The smart and agile workspace

Corporates are reassessing the size of their workplaces to save costs and accommodate new working trends, where shared space and remote work are key.

Johannesburg, 01 Nov 2019
Read time 5min 30sec
Sugen Govender, Head: Digital Transformation/Experience, Altron Bytes Managed Solutions
Sugen Govender, Head: Digital Transformation/Experience, Altron Bytes Managed Solutions

Workplace management and workspace optimisation are the current buzzwords around workspace. Workspace optimisation refers to the efficient use of space. Sugen Govender, Head: Digital Transformation/Experience at Altron Bytes Managed Solutions, says: “In today’s day and age, a large number of corporates are reassessing the size of their campuses as they seek to have a more agile workforce. This is in part owing to the high cost of prime real estate, as well as because of new working trends where shared space, hot desking and remote work are key. 

"Executives are now asking; can we save costs and create a more positive employee experience by optimising our space? Do we have enough meeting rooms? Do we need more collaborative areas?" he says.

Modern workspaces and the people who use them are fundamentally different to the workplaces of old. Businesses are reducing the number of staff that they have on site, allowing staff to work remotely and using hot desks in the office for people wanting to work from there. The ability to book these hot desks forms part of the workspace management solution. “It’s all about having an agile office space as well as an agile workforce,” explains Govender.

Technology, including occupancy sensors and workspace booking systems, is used to gather data about workspace usage and the resulting analytics can establish whether the business has sufficient or too many desks, meeting rooms and the like. This is a global trend: space costs money, so making the most efficient use of that space makes good business sense.

However, technology enables businesses to do so much more than merely use their space efficiently. Workspace management technology can manage both the space and the assets within it. It enables you to book a meeting room for a specific number of guests and ensure that it has the required technology (eg video conferencing, audio-visual set-up or whiteboard) and even order beverages and food, if necessary. Everything can be application based. 

Instead of LCD panels outside meeting rooms, users can make use of an app on their smartphones to reserve spaces and resources. You can book a hot desk, a parking space and even IT support, and everything that you book will be automatically allocated to your division’s cost centre. If you don’t arrive within a certain period of time to use the space that you’ve booked, it automatically becomes available for others to use.

Occupancy sensors are used to highlight areas that are being under-utilised, or to highlight in-demand areas within the building. By using smart building technologies, things like air-conditioning and lighting can be adjusted accordingly. If a meeting room isn’t in use, lights and air-conditioners can be turned off. This overlaps with green initiatives and helps control the consumption of electricity. It’s even possible to automatically turn on the heating before employees are due to arrive at work, for example.

By analysing the detailed reports generated by a workplace management solution, companies can review their asset and real estate requirements. Examples of assets include vehicles, equipment, meeting rooms, parking bays and the like.

It’s clear that workspace management and workspace optimisation intersect. They help make the most of the space that the business has, and they help the business manage that space properly. The two work together to make for more sustainable and smarter buildings.

Smart buildings are on the tip of everyone’s tongue when they talk about new buildings. The ideal, says Govender, is to design buildings with this type of capability incorporated. While existing buildings can be converted to smart buildings, it’s slightly more difficult because of the amount of integration required.

“This isn’t a new concept; a lot of businesses have been implementing many of the initiatives that we’ve talked about for many years,” he says. “What has changed is the technology that’s enabling it. Digital transformation, and the automation of processes that didn’t even exist before, have removed some of the stumbling blocks to redefining existing and possibly archaic processes.”

He points out that in order to achieve the economies of scale required to justify this type of solution, you require a couple of hundred users, so it tends to be implemented more by corporates than smaller enterprises. “It’s important to do proper change management so that users are taken into account when implementing this new way of doing things.”

Smart technology

When deploying automation and other smart building technologies, it’s essential to use open platforms that tie into your existing building technology. You don’t want to be locked into a technology that isn’t open. You also want to implement a solution that’s scalable and that can draw reports for geographically dispersed operations. The technology has to be user-friendly, as end-user experience drives adoption of the application. It should also be customisable to your business requirements.

Where does the responsibility lie for making sure that workspace management and optimisation is used, well, optimally? Govender says building management services are usually responsible for running this as it isn’t an IT imperative: "The IT teams are involved when we’re discussing the technology and how it integrates, but other than that, they aren’t involved."

The use of data analytics and statistics to design workspaces so that maximum use is made of the space allows organisations to reduce the size of their footprint. If you consider what it costs a business to have unused space or parking bays for people who are rarely in the office, the cost savings are clear.

Today’s workers need to be agile; they want to work wherever they need to, whether it’s at a remote office or from home or even in their car between meetings. Which means less time spent in the office and less demand for office space and parking bays.