Break Down Silo Mentality or Miss Out on Smart Buildings and Agile Working – Abintra Warns

Corporations must break down the silo mentality of their teams to unlock the potential of agile working.

That’s the verdict of international flexible workplace specialist Abintra, which pioneered workplace utilisation technology more than a decade ago with its WiseNet system, and which has advised more than 100 corporations worldwide to monitor office usage and redesign workspaces.

The consultancy warns that unless firms take a business-wide approach, they will fail to implement flexible working properly and will miss out on the advent of smart buildings.

David Maddison, Abintra’s Head of Sales EMEA, said: “Firms need to take a holistic approach to reorganising the way they work. It shouldn’t be just the preserve of the real estate or FM team. It needs to be communicated across the whole business. HR should be fully involved to help to create an improved environment. Other departments, such as IT, have important roles to play. Management should be driving change towards corporate objectives, such as improved efficiency and better recruitment and retention. To make it happen, they need to do more than delegate it to a single team, they need to bring teams together on an enterprise-wide mission.”

Mr Maddison said advances in smart buildings added new emphasis to the need for a well-rounded approach to workplace design. “We now have the technology not only to enable flexible working but also to monitor and control the environment down to the individual desk level. As smart buildings gain traction, it’s crucial that teams work together to reap the rewards, looking beyond energy savings and towards creating a better, more productive work environment, one that contributes to employees’ health and wellbeing.”

Referring to the Vischer* three-level comfort model of wellbeing at work, he said: “By monitoring the office environment and how and when it is being used, we can create adaptable workplaces that address all users’ needs, from physical comfort and wellbeing to how the environment supports them to do their job effectively.”

Abintra reports an increasing number of enquiries from customers wanting to overhaul their working environments as employee wellbeing rises up the corporate agenda.

“Recruitment and retention are massive priorities for major corporations, and this is leading to more and more of them reviewing their working environments,” said Mr Maddison.

Abintra points out that involving the workforce in the process is a crucial step to making it work. It is important to convey respect to the worker, one of the linchpins of theory put forward by people-centred-design researcher Professor Jeremy Myerson.

It is important because so-called knowledge workers, the kind that typically populate the offices of major corporations, have a strong sense of control. There is a risk of threatening that sense by failing to involve them or, on the contrary, offering too much choice, which can be alarming for some people.

Mr Maddison said: “Also under the banner of conveying respect to the worker is silent messaging, the cues that an office environment gives to the people who work in it. That speaks much louder about an employer than any mission statement. Ideally, it should provide a sense of community.”

The second linchpin is that office environments should support the work that needs to be done and provide an environment that allows workers to refresh themselves mentally.

There is no doubt that corporations have space to play with. A recently-published Abintra report reveals that large office-based firms with 250 or more employees in England and Wales are together spending more than £10 billion on under-used Grade A office space.

Mr Maddison concluded: “This all relates to organisations valuing their number one asset, their people, and leveraging their second biggest overhead, their workplace, to develop environments that address these key factors.”

*Three levels of workplace comfort

  1. Physical comfort or basic habitability. Most modern workplaces already meet this level.
  2. Functional comfort supports employees to better perform their work, including lighting, temperature, layout, ambience and ergonomics. Few workplaces get beyond this level.
  3. Psychological comfort is concerned with more than just the employee’s performance. It relates to factors such as territory, privacy, trust, control, attachment and belonging. This is the key to improving mental wellbeing through workplace design.

Flexible working in the news

Flexible working, desk sensors and office utilization monitoring in the media

What is flexible working? That’s a question we come across often here at Abintra. Most people think it’s about being able to work flexible hours, allowing employees to have a better work-life balance.

But there is more to it, as recent media articles demonstrate.

In the first, Legal Futures, a UK website for forward-thinking law firms, asks if flexible working can save the environment. Now that’s an idea!

Read it here

It points out that despite the rise in flexible working, the daily commute is still very much a key feature of the working day. The right to request flexible working was rolled out in 2014 but five years on, less than one in ten jobs paying more than £20k are advertised as flexible.

It says the main drivers for flexible working are cost cutting by reducing real estate costs and social benefits (family friendliness), but it says reduced impact on the environment should be another, as fewer commutes would cut pollution. It points to a report from the Carbon Trust claiming that homeworking could save around 3 million tons of carbon emissions in the UK.

In a second article, Workplace Insight, another UK online resource looks at the vogue theme of agile working.

Read it here

It’s a hot concept for progressive managers looking to break away from traditional working models in pursuit of more creativity and productivity. We should say here that in our experience, workplaces redesigned for agility are also popular with employees, and they go hand in hand with flexible working, of course.

