Monthly Archives: August 2018

Workplace Analytics: How To Mine Big Data To Add Organizational Value

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For corporate real estate and facility management professionals, workplace analytics help identify the best use for space for the organization to operate effectively.

Workplace Analytics

These are complex times for corporate real estate and facility management professionals. Continually advancing technology produces a massive amount of data, but a nagging question remains: Is all of it being mined for the optimal benefit of the organization’s facilities? At a conceptual level, corporate real estate and facility management data focuses on the measurement of people activity within a workspace, but that function barely scratches the surface. The rise of workplace analytics provides corporate real estate and facility management professionals with an invaluable tool for calculating the best use of space for the business to operate at maximum effectiveness. The challenge is that many corporations are reluctant to commit to the use of sophisticated workplace analytics. While the reasons vary, they leave corporate real estate and facility management specialists on the sidelines and in a state of what some of them refer to as “intrigue.”

One reason is management’s apprehension about investing in applications that, in some cases, may be viewed by personnel as an invasion of privacy and a litigation threat. An example is the deployment of sensors throughout the workspace to provide data on how busy a particular area has been, who has worked there, for how long, and when the space is inactive. Management should be most concerned about the latter. Yet, unless corporate real estate and facility management personnel are provided with analytics to ferret out and apply the most relevant data, the corporation is wasting one of its valuable assets and, in some cases, losing money on workspace that could be used more effectively.

Emerging Technologies

The traditional role of the corporate real estate or facility management professional has been to manage the organization or corporation’s real estate portfolios because real estate was considered a fixed cost or, at best, a depreciating asset. Unwittingly, organizations acted on the inaccurate premise that physical space, once established, was unchangeable in terms of costs. One reason may have been the low-tech measurement of space usage — for example, clipboard-carrying individuals who counted people in and out of the space. Eventually, the counting process progressed somewhat with the use of badge swipes and infrared technology. Also, companies began relying on programs such as Outlook, which were an improvement but presented their own limitations. In this case, ease of use and capabilities were either unavailable or not updated. Outlook was also found to be time consuming — something technology is supposed to alleviate.

Technology in general and analytics, in particular, are playing a major role in the changing attitudes of corporate real estate and facility management professionals and their understanding optimal space use. Development of sophisticated analytical programs spurred a corporate real estate and facility management teams to put greater emphasis on crafting strategic planning for best use of the organization’s assets. Among the first to recognize the importance of analytical programs were logistics and banking organizations, which have access to enormous amounts of data. In these high-transaction environments, numbers crunching and the resulting data are applied to decision making, such as credit and risk management and cost analysis that includes operational efficiency and inventory control.

It did not take long for the power of analytics to be applied to the domain of corporate real estate and facility management and change the focus of workspace usage from perception to reality. Instead of low-tech measurement, corporate real estate and facility management professionals with access to workplace analytical platforms can tap into concrete data. This real-world information shows how each space or asset performs. In turn, it enables management to make sound programming decisions.

From Place-Based to People-Based Analytics

The development of place-based analytics is important in the corporate real estate and facility management environment. That’s because it clearly defines how space is utilized at a particular time. Just as important, the data provides corporate real estate and facility management with an accurate picture of where people are and when they use or require a particular space. Also, place-based becomes people-based when the analytics reveal patterns and trends in the way people meet with each other. Here, organizations can rely on integrated platforms with practically limitless potential. One example is the capability to promptly and efficiently facilitate meetings in terms of location, space availability, timeliness, and occupancy.

The unnecessary expense of time that had been required to allocate the proper space for the work to function is unacceptable. Workspace is a strategic asset that requires cost-efficiency for maximum functionality. A seemingly simple desire to select a suite of spaces to support meetings may be costing the company unnecessarily without data analytics to justify the decision. A better alternative is to focus on agile strategies that leverage the right amount of space for each purpose. It’s data-based analytical programming for the best usage of space as warranted.

