Place Still Matters in the Digital Age: Third Place Working and Productivity
Work's already escaped the office
There are a battery of arguments either way about regarding the office as the default workplace, where employees should work unless they're away at customers, conferences or otherwise on business travel. Many managers believe that routine presence in the office confers value, and that this is eroded when individuals can choose to work elsewhere in places that best suit their schedule and location. For some, the issue is still essentially about trust: "How do I know my people are working if I can't see them or at least know that they’re on site?"
Pitched against this are lifestyle and environmental arguments. "Why should I commute for long periods in uncertain and challenging travel conditions, draining energy and adding no value, when I could start work fresh and unstressed?" If this also makes it easy for people to take their kids to school, or cook dinner rather than relying on take-outs, surely these are assets that will improve their quality of life and increase the vitality and commitment that they can offer to productive work?
The office versus home! For die-hard skeptics, the spectra of people working at home is treating work as secondary to personal time: the presumption that Jack's just doing the garden, or conducting business affairs on the side, unrelated to the company for which he works. For the converted, however, agile working is a contemporary fact of life, arising from the IT revolution, and now embedded.
And the fact that so much contemporary work can be carried out independently of a fixed place underlies the reality that swathes of offices are 'running on empty', with levels of utilisation often around 50% of the workspace provided. Audits of workspace usage - empirical counts of who is actually in the office, and records of whether they're using desks, or conference space, or meeting in the cafeteria - demonstrate that much presumed presence in the office is mythical rather than actual. This data challenges financial and environmental common sense: half empty office space is not just an unnecessary liability, it wastes energy and the other resources involved in building servicing. And significantly from the perspective of employee performance, research repeatedly shows that poorly used office space is demotivating because it's low on buzz.
Third place working a norm today
Which brings us to what people look for in a workplace, and the recognition that 'office versus home' is inadequate as a range of choice. In 2011, ZZA Responsive User Environments undertook a global study on 'third place' working - focusing on those important new work venues that are neither the office nor home. We interviewed people working in libraries, coffee shops and business center settings, in New York / New Jersey, Greater London, Greater Paris, Mumbai and Hong Kong. In parallel, we surveyed business leaders, approaching them without prior knowledge of where they work, and received 17,800 responses from over 60 countries.
The two datasets highlight the important role of third places in business today. The large scale business survey demonstrates the prevalence: half the respondents report working in third places for any or all of the time (52% in business centers / lounges; 48% in informal settings like coffee shops). This compares with 59% who report working in their company's own office buildings and 49% who work at home. Third place working is indeed a new norm.
Further, respondents' use of third spaces to work is consistent across the size of their organisations, whether there are large ( > 249 people), medium (50-249), small (10-49) or micro (0-9). And 72% of interviewees report the third place interview setting as their most frequent work location, with 50% reporting that they work there 4 or 5 days per week.
Why people work in third places: global research results
Why do people choose these places to work? Based on previous engagement with employees on workplace strategy, ZZA proposed a range of possible reasons for third place working. These include:
The reasons the respondents checked, and their narrative explanations, suggest four high level strategic drivers why people work in third places:
In both data sets, location is the number one factor: people look to work away from - but close to - home (73% of the large business survey, and 67% of the interviewees).
Focus on productive working
The data is compelling in illuminating people's need for a workplace away from home in order to be productive. This is largely about conducive mindset - getting started on work activity, being galvanised by other people working around you, being free from distractions at home, and being able to focus fully as the work requires. The crux is a change in scene from home. This is an irony; ubiquitous communication has dissolved the link between work and fixed place - this allows work away from the office. But with scope to work wherever we are, people are now using space to compartment their lives, with different settings to fulfill different roles, ring-fencing work, and protecting family and downtime. The research is clear, that contrary to theory, physical place still matters in the digital age.
Opportunities for business
What are the implications for business? Number one is reassurance for those doubters that working away from the office means reduced work commitment. The data demonstrates the opposite; people working in third places to support productive working. The second point is the importance of working 'close to home' to unlock the other benefits. No business can afford to own and operate office space close to the extensive range of places where employees live in big metro areas. Third places have their own operators. This is an advantage to business, enabling responsive workplace resourcing for their people - in the right localities, on a flexible basis as requirements demand, without fixed costs -avoiding unnecessary and wasteful routine commuting, as well as supporting them on business travel.
Companies can support their people in using the type of third space that’s optimal for their needs, whether the informality of a coffee shop will suffice for the purpose, or the more professional, client-facing, confidential setting of a business center or business lounge is more appropriate. Third-place working is an available resource to conduct contemporary business activity - productively and sustainably.