Workplace Insight, whose readers include HR, IT and facilities managers, looks back to The Agile Manifesto, which way back in 2001 signalled a shift in approach to workplace design. One of a dozen principles in the manifesto is that you should build projects around motivated individuals and give them the environment they need to get the job done.

According to the piece, flexible working, activity-based working, remote working, and unassigned seating are all manifestations of this idea. Work is changing, and workplaces need to reflect this, it notes, listing three primary drivers behind the shift to agile working in the UK.
1. Reducing costs: Switching to flexible working reduces the need for expensive real estate.
2. Growth: Activity-based designs allow companies to flex as occupancy rates fluctuate.
3. Employee experience: Insight points out that organisations are fighting a “war for talent, so offices need to be appealing. Three out of four employees cite flexibility as one of their top two reasons to stay with an employer.

The third media piece comes from Open Access Government, an international forum on public policy, and it focuses on a subject close to our hearts, smart buildings. This piece says smart technologies can improve the sustainability of commercial buildings alongside other “soft” benefits such as health and wellbeing.

Read it here

It reckons firms’ sustainability strategies have been a major driver for the technology which gives facilities managers more efficient controls over energy usage with significant reductions in consumption.

Smart systems allow lighting, heating, air conditioning and ventilation to be monitored and adjusted according to a building’s usage and occupation, even down to an individual employee’s preferences when connected to individual desk sensors.

Moving on to the subject of wellbeing, the article says smart tech has an important role in health and wellbeing by creating an environment that helps people to stay alert and energised.

Abintra’s WiseNet sensors can monitor air quality, light, temperature and noise levels among other factors that affect employees’ concentration levels.

One of the main points we make to our customers is that offering employees the opportunity to work flexibly is – or should be – just one direction of a two-way street. In return, our experience is that employees are much better disposed to accepting desk sharing and new agile working systems.

This argument is even stronger when the environmental improvements are added in to the mix, with many employees concerned about wider environmental issues and reducing their own carbon footprint. The environmental theme is also especially compelling when employees are given the power to adapt their individual desk environment to their personal taste.

Accurate data about office use is key to flexible working

Abintra News Release

Firms are failing to implement flexible working because of poor data about how they use their office space, warns a leading workplace specialist.

Abintra, which pioneered the use of sensors to measure office use, says many managers still rely on gut feeling or flawed systems to make important real estate decisions.

The rising popularity of agile working has seen many firms reorganise their workplaces to attract and retain the best people. Flexible working can also save money by cutting the amount of expensive real estate that firms own or rent.

Abintra, which has helped hundreds of major corporations worldwide to introduce flexible working, warns that one of the reasons firms are falling at the first hurdle is that they are failing to understand how they currently use their office space. That leads to “flexible” solutions that don’t work because they don’t offer enough of the right kinds of spaces or because they inflate or deflate the amount of real estate that an organisation actually needs.

The company recently published a report on emerging trends in occupancy management in 2019 listing unreliable methods being used to assess usage statistics. These included manual “clipboard” studies and video tracking of people coming into or leaving an office space. The former doesn’t allow for detailed analysis of work patterns while the latter doesn’t deliver data on individual desk use.

Abintra favours the use of infrared sensors mounted to the underside of work surfaces to detect presence. It offers fast-track surveys using the technology to give managers in-depth data in four weeks.

Find out more about surveys

Tony Booty, a Director of the company, says: “Unlike sensors attached to individuals or systems that rely on using employees’ phones, it is a non-invasive solution, making it easier to win staff approval.”

The company provides number crunching software enabling managers to see how office space is being used via their web browser. The data can be interrogated to give an accurate view of office use over different time periods.

Once flexible working is implemented, the same technology can be used to generate a live floor plan. This allows staff to work flexibly by seeing where space to work is available and choosing different places to work within the office depending on what they are working on or just the mood that they are in.

With the launch of a new combined sensor, Abintra can also provide data on key environmental metrics as well as space utilisation, such as temperature and air quality. That allows facilities managers to deliver high levels of comfort for office users while helping to reduce energy waste. For example, by collecting data on the environmental conditions at each workstation, systems can be adjusted to provide improved levels of temperature and humidity control.

Abintra launches environmental platform for office real estate management

Flexible workplace specialist Abintra has launched a new environmental platform integrated with its office space monitoring system.

Abintra’s consultancy and award-winning WiseNet technology are used by major firms worldwide to manage how they use their office real estate, allowing them to introduce new kinds of spaces to respond to the growing trend towards agile working.

Now, with the launch of its new combined sensor, the system can provide data on key environmental metrics as well as space utilisation without the need to increase the overall number of sensors in a building.

