One of the main questions that comes up time and again is whether, as part of a shared workspace environment, staff should be required to book the space they wish to use ahead of time. And by space, let’s exclude meeting rooms and focus on desks/pods/workstations that support a single user.
Is a Booking System Required?
The problem with answering this is that it really does depend on the people, their roles, the amount of space available and the drivers of change. But in its simplest form, it's about supply and demand. If demand for space regularly outstrips supply, then clearly pre-booking is needed in order to give staff certainty that when they travel to their place of work, they will have somewhere to be productive.
We do see projects involving our desk booking technology where it's ultimately not required. This is mainly because the business has not been bold enough in their view of how much workspace to provide. Users quickly spot this, and after just a few days will cease to book ahead, as they know space will always be available. If a company is lucky enough to have the budget to provide enough space that people will always be able to find a place to work without pre-booking, then great!
As mentioned in my last blog, Activity Based Working (ABW) programmes work really effectively as “turn up and use” space. But it could be argued that if a booking system isn't needed, the property is probably not being used to an optimal level. In this case, an increase in utilisation rates is certainly achievable. For example, more people could use the same space, without a noticeable drop in productivity.
Several leading lights in the property advisory space have said to me that they don’t recommend space booking systems, as it goes against the principles of ABW, which prevents them from being agile. They may have a point here, but if a booking solution is simple, intuitive and quick to use, it can provide many benefits to the company and staff alike.
With a high utilisation rate, comes high demand. This demand pattern might be lumpy and bumpy: peaks on Monday mornings, troughs on Fridays. So supplying space to staff with some certainty is essential. Enter the booking system. Staff don’t expect to be able to turn up at Heathrow airport and board a flight to New York: there’s an acceptance that you pre-book an appropriate amount of time ahead as the airline is balancing their supply and demand with a very finite capacity of seats. But what other benefits come from booking systems for workspaces?
Find People Quickly
Most flexible forms of working, from ABW through to part-time work and home working, involve staff being in a variety of places throughout the week. And in an increasingly agile workplace, where teams are bought together from many different locations, knowing where your colleagues are working can be a vital piece of the productivity puzzle. But tracking staff in a simple way that avoids any worrying Big Brother employee behaviour isn’t easy. It’s generally accepted that any kind of employee finder tool has to be “opt-in”, ubiquitous, cost effective and easy to scale. What better than a space booking system with a corresponding colleague finder app accessed from a mobile?
It’s no surprise to see why many vendors, including Condeco, are now deploying workplace occupancy sensors to customer sites for occupancy measuring. But what if sensors are not possible due to cost or technical reasons? A space booking system will provide the next best thing for understanding office utilisation. It may not be 100% accurate, as people might not show up for their booking, but it’s certainly a strong indicator of current and future demand.
The problem with managing demand in the office space is that, despite best intentions, team leads and end users of space don’t always do what’s best for the efficiency of the building. At Condeco, we’ve seen a growing number of customers exploring the introduction of charge-back for use of space, based on bookings made.
A large customer of ours went all the way to switching their desk costing model from charging department heads annually on a per desk basis, to charging per half-day of booked usage. Upon launch, and with the offer of a “no quibble desk surrender”, the organisation saw a huge drop in internal demand for workspaces as people re-evaluated their true needs on a daily and weekly basis. It took some time to re-purpose the freed up space, but that wasn’t the only driver. The project was also aimed at making people stop and think about the space they needed and the true cost of that prime real estate.
As we look forward, a number of private working hubs are being launched, particularly in the public sector. Many of these hubs will embrace a form of ABW, but with charging for space based on bookings of some, but not all, space types. The logic is that premium space type, such as a quiet pod in a central London building, should attract a premium price. But if staff are able to work some part of their week in a sub-urban location with open plan desking, then space would be free of charge. They might also prefer to be closer to home on some days where they don’t need to be in the city centre, offering further benefits to employees.
When Space Booking Goes Wrong
Aside from where supply exceeds demand, other factors that can derail the good intentions of a space booking programme - including the classic “beach towel” mentality. By this, I mean the act of booking and using (or not using!) the same workspace many days or weeks into the future. This undermines the effectiveness of a flexible workspace programme, but is relatively simple to avoid with the right tools in place.
A good booking solution should have simple rules based on workflow to stop people booking too far into the future. This could possibly be combined with an allocation of a maximum amount of booking slots allowed to be made per week, forcing users to consider alternatives to using pre-booked space. Taking the central London versus suburbs example from before, I have seen some successful agile working programmes that provide a limited amount of high quality central London workspace, backed up by a larger amount of out of town office space. Users are set an allocation of 1 to 3 days per week of slots they can use in central London, and must balance the rest of their week at home or in the out of town location.
So to wrap up, managing an agile workplace with an effective management tool isn’t just about desk booking. There are a whole lot more factors to consider and benefits to be gained by having simple and intuitive solutions for users to indicate their preferred space to work, both for instant usage and pre-planned future use.