Understanding the Benefits of Workplace Analytics

The advantage of a sophisticated analytical platform is its presentation of several approaches to collecting and analyzing data. One of the most effective in the context of maximizing the use of space is the placement of sensors throughout the office environment. The sensors collect data, which is transmitted to a network and subsequently to a massive database in the form of a veritable warehouse of information consisting of millions of data points. A second database performs calculations on, tabulates, and processes the data. From there, processed bits and bytes, in volumes too large for human comprehension, move to a web-based analytics platform.

The vital difference is immediacy. Instead of dealing with data usage that is compiled over a lengthy time period, sometimes several months, the sensors record and send data minute by minute, ensuring a decision-making process based on current information.

Key metrics, along with dynamic visualization tools, such as charts and graphs created through the software platform, take the volume of information and condense it. In this way a corporate real estate or facility management expert can either make or recommend decisions to management supported by the data.

Much of this data focus revolves around the Building Internet of Things (IoT), the collective terminology applied to sensors, software, and other items of connectivity for the exchange of data waiting to be harnessed. In a 2016 report, Deloitte Consulting noted that “the CRE industry is perhaps uniquely positioned to implement the technology using IoT-enabled building management systems to make building performance more efficient and … sensor-generated data to enhance building user experience.” In the same report, Deloitte projects the compound growth rate of nearly 79 percent in the use worldwide of IoT sensor deployments by CRE, amounting to 1.2 billion by the year 2020.

The value of CRE data is a “game-changer” in facilities management. Now organizations can optimize their portfolios through platforms unavailable only a few years ago. Previously inaccessible data helps organizations arrive at more informed conclusions — for example, when to consolidate and when to promote a different strategy for a specific site. It is a unique, if not revolutionary, way to analyze how work flows through a space and how usage of that space may impact operating costs and return on investment.

Another important benefit of place-based analytics is the positive impact on the workforce. Leveraging data from the sensors and other Building IoT components improves employee satisfaction and retention. Users report productivity improvement in the workplace environment.

One example is a large consumer-products company in the Southeast that was planning to invest in an addition to its global headquarters to complement a full-scale renovation of the existing space. The company focused on usage patterns of its collaboration spaces, believing that increasing and enhancing the experience of collaborating with colleagues would contribute to both increased employee engagement and enhanced business results. Following installation of remote monitoring devices in all of the dedicated collaboration spaces and collection of 16.5 million data points, an analytical software application determined that people were meeting in smaller groups and many of the larger spaces were never fully utilized. Ultimately, place-based analytics enabled right-sizing and rebalancing the facility for optimal interactions.

3 Concerns About Data Analytics

Data analytics are value drivers for efficient and cost-effective use of workspace and personnel on a daily basis. Yet some organizations are reluctant to adopt and leverage this technology, especially those with medium or smaller-sized companies as clients. Usually their apprehension is based on one or more of the following concerns:

Concern #1: Analytics are too expensive.

If there is one constant about technology, it is that costs decline with each advance or refinement regardless of the application. Business Insider, in an article on this very subject, concluded “as technology gets more advanced, prices drop and products get better.” The only exceptions according to the publication are “cable, satellite TV and radio service.”

Concern #2: Leadership will not buy in to the value proposition.

Here again, the data shows analytics are value drivers capable of significantly reducing operating costs and increasing ROI. To prove the point, corporate real estate and facility management professionals need only access their search engines for numerous case studies of successful corporate and commercial use of workplace analytics.

Concern #3: Employees fear an analytics-based Big Brother surveillance.

Of the three fears, this one requires the most up-front explanation prior to initiation. Nothing can be more damaging to morale and retention rates than a perception that the company uses analytics to spy on personnel. A clearly-defined system of data governance along with collaborative discussions with employees may help ease those concerns.

To achieve optimal results, corporate management needs to work closely with its corporate real estate and facility management specialists on the issue of costs versus ROI. Equally important is to ensure those professionals, whether in-house or outsourced, have the background and training to fully navigate and leverage the data. It is incumbent upon the company to develop comprehensive policies on usage and data management and to stay on point to accomplish desired outcomes.