With that environmental data, facilities managers can deliver high levels of comfort for office users while helping to reduce energy waste. For example, by collecting data on the environmental conditions at each workstation, systems can be adjusted to provide improved levels of temperature and humidity control.

Tony Booty, Commercial Director at Abintra, said: “This new technology will be a boon to our current customers and prospective clients, and it will reinforce our reputation as a leader in occupancy management. We believe it will play an important role as companies strive to achieve reduced energy costs and emissions as well as providing improved working environments for their people.”

The product has been launched in response to growing demand from Abintra’s customers and prospects for technology that looks at wider aspects of the workplace, including comfort and wellbeing, as large organisations compete to attract and retain the best talent.

The new combined sensor can link to existing building automation or lighting while built-in environmental sensing can augment or control systems directly. Integrated into the WiseNet system, sensors can measure and monitor a building’s environmental demand to deliver essential reporting data in real-time.

Paul Hallam, Abintra’s chief product strategist, said: “With the introduction of our fully functional environmental solution, we have added another first to our product portfolio. This new technology is now available to be implemented at customer locations.”

Introducing Surveys – the fast way to monitor your office space

How long will it take you to find out if you’re using your office space efficiently? Book one of our fast-track workplace surveys, and you’ll have all the answers at your fingertips in just four weeks.

Booking your four-week study is a great first step towards introducing flexible working, or making your existing office layouts even more agile.

Our experts will install the sensors and link them wirelessly to our award-winning software. We’ll help you to interpret the data, and we’ll advise on new workplace strategies in line with your corporate goals.

You’ll discover for the first time exactly how much desk space is going to waste and how often those over-booked meeting rooms are really being used. The results are often genuinely astonishing with typical potential space savings of 30 per cent or even more.

Knowing how your office real estate is actually used can translate into lower overheads, and it also gives you the option to create more agile working environments, which are valued by employees. So realigning your workspace can make a real contribution to recruitment and retention.

Abintra always involves your people from the outset in any space utilisation study so that they come along on the journey. It’s all about making better spaces that support you and your people to deliver your business objectives.

The starting point is knowing where you are now, and that’s where Abintra adds value. Unlike some alternative methods, our Wisenet system delivers ultra-accurate data that can be studied over any timeframe and filtered by any parameter of your choice. Most importantly, with Wisenet, you know you can rely on the results.

Join major corporations worldwide who trust Abintra’s industry-leading expertise for unrivalled insight into office real estate. Our pioneering WiseNet sensor technology sets the industry benchmark for utilisation and environmental monitoring.

To find out more, please use the Contact link below.

You’re just four weeks away from finding how you’re using your office real estate and how to adapt for the future.

Seeing the Big Picture: Best Practice in Office Utilisation Episode One

In this first instalment of our new series on Best Practice in Office Utilisation, we highlight the importance of adopting a business-wide approach to unlock the new world of flexible working

If you work in a large corporation, the chances are your office real estate is your single biggest overhead after your staff. It’s also quite likely that you have one team responsible for your workforce and an entirely separate one for your building management. That is not ideal because, of course, people and places are closely intertwined. Corporations will never get the best out of their people nor make the most of their real estate assets if they don’t look at their organisations in the round. That is why when it comes to reviewing how you use your office real estate, the first step is to see the big picture. It’s number one on our list of best practice in office utilisation for a reason.

There are several reasons why a real estate review might come up. An organisation may be expanding and feel that it needs more space or vice versa. It might be opening in a new location or downsizing one. Perhaps someone has decided that the existing premises need a revamp, or gloomy economic predictions may have put real estate costs on the FD’s agenda. All of these are to a greater or lesser extent linked to the bottom line, and there is no getting away from the fact that Grade A offices are big ticket items. Our 2018 study ‘Wasted Space’ revealed that major organisations in the UK were collectively wasting £10 billion in under-utilised office real estate.

People first

Yet one of the biggest current drivers for corporations carrying out real estate reviews has less to do with money and everything to do with people. It is, of course, flexible working. The benefits of flexible, or agile, working have been the subject of thousands of column inches and broadcast hours in workplace and business media. More and more corporations seeing the potential to make space savings. Having worked with more than 100 organisations worldwide, we’ve seen that the scale of those savings can be quite astonishing: 30 per cent or even more is typical. As our report into the subject showed, those savings could be turned into monetary advantage.

However, many of our customers have done things differently and used the data we collect for them to reimagine their workspaces. That’s because the way we work is changing, and people want to work in places that are adapted to new ways of working. In order to recruit and retain the best people, corporations are realising they have to satisfy the demand of a new, agile generation of workers. We have seen customers switching to flexible working to move away from the one-person-one-desk-and-a-shared-meeting-room norm, giving room to introduce new breakout areas for informal team chats and even franchised coffee shops.

