Workspace Technology Tools Help Organizations Support Mobile Staff Engagement and Productivity

July 2, 2014

Integrated workplace planning strategies provide a win/win for employers and staff

As the workforce continues to become increasingly mobile, dispersed and even global, progressive organisations are leveraging the workforce evolution as an opportunity to implement new strategies for managing top operating costs—real estate, personnel and technology. An integrated and strategic approach to workforce mobility enables organisations to support a more productive, flexible, agile, engaged and empowered workforce that no longer operates in a highly routine and centralised manner.

For example, Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), a United Kingdom-based global organisation that fights poverty in developing countries through volunteers, significantly reduced its real estate footprint and saved £400,000 by implementing a hotdesking program that enables 320 employees to operate in a space with 180 desks.

The organisation accomplished this by using workspace management tools that enable staff to locate and reserve workspaces when they are at the office. Its workspace management solution works with any Web browser or smartphone, and it integrates with Microsoft Outlook and on-site kiosks for staff who need to find ad hoc space. VSO’s head of international technology notes that it is useful to have a visual solution that enables employees to see where others are sitting and select a workspace near teammates in order to collaborate on projects when they are in the office. And, the real estate savings can be directed back into VSO’s programmes, which pleases donors.

National Health Service Greater Glasgow and Clyde, the UK’s largest health board, also deployed a hotdesking program to address its employees’ requests for great agility and to help the organisation save on lease costs. After piloting the program and confirming that employees were able to quickly learn and consistently use its workspace scheduling system, the organisation plans to incorporate 130 additional hotdesk locations in its newest facility.

The Workforce Evolution

Numerous factors are influencing the trend toward workplace flexibility and workforce mobility. It’s important for real estate professionals to be aware of these trends as the relationships between workforce and workplace management grow closer. A few examples include:

Wage increases have held around a fairly anemic three percent for the past four years. Not surprisingly, job satisfaction rates are dropping as a result. Employees were happy just to have jobs during the Recession, but tolerance is shrinking as they continue to hear about growing corporate profits while wages remain flat. Many employers are feeling more pressure to retain staff, yet they must do so with little or no additional resources. Studies have shown that workplace flexibility is a highly valued perk for employees and they are willing to sacrifice wages for it.

Having systems in place for staff to work remotely helps to protect organisations from crippling shutdowns due to weather, disasters or other unforeseen interruptions. ISO22301, a relatively new International Standard for Business Continuity, was developed to drive organisations to have operational contingency plans in place for crises. Organizations that are already flexible in their daily operations can more readily adjust to inclement situations.

The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 was developed to increase telecommuting in federal government agencies for a variety of reasons, including reducing the government’s real estate footprint and related costs, ensuring business continuity in emergency situations, and supporting recruitment and retention.

More than One Way to Go Mobile

Not so long ago, the term “telecommuting” may have invoked images of an unkempt slacker sitting in a home office wearing pyjamas or old sweatpants all day. Alternately, you may envision today’s mobile worker as an on-the-road salesperson who operates in the field or a smug techie who is armed with the latest mobile devices and hangs out in coffee shops to avoid being in the office.

Equipped with portable and powerful technology, today’s mobile workers can be almost any type of employees whose role does not inherently require a constant on-site presence. And, they are using their flexibility to be more agile and productive. They are not just empowered to avoid the distractions, disruptions, and cycle of constant meetings that often characterize a typical office workday, but they are also using mobility to spend more time meeting and collaborating with customers, vendors and other business partners.

Also, as work-life balance becomes a higher priority for today’s workforce, and increasingly global operations may require work time outside of traditional office hours, mobile workers are demanding flexibility to work when and where they need – especially when they know that technology makes it possible. A 2013 Forrester study reported “anytime, anywhere workers” in the U.S. and Europe grew from 23 percent to 29 percent between 2011 and 2012, and the International Data Corporation (IDC) projects that 1.3 billion workers worldwide will be mobile by 2015.

Gone, but Not Forgotten: Keep ‘em Coming Back

Mobile work does not have to be an either/or scenario – you are an office person or you are a remote person. Today’s mobile worker often is a hybrid, and the office remains a critical “hub” they visit for meetings, reconnecting with co-workers, face time with supervisors, traditional desk time and general reconnecting with the overall organisation.

In order to keep mobile staff engaged and productive, organisations need to make the office accessible and inviting for them to continue visiting as often as needed. If they are left to their own devices to find working space in an unused meeting room or a workstation that’s open because the regular occupant is sick or on vacation, mobile staff may feel more like unannounced guests than an integral part of the family. This not only decreases their engagement level, but also reduces productivity.

Instead, mobile staff need a reliable system that assures they will always have a place to work for drop-in visits. And they need to be able to easily find and reserve it so they don’t waste time hunting for an open spot to work. A welcoming and accessible environment helps to encourage and promote drop-in visits and the proper balance of home/office time so they remain engaged with their supervisors, team members, other work colleagues and the organisation in general.

Many organisations, like VSO and National Health Service Greater Glasgow and Clyde, are moving from assigned workspaces to shared workspace models by adopting off ice hoteling or hot desking strategies for staff who can work mostly offsite and therefore do not need a “permanent home” in the office. Designating workspace areas for mobile staff demonstrates that the organisation still wants and expects to see them, and is committed to accommodating them.

The Space Planning Process

Planning workspace for employees whose schedules fluctuate can be a challenge. Allocate too much and you lose the opportunity to save on space-related costs, but have too many empty spaces, and you give the impression that mobile staff aren’t actually visiting the office.

The planning process should begin with understanding how space is currently used. Space utilization tracking systems and technology are useful tools for capturing and analysing actual space usage trends to support educated, cost-effective decisions about the amount and specific types of workspaces the organisation needs. Most likely, you will find that workspace usage ebbs and flows. Ideally, space should be allocated to accommodate “high tide” so everyone who needs a space can always find one.

Today’s workspace utilization measurement technology provides richer and more accurate data on actual space usage to drive business decisions compared to traditional approaches, such as “bed checks” (a staff member walks through the office to conduct and tabulate periodic head counts), which only reflect utilization at points in time and do not provide a complete picture. Another method, meeting room scheduling system reviews, only shows when spaces were reserved but not whether they were actually used and to what capacity.

Careful planning and measurement can help organisations eliminate excess space or repurpose portions to optimise usage, grow headcount within existing space, or add only as much additional space as it will actually use. Ongoing monitoring via workspace utilization measurement systems can be useful to identify additional needs or opportunities to make further adjustments.

Scheduling Systems Support Productivity

Once your workspace is planned, it’s important to have a system in place so staff can easily find and reserve work and meeting space. VSO found this to be a key benefit for its staff.

Cloud-based workspace scheduling systems and mobile apps enable remote staff access from mobile devices or laptops prior to their visits so they can easily find an open spot and hit the ground running, rather than spending time trying to hunt down an open space when they drop in. These systems can also help employees locate team members with whom they need to work so they can reserve adjacent or nearby space.

On-site kiosks can help workers find their reserved space upon arrival or to make ad hoc reservations. Touch panel displays also are helpful for finding open space in a hurry. Meeting room and resource scheduling systems can be offered in the same fashion so that on- and off-site staff members alike are able to easily and efficiently plan and organise meetings by accessing the systems whenever needed.

Organizations that proactively leverage today’s workplace technology can reap the benefits of supporting an increasingly mobile workforce that is highly engaged, productive, agile and collaborative, and turn their largest expenses – real estate, personnel and technology – into strategic operational advantages.