Offices and workspaces have experienced a decade of turbulence. While businesses and companies have always been challenged, never before have long-held certainties about physical commercial premises been so closely examined. With dramatic advancements in communication technologies and their rapid adoption, the proliferation of opportunities in the knowledge economy, and changing trends in the culture of work, the very floor under our feet is shifting. How much office acreage does your business need? How efficiently do you use your current space? How can you optimize your space use? In a world where multi-billion dollar companies operate entirely without physical premises, these are important questions.

Additionally, there are also social reasons to think about space use. At the recently concluded COP 27 summit in Egypt, the top economies in the world reaffirmed their commitment to ESG goals. The built environment is a major contributor to annual global CO2 emissions. Real estate space optimization, especially within an integrated system of internet of things (IoT) devices, presents a tremendous opportunity for businesses to cut down their emissions and meet green goals.

How Space Optimization works

Optimization solutions for commercial real estate (CRE) depend on collection and analysis of data. As occupants use and interact with space they generate usage data. Analysis of usage data can give CRE owners insight on revenue generating spaces and idle spaces, which can be maximized and minimized respectively. Space data also includes individual usage trends, which can be used to create personalized work spaces accommodating the work goals of every employee.

Sensor-based Tracking
Smart solutions for space optimization employ sensors collecting presence and utilization data. Occupancy sensors can tell a business owner whether a room or desk is occupied at any given moment, enabling insights into utilization of the general office space. A system of sensors installed in a meeting room can tell us how often the room is used, what the average size of meetings is, whether the room is most commonly used for presentations or discussions, and other valuable information. This data can influence workplace strategies, resource conflict avoidance, employee experience, and decisions relating to real estate acquisition. Such space sensing capabilities may also be bundled with temperature detection, humidity control, and lighting management to create a holistic solutions package.

Desk and Room Booking
Brought on by the CoViD pandemic and urban congestion and enabled by video conferencing software, flexible work has found favour with many employees. Surveys suggest an increasing segment of people expect flexible work settings from employers. This in turn means business owners have the opportunity to optimize their space for agile work. The principle is simple: utilization data integrated with employee experience software can help workers create flexible work plans based on the availability of spaces, work goals, and presence of co-work teams. At the same time, employers can manage optimized spaces without resource clashes.

Software Analysis and Recommendations
The collation of space utilization data creates a powerful dataset for analysis and insight. Space optimization apps enable visualization of this data on a dashboard, allowing for the detection of patterns and trends. Such apps, when integrated with sensor data, can provide a dynamic and real-time representation of space usage. They may even have a portal through which employees may see and interact with the data. The most modern versions of space optimization apps also use artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to suggest ideal recommendations based on historical data and trends.

Optimization of Support Services
Once you can optimize the space around employees, you can also optimize the services they use. If utilization data of an office premises suggests only 2 out of 10 rooms have been used on a given day, cleaning and sanitation can be limited to those rooms. The same data in an integrated solutions framework can also help modulate lighting and environment control systems, thus optimizing office energy use. Other important services that are downstream of space utilization are catering, parking, security, IT maintenance, etc.

Parking optimization, in particular, has been pursued and adopted by many ‘smart’ firms thanks to its value add-on. Smart parking systems can reduce the time spent in vehicle parking by as much as 43%. A system of occupancy sensors can create a map of available spaces in a parking lot, enabling a driver to quickly manoeuvre and park. More advanced systems with IoT implementation may integrate parking lot data with automated systems of cars, enabling truly driverless parking.

Why optimize office space?

Space is the integral part of a business portfolio and its optimization obviously has economic and commercial benefits. But space is also the main point of interaction for employees, and efficient space use through digitalization will inevitably affect workspace experience in a positive way.

Improve employee experience
In an era of health pandemics – the WHO is already preparing for the next one – long commutes, and rising fuel and real estate prices, the phenomenon of hybrid work has caught on among workers. Space optimization based on usage data is a great enabler of hybrid work. Smart solutions help facility managers visualize how employees use the office space, understand what work settings they prefer, and enable fluid space allocation based on employee demand. An integrated solution would also bring together other aspects of employee experience such as personalization, wellness, and ambience.

Save Real Estate costs
Space optimization solutions greatly ease decisions relating to acquisition or reduction of commercial real estate. Accurate and granular data tells business owners exactly what is the cost per desk and the utilization ratio. Based on these insights and recommendations owners can make confident decisions on right-sizing the office. Moreover, any cost optimization achieved with space will be enhanced with optimization of the cost of services such as catering, cleaning, maintenance, and others.

Gain insights for future design
Constant tracking and monitoring of space use builds up a great store of data insights on how exactly a given piece of real estate is used, where improvements and optimizations can be made, and what elements must be preserved or expanded. If certain desks, rooms, or work settings are favoured by employees over others – and therefore, generate more revenue than others – then it makes eminent sense to increase their proportion in future designs. For a growing business, space optimization enables an organic growth and evolution of CRE assets.

Modern technologies and trends allow for optimizing space use with no negative impact on occupants. With IoT systems, AI, and high-speed networks the alchemy of efficiency and experience has been achieved. Smart space optimization can eliminate overheads and wastes taken as unavoidable until now, while dramatically improving occupant experience and informing future development. The sensor-based techniques when integrated into a comprehensive package open up great possibilities for deep insight, fine-tuned performance, and energy savings. In a rapidly urbanizing world such tech-enabled use of space in a responsible, cost-effective, and personalized fashion will surely differentiate the best businesses from the rest.