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Corporate Office spaces with only one room used

How to identify opportunities for mothballing underutilized office space

Commercial real estate is experiencing a period of drastic change that is causing property managers and space planners to more closely scrutinize office space utilization. In many cases, they’re looking at mothballing floors, wings, and even entire buildings to reduce operational costs and optimize their workspaces for higher productivity, collaboration, and flexibility. Mothballing involves temporarily decommissioning certain workspaces, consolidating others, and placing into storage office furniture and equipment that is not currently in use. But there are several challenges space planners and managers need to overcome to achieve the desired outcomes. 

First, they need to identify those areas where employees are using workspaces differently than before. The fact that fewer employees are going into the office on a daily basis naturally means that some spaces are being used less frequently. And, since many employees have shifted to a hybrid work model, it means some spaces are used only partially. Another challenge related to hybrid and remote work models involves creatively adapting workspaces to foster greater cooperation and collaboration between employees who may be onsite, or in another county, state, or country.

Fortunately, there are highly effective ways for space planners and managers to identify opportunities for optimizing the way they’re using their offices. The most effective approach involves a close examination of current occupancy utilization through the use of technology for tracking and analyzing real-time activities for short- and long-term patterns that emerge through analysis. By using the appropriate combination of hardware and software, as we’ll discuss later, organizations can identify unused or underutilized spaces that could be candidates for mothballing and decommissioning. Occupancy metrics can be very useful for revealing how employees’ habits have changed since the adoption of hybrid and remote work models. Occupancy data can also be used to identify peak traffic times or surges in occupancy that may suggest redesigning or relocating some spaces to foster greater collaboration and higher productivity. These challenges can be especially tricky anytime an organization embarks on a mothballing approach to reducing operational costs. 

How to find swing space for employees displaced by mothballing

Once areas are identified for mothballing and spaces or entire buildings are decommissioned, the challenge becomes, how do you find space for employees who are displaced by mothballing? Several factors need to be considered in order to identify spaces that can serve as swing or hybrid spaces to accommodate new working models and space planning strategies. 

One of the most critical factors will be the location of spaces that are likely to be used for team collaboration and short huddle sessions. These areas need to be easily accessible to all team members. Ideal spaces tend to be near common areas like the kitchen or entrance where there’s more foot traffic and, in turn, interaction. Proximity to amenities like coffee stations, breakout areas, and quiet zones should factor into any relocation strategy. Easy access to these facilities encourages spontaneous interactions and enhances the overall office experience.

These spaces also need to be spacious enough to accommodate groups of varying sizes, and they must be easily reconfigured to suit different types of collaboration activities. Features like modular furniture, movable partitions, and flexible layouts can make spaces easily adaptable for a variety of uses.

Ideally, these spaces also have the appropriate technology infrastructure — in particular Wi-Fi connectivity for monitoring ongoing utilization of the space — to facilitate collaboration through technology such as video conferencing systems and interactive displays.

Depending on how repurposed spaces are to be used, privacy can be a key concern. While open-plan areas encourage interaction, some tasks require confidentiality or minimal distractions. The trick is creating spaces that offer options for both collaboration and focused work.

Ensuring proper natural light and views is also important for accommodating displaced employees because natural light and outdoor views can boost mood, productivity, and creativity. Soliciting feedback from displaced employees about their preferences is also highly recommended. Their input can help tailor the office layout to meet their needs and preferences.

What are the key metrics for mothballing? 

With the recent and ongoing changes in work patterns and office space utilization, it’s increasingly important to maintain a clear view into how workspaces are being used in order to identify opportunities for mothballing. The most critical metric to track is occupancy rates, which is the actual occupancy of different areas in the office throughout the day. This gives you an understanding of just how many people are using each space at any given time.

Another key metric is desk utilization. Identifying how often individual desks or workstations are occupied can help consolidate several lightly used areas into one or two areas where employees can be closer to each other and collaborate easier while also reducing the overall office footprint and operational costs. A desk booking system is one way for companies to obtain more concrete desk utilization rates.

Similar to desk utilization is meeting room utilization, which can potentially increase operational savings even more significantly since meeting rooms are larger, require more resources, and represent a larger share of an organization’s real estate investment. It’s important for companies today to closely monitor reservation rates, actual usage, and duration of meetings to identify rooms that are consistently underutilized. Like meeting room utilization, collaborative space usage is also important to track. This includes assessing the usage of breakout areas, collaboration pods, or lounge areas. 

