is used. 

First, we find the right data to examine. Let’s say we’re asking the questions: Where are your people working? Where are they meeting, and how are they doing it? 

If you just consider when badges are swiped to enter an office, you’ve neglected to count those who are working from home. And if you just take into account those who dialed in to the videoconference, you’ve ignored those who may have physically joined a meeting in another location. In most cases, you will have to look at several layers of data to get a holistic view of how people are working.

Once you have a good sense of the factors that accurately illustrate the connection between individuals and their environment, you can understand whether space is being used effectively and if the data supports the workplace anecdotes. With a complete picture, you can start asking questions about how space usage is tied to your team’s happiness, success, and productivity.

Maybe the data shows that there is a recurring meeting in which the attendees don’t show up. We call these “ghost meetings.” In these cases, a room just sits empty—and people who need a room don’t know that it’s free. We can use technology such as sensors and displays to determine when a meeting has been ghosted. 

After a grace period of a few minutes without a room check-in, that room should be freed up on the booking calendar so that if another team wants to use it, they can. There’s no reason a conference room should sit empty if there’s demand for it. And if that recurring meeting is ghosted every week, it should be automatically removed from that room’s calendar. This will ensure that conference rooms are available for important team activities, whether they’re sales meetings, brainstorms, or planning sessions. 

Using data to optimize the workplace

When leaders understand how their employees are using spaces such as conference rooms, they can make decisions about how to reorganize or expand their space. You can ask, for example, if there is a correlation between successful sales deals and bringing prospects onsite to a specific location or conference room. The same question applies to new recruits: Maybe a single place is making a good first impression to prospective customers or employees. 

If the most-used conference room, for example, is a 10-person room, managers should not renovate their space to contain only three-person rooms. And if one conference room is being used more than all the others, managers should ask why that’s the case—perhaps it’s because that room has videoconferencing ability and others do not?—and mirror those capabilities in other rooms. 

Using data to understand behavioral patterns to create a more efficient workplace isn’t a change that can be done in an instant. It’s a process; trends are best reviewed over time. And it must be undertaken thoughtfully, taking into account the preferences of individuals who utilize the space. Then leaders can fuse those experiences with technology and automation in order to take away the friction from workers trying to, say, find an open meeting room.

Rather than focusing on just physical walls, business leaders ought to look at the entire workplace experience for their workers. Doing so—and designing based on how they actually work—is good for employees, managers, and, ultimately, your bottom line.

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