Data analytics are a vital tool for assessing the value and best use of office space. Data-based results present a clear picture detailing cost-effectiveness, optimal use of workplace and personnel and, of course, the ROI for making these changes a reality.

Informed Decisions

Workplace analytics are the foundation for corporate real estate and facility management credibility with findings and analysis to help executive management make informed decisions on every aspect of office space. Maintaining and profiting from an agile office capable of adjusting with minimal cost and effort are no longer futuristic visionary possibilities. Thanks to sophisticated programs and their ability to leverage the data, they are realities that merit serious consideration.

It may not be accurate to simply conclude that analytics have changed the traditional office environment. Instead, it is more likely that analytics are bringing an end to the traditional workplace as we know it.

Originally published in FacilitiesNet.

Future Forward Visions

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Future of Work


Future of Work

Picturing the workplace of the future has always been part of the facility manager’s job, but it’s never been more challenging than it is today. Technology that affects the workplace is advancing at a rapid pace—sometimes reflecting changes in society, sometimes actually driving those changes. With employment patterns evolving as well, there’s no guarantee that today’s state-of-the-art workplace will still be relevant five, 10 or 15 years from now.

An innovative partnership between the University of Cincinnati, BHDP Architecture and several other businesses is endeavoring to meet this challenge through “The Future of Work”—a series of “studio” type classes for students majoring in architecture, sociology, engineering, and design. Creative thinking is a key requirement for these college students, who are just starting to enter the workplace.

No one wants to design grand plans for office buildings that soon will be obsolete. “The Future of Work” is a fresh way to tackle that issue while focusing on the people who’ll work in those buildings, not just the structures themselves.

Designing for the future poses a conundrum for organizations and architects. For example, how many office plans used to prioritize tech features such as Wi-Fi or technology-centric rooms? Now, however, it’s the norm. Additionally, designers must think about how to create smart facilities that provide information, connect people, support the Internet of Things, and eventually support virtual and augmented reality applications.

The University of Cincinnati students were urged to create visions of the future, then design workplaces responding to specific aspects of those visions. The result: Thought-provoking projects that just might jump-start facilities managers’ creative ideas about the future.

An open-ended approach

This year’s spring semester architecture studio was the fifth in the “Future of Work” series. It drew impetus from Frank Lloyd Wright’s statement that the architect must be a “prophet” of sorts.

Why involve college students in such a lofty endeavor? At this stage, they are relatively free of bias about workplace design. Yet all 16 students in this class were seniors who’ve already had job experience in several workplace environments through the University of Cincinnati’s cooperative education program. Also, creative problem-solving is an integral part of training for all architecture students.

Topics were not assigned. Rather, an open-ended approach allowed students to tackle subjects in which they have a passionate personal interest. The program aimed to balance brainstorming with real-world observation. For example, students toured several Cincinnati-area workplaces representing a range of approaches, including a technology analytics company, a bank with a forward-looking innovation center, several sites with co-working environments, and a brewery whose innovative workspace includes a conference and meeting area.

Working in two-person teams, students pursued topics ranging from the quotidian details of workplace life, to climate change, and to global trends such as employee displacement and urban reinvention. Here are some highlights (with quotations from their presentations):

New ways of thinking about design

Envisioning tomorrow’s workplaces was an eye-opening experience for the students who eventually will be designing and working in them.

Shoshanna Sidell, 21, saw her exploration of the superblock system as a way to accommodate urban populations. “My idea of working within a superblock system incorporates well with the idea of developing the growth of cities,” she said, and would “foster a sharing culture in a walkable urban space.”

