Treasury Today Country Profiles in association with Citi

Your workspace costs a small fortune – use it wisely!

Empty office space

If you ever worked out how much your workspace costs as part of a commercial real-estate deal you would probably make a lot more use of it.

It seems rather odd that with all the talk in industry of optimising efficiency and maximising return on investment (ROI) that the second most costly asset for any company – real estate – is often woefully underused. In the financial services sector, although it necessarily operates in some of the world’s costliest locations, up to 58% of desks are going unused throughout the day and 71% of meeting rooms not being used.

Companies seem largely unaware of the issue of underuse. Indeed, the above figures, drawn from the benchmarking report for financial services delivered in late 2014 by global design, architecture, engineering and urban planning firm, HOK, suggest that there is much work to be done to prevent wastage. Any other asset that was approached in this manner would surely be a target for thorough investigation, so why not this?

Part of the problem seems to be a lack of visibility when it comes to meeting-room management. According to a study of the financial services sector by Condeco Software, a firm that specialises in workspace management, around 20% of meeting rooms that are booked go unused. When a meeting is cancelled or rescheduled, failure to cancel the booked meeting room can unnecessarily impact the schedule of fellow workers and cost the company dearly if an offsite venue has to be booked due to an apparent lack of available meeting space.

UK banking giant, Barclays, identified the need to better manage workspace at its Canary Wharf Head Office. Having conducted its own research it found that 20% of its desk space was unused at any given time and that there were between 20-30% of no-shows for booked meeting rooms. For an organisation that, in its own words, is “under constant pressure to provide additional facilities at premium rates”, this was a significant issue.

Until businesses have access to the facts about how efficient their office space usage actually is, the rising cost of commercial real estate in the key financial centres will see the continued haemorrhaging of cash, says Paul Statham, Condeco’s CEO. “It is the large corporates, who own vast amounts of real estate across many cities and countries, who experience this pain more than anyone else.”

If mismanagement and forgetfulness are contributing factors to the persistent underuse of space, then the growing trends for remote working and the increasing flexibility of the workspace are also playing a part. The HOK benchmarking report noted that 54% of employee time is spent working alone. This means work on individual tasks can be done on-site or off-site, “representing an opportunity for flexible work strategies”. With mobile technology giving employees more choice as to how and where they do their work, workplace design concepts such as the ‘collaborative space’ – ad hoc venues where people can meet and share ideas – and ‘hot-desking’, are supporting improved employee engagement and satisfaction and even enhancing productivity.

As the location of the workspace changes, so the shape of the workplace must change to ensure all available space is used effectively. Help is at hand: a number of vendors including Condeco and its rivals, Resource Xpress and Priava, offer software capable of providing real-time visibility of status and availability a firm’s workspace resources. Switching from a static work environment to a more dynamic and flexible approach has enabled Barclays’ facilities management team to ensure that rooms are effectively allocated using the Condeco meeting room management system. The team uses the same software to manage a flexible workspace model that caters for the changing and changeable working habits of its staff.

If those responsible for workspace management in other organisations are unaware of space issues, then the HOK survey makes for interesting reading. It clearly shows that whilst employees believe aspects such as areas for focused work, sufficient acoustical separation and adaptable and well laid-out workspaces are important workplace attributes, there is a large gap between level of importance and the current level of satisfaction experienced. There are opportunities here to enhance the workplace environment but, says HOK, if these aspects are left unattended “they have the potential to hinder productivity”. Combine this with the increasing cost of wasted space and suddenly now may be a good time to start using your workspace more effectively.