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About the author:
Ziona Strelitz is an Anthropologist, Planner and Workplace Strategist specialising in research. Her company, ZZA Responsive User Environments www.zza.co.uk, has over 20 years experience working with leading clients to shape efficient and sustainable property solutions that reflect the "people proposition". Ziona is an international presenter, visiting professor, member of government panels, and awards judge. She is author of "Buildings that Feel Good" (2008), and "Energy, People, Place, Sustainable Urban Paradigm" (February 2012).
This Week's Sponsor:
Dean Evans & Associates. Founded in 1986 and based in Denver, Dean Evans & Associates is a leader in the development of sophisticated software systems including: meeting and event scheduling, resource management, academic scheduling, shared workspace management (office "hoteling"), web calendaring and online registration and surveys. Today, more than 4,000 organizations rely on EMS software. The company's products are used in over 75 countries and are backed by an award winning Customer Support team. Twitter: @EMSxDEA
Next Week: Intelligent Buildings
Actual Space Utilization Data Produces $85 Million in Annual Savings with EMS Software
Overcrowded Headquarters or Underutilized Space?
One of the ten largest, private companies in the U.S. wasn't sure whether its headquarters was overcrowded or underutilized. Department managers thought they needed more space, pointing to a scheduling system that showed all of the building's existing rooms fully booked. But walking the office's floors revealed many unoccupied work spaces.
This EMS customer was already a highly efficient user of "hoteling," the practice of assigning employees shared workspace on an as-needed basis, but the company was interested in tracking actual attendance and space utilization compared to the reservations made in its scheduling software.
With branches in more than 100 countries, this large firm's office in the heart of New York City is particularly important. The building houses almost 4,500 employees on more than 30 floors. The hoteling concept proved widely successful, but the question of whether more or less space was needed remained.
The company sought out a way to determine not just how many work spaces were being reserved, but how many were being used on a day-to-day, hour-by-hour basis.
The Best Laid Plans...
There are a wide variety of technologies that can help organizations capture actual attendance, which can be dramatically different than reservation data.
Some companies ask employees to check in at a kiosk upon arrival, while others require workers to use security badges to enter the premises.
Video monitors, thermal image detectors and motion sensors can also capture a record of actual attendance. Other organizations opt for automatic employee check-ins and check-outs when onsite workers log into their phone extension or computer, which establishes an IP presence linking their physical location to a particular device on a company network.
This firm consulted with EMS representatives to determine the best way to capture their headquarters' attendance, deciding on a marriage of two pre-existing, passive methods: security badge data collection and automatic check-ins via IP presence.
Human factors can cause a blip in almost every technology's accuracy. In the case of security badges, a polite employee may hold the door open for a coworker, negating that coworker's need to scan their security badge and record their onsite presence.
An employee may also spend significant time in meetings without logging onto the building's computer or phone system, thus avoiding detection by failing to establish an IP presence. But it's unlikely that an employee would slip by both these attendance tracking systems.
"The combination was smart," said Kevin Raasch, Vice President of DEA. "By using the two methods together, they eliminated a lot of human error and are able to consistently record an accurate attendance rate."
Goodbye Real Estate; Hello Savings
In order to accurately forecast real estate needs, it's crucial to plan based on actual use rather than space reservations, which can be forgotten, abandoned or simply made as a contingency plan that is never used.
With the reservation data the firm had recorded and compiled in EMS Workplace, it was able to compare bookings against its workspaces' actual use to determine real'world utilization rates. The firm was amazed by the results, which indicated - contrary to the fully booked reservations - that the company had too much work space.
Only 49 percent of assigned offices were being used, while employees used just 67 percent of short term reservations. That left 1,665 offices vacant on a daily basis at a cost of $17.8 million annually. Using EMS and the attendance tracking technologies, the company was able to more accurately forecast genuine real estate needs and eventually function so efficiently in its "cramped" space that it didn't need to seek out additional room for its employees.
Instead, the corporation was able to vacate six floors. In Manhattan, three of those floors were quickly sublet for an annual savings of $85 million. Real estate has since moved from the firm's second largest expense to its third largest cost.
With 695 offices around the world, the company continues to explore how to most efficiently use their 21 million square feet of space by analyzing data from EMS and attendance tracking technologies. It expects to save an additional $97 million over the next five years.
For more information on Dean Evans & Associates, and the company's event management, master calendaring, online registration and survey software products, go to www.dea.com or contact the Sales department at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1.800.440.3994 ext. 863.
Understanding Energy Audits for Commercial Buildings - 7/26/2012
Energy Audits That Work: Energy assessments and audits of commercial properties have taken on increased significance in today’s market, yet there is confusion by the building owner, manager or tenant about what is needed, why, how much it should cost, and who is most qualified to perform such an audit. While some audits are free, others cost money; while some are limited in scope, others are comprehensive; while some are product-specific, others are holistic. In this webinar we will explore a wide range of energy audit issues including emerging best practices, standards, pricing, practical results, ROI, and next steps. After all, once you’ve done such an audit, the work is only beginning! Register now!