For Jonah Pruitt, 21, an interest in adaptive reuse had its roots in childhood memories of helping his family remodel a 100-year-old house. He sees the process of adapting existing buildings for new uses as providing a sense of solidarity with their surrounding communities—an alternative to the process of displacement that is a concern in many urban areas around the world. “Workplaces of the future will need to be flexible and agile, while maintaining the trust and goodwill of communities where they are located to ensure the best quality of life,” he said.

Evan Schlenk, 22, was interested in long-distance communication strategies that would work for a solar generating farm and offices for a major energy company. “My proposal reorganizes a traditional office around an augmented reality hub,” he said. “This hub allows for 3-D interaction between designers and engineers located in different offices. It allows for collaboration traditionally reserved for face-to-face interaction to take place between people working remotely.”

Srimoyee Sinha, 21, wanted to address the monotony of the typical workspace, and at the same time encourage collaboration. Her brainstorm was movable pods—on casters so they roll around. “When the need of collaboration arises, one can just move their pod to attach themselves to the person or persons they are trying to collaborate with,” she said.

Hannah Johnson, 22, delved into ideas for using technology to bring people together, rather than isolate them. “Overall the experience has been different from anything I have done so far in my school career,” she said. “Trying to plan for the future, you begin to realize that everyone has a different idea of what the future could be. It is a matter of taking pieces of several ideas to really get an idea of what the future could be.”

Takeaway Considerations

While students’ ideas varied widely, several themes emerged as primary topics for the future of work.

The human experience of work—and life—is a central concern for designers and is continually evolving. Workplaces of the future should include “technology-free” spaces to provide comfort and allow for the occasional disconnection from an overly connected world and more opportunities for stimuli provided by the natural world. These spaces should be considered especially for work that requires concentration as well as team collaboration that is focused on innovation and problem-solving.

Tactics for adaptability, always vital to business success, will become even more important amid rapid changes in technology and society. Another key trend already coming into play involves changing modes and patterns of transportation. These will require new solutions for design, security, collaboration and connectivity.

Trends such as mergers and acquisitions, as well as disruptive technologies and companies, spotlight the need for effective strategies as businesses grow, shrink, adapt and change at a quicker, dizzying pace.

Worksite technology increasingly will be immersive, with a mesh between the virtual and physical worlds. Example: A white-box workspace can be augmented with colors and patterns to suit the individual, or become a framework for walking through a virtual world.

Companies will need to become ever more concerned with societal trends and the communities in which they reside, becoming leaders and agents of change. The need for support amenities will remain constant; however, there will be a shift toward supporting an entire community, not just a single organization.

Adaptive reuse issues will be particularly relevant in urban areas where there are underutilized buildings and space, said Michael Rogovin, a University of Cincinnati adjunct professor and “Future of Work” instructor. It will be important to ask whether it is possible to adapt existing structures instead of building new ones.

Facility managers will have to balance the usual concerns about cost with the need to be concierges of sorts, focused on creating experiences and opportunities that promote productivity.  Efficiency and effectiveness must be balanced with both employee and customer experience. The current thinking of dollars spent per square foot of office space needs to shift to dollars spent per employee, with a focus on intelligent, intentional design that creates diversity and sense of place.

For instance, considering circadian lighting might seem esoteric, and installing live greenery might add to maintenance tasks. But the impact on people’s work experience should not be underestimated, even though maintaining these types of systems is more complicated for a facility manager.

“Bringing nature indoors could be as minor as providing small houseplants at workspaces, all the way up to greenhouse-like indoor environments,” Rogovin said. “The upside is direct engagement with plant life; however, there is an increased cost to upkeep.”

Other strategies to provide exposure to nature can be built into facility or structure design, he noted, such as windows with a view and courtyard spaces. Even a digital display showing natural scenes, or the use of natural sounds as white noise, might provide positive effects with less maintenance required.

It’s not always simple to predict how global and societal trends will shape work environments. However, facility managers can be key players in creating competitive advantages that propel their companies forward. It makes sense to take a fresh look at how workplaces could change to accommodate societal changes, environmental factors, and human experience through different ways of working.

Originally published in FMJ magazine.