Mission critical

It seems fair to say that responding to the new world of work should be mission critical for any major corporation. After all, flexible or agile working are undoubtedly hot topics in business, and the related area of smart buildings is also hitting the headlines. These new approaches to office and people management offer bottom-line benefits in recruitment, retention, productivity and efficient use of space. Yet many organisations are failing to unlock the potential, and this is especially true for large, well-resourced corporations who stand to gain the most. Too often it seems that a big picture either isn’t in the frame or doesn’t have the drive from the top behind it to make it happen. We see it manifested in organisations failing to get to grips with flexible working or opting for low-cost real estate reviews that give unreliable data to managers with blinkered ideas. Why does this happen?

The challenge is that implementing this kind of cultural change takes a business-wide approach. Without it, corporations will fail to implement flexible working properly and will miss out on the advent of smart buildings.

That means senior management needs to champion a holistic approach to reorganising the workplace. It shouldn’t be just the preserve of the real estate or FM team. It needs to be communicated across the whole business. HR should be fully involved to help to create an improved environment. IT has a crucial role to play.

Driving change

So, management should be driving change. After all, the benefits are going to help you to deliver on corporate objectives, such as improved efficiency and better recruitment and retention. To make it happen will take more than delegating responsibility to a single team. We need to bring teams together on an enterprise-wide mission.

Advances in smart buildings add new emphasis to the need for a well-rounded approach to workplace design. We now have the technology, not only to enable flexible working but also to monitor and control the environment as never before, right down to the individual desk level. As smart buildings gain traction, it’s crucial that teams work together to reap the rewards, looking beyond energy savings and towards creating a better, more productive work environment, one that contributes to employees’ health and wellbeing.

By monitoring the office environment and how and when it is being used, we can create adaptable workplaces that address all users’ needs, from physical comfort and wellbeing to how the environment supports them to do their job effectively.

Wellbeing

At Abintra, we are seeing an increasing number of enquiries from customers wanting to overhaul their working environments. That’s because employee wellbeing is rising up the corporate agenda.

Recruitment and retention are massive priorities for major corporations, and this is leading to more and more of them reviewing their working environments.

Unfortunately, many are making mistakes by failing to bring teams together to implement change. It’s also vitally important to involve the workforce in the process.

There is no doubt that corporations have space to play with. A recently-published Abintra report reveals that large office-based firms with 250 or more employees in England and Wales are together spending more than £10 billion on under-used Grade A office space.

Flexible working

Abintra pioneered workplace utilisation technology more than a decade ago and has since advised more than 100 corporations worldwide to monitor office usage and redesign workspaces. We know it can be done.

It all relates to organisations valuing their number one asset, their people, and leveraging their second biggest overhead, their workplace, to develop environments that address these key factors.

In London alone, the cost of office space being under-utilised is more than £4 billion annually, the report concludes, with large firms in other regions collectively squandering billions more.

Big employers with large office spaces are likely to benefit the most by addressing the issue and switching to flexible working strategies such as desk sharing. They can use Abintra’s workplace monitoring systems and our specialist consultancy expertise to typically find an extra 30 per cent or more of space.

However, we don’t expect the findings to stimulate a rush to smaller premises. Of course, it’s possible to take the data and decide to downsize and save money, but most businesses choose to use their newly-discovered space to enhance the workplace, for example by introducing new agile working areas, such as in-house coffee shops and informal meeting spaces. These have proven benefits for productivity as well as recruitment and retention, so being able to accommodate them without having to take on extra space is a huge advantage.

Real estate decisions

Clearly, information about the amount of space a business actually needs in a given location is critical for planning future real estate decisions. It can also be deployed by risk managers to ensure sufficient space is available to keep mission critical operations running if there is a disaster within a building or at another nearby company location.

The report reveals that large office-based firms with 250 or more employees in England and Wales are together spending £10,158 million on unnecessary total occupancy costs – that’s rent, rate and associated costs of running a workspace and related office functions.

What’s more, the issue is probably on an even bigger scale than the report’s conclusions, since our calculations are based on modest estimates of the amount of space saving possible and the number of people who work in offices.

Footnote: Businesses blow billions on wasted office space

Big businesses in England and Wales are squandering £10 billion a year by failing to get to grips with under-used office space, as our study shows.

The report ‘Wasted Space: The colossal cost of under-used office real estate’ draws together data from our work with more than 100 corporations worldwide with figures from government and the property industry to put hard numbers on the issue for the first time.

Download the report free