Businesses seeking to optimize office space should also track utilization by department or team to identify specific areas of the office that may be over or underutilized based on the needs of different groups.

Foot traffic patterns are a very important part of supporting a mothballing strategy. By analyzing foot traffic patterns within the office to identify high-traffic areas versus less frequented zones, companies can optimize the layout and distribution of office space.

Time of day utilization is another key metric. Organizations should monitor utilization patterns throughout the day to identify peak usage times and areas that remain underutilized during certain hours.

Feedback and surveys are another way to minimize potential disruptions caused by mothballing. By gathering feedback from employees through surveys and interviews, businesses can have a better understanding of perceptions around space utilization and identify areas that they feel are underutilized or could be repurposed.

With the rise of hybrid and remote working models, it’s now become an absolute necessity to consider the impact of remote work on office space utilization. All businesses that have adopted flexible work models for their employees should be tracking trends in remote work adoption and adjust space utilization metrics accordingly.

Of course nothing matters more, ultimately, than bottom-line metrics like cost per square foot. It’s critical for businesses to calculate the cost per square foot of different areas in the office and compare it to their utilization rates. This can help identify areas where resources may be allocated inefficiently.

Why badge systems and “people counting” are not enough 

Traditional methods of tracking employee office space utilization — namely badge systems and sensors that are primarily used for “people counting” — are inadequate for closely examining the current state of workspace utilization and, in turn, planning strategically for future use. The problem is that badge systems and sensors only show point-of-entry metrics and not more critical, continuous occupancy data like density of specific spaces throughout the day and workspace utilization patterns over short, medium, and longtime horizons.

While badges and sensors can be useful for tracking how many employees are going into the office every day, Wi-Fi can reveal far more granular occupancy data that can be collected continuously to reveal how certain spaces are being used at different times of day, days of the week, and throughout the year. 

Wi-Fi infrastructure enables organizations and office space managers to collect room usage data based on signals from smart devices connected to the network. These signals can show, anonymously, how employees move about their offices as they travel from one access point to another. This data, when collected and analyzed, can reveal patterns in how different areas are used over any given time period. It can also show peak usage or surge times for different floors or across buildings. Wi-Fi networks also help space planners create multi-purpose or swing spaces that make the most of the existing office footprint.

By leveraging their existing Wi-Fi infrastructure, office managers can resolve disputes between stakeholders involving space issues. Department managers often overestimate the amount of space their teams need to be productive. Using Wi-Fi access patterns, space utilization can be verified dispassionately using objective data. This further aids in a mothballing strategy because it provides a rationale for decommissioning company space and equipment. Empty workspace is like any other void, and the natural tendency is to fill them if there’s not a legitimate and unbiased justification for closing them down.   

How can space managers validate office redesigns? 

The best way for space managers and planners to validate office designs, including mothballing strategies, is to use a comprehensive space utilization platform like Lambent Spaces. It’s a crucial tool for those tasked with monitoring and optimizing their organizations’ commercial real estate investments. Although commercial real estate prices may be sagging momentarily, the need to wring inefficiencies out of expensive operations is ever pressing. 

Lambent Spaces ingests raw Wi-Fi data from access points and uses machine learning models and algorithms to estimate occupancy based on validated device behavior and connectivity patterns. These refined occupancy estimates are summarized over different intervals to provide a distribution of occupancy that reveals usage patterns across different spaces and times. Context is integrated from facilities management and scheduling systems to generate spatial analytics, visualizations, KPI dashboards, and targeted reports. This gives space planners critical insights into building, floor, and zone utilization rates. 

Rather than using badges or sensors, Lambent Spaces integrates with an organization’s existing Wi-Fi infrastructure and collects data anonymously and continuously from all floors and buildings. Data reports are generated on demand or automatically that show occupancy through time and spaces. 

While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to space planning strategies such as mothballing, there’s no question that the office building is a dynamic space that requires a dynamic space planning tool. Sometimes, space planners don’t know what they don’t know. The detailed insights revealed by a platform as powerful as Lambent Spaces give space planners the knowledge, they need to make the most of the spaces they’re using and, in some cases, mothball the ones they’re not using.

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