Are you under the gun to improve workplace space utilisation and reduce your footprint? Just about every large organisation is facing this challenge today. If you are looking for solutions to this problem, you might be surprised to hear that you can learn a thing or two from the Australian government.

In 2009, the Australian government began reviewing its property footprint with the goal of saving money by reducing space. The result was a new process called PRODAC, which requires departments to report their space utilisation every year, and to work toward meeting progressively shrinking targets for vacancy and occupational density. They must also meet a yearly efficiency dividend by reducing operational costs.

If you think you’re under a lot of pressure to reduce your space utilisation, imagine being mandated by law to do so! That’s the burden on the Australian public sector. Let us tell you a story about one department, which we can’t name for security reasons, and how they have made significant strides in reducing the space they hold. At one point they reduced vacancy from 18% down to 10% in a short period, even with severe restrictions due to security and employee conditions.

How did they do it? By automating space utilisation management, and learning some important lessons about managing change along the way.

What can you do when you’re mandated to reduce space utilisation?

When the PRODAC regulations were announced, Australian public sector departments and agencies were suddenly faced with a huge burden: carrying out a time-consuming reporting process each year, and figuring out how to go about reducing their space utilisation.

One government department, who became a Serraview client, realized early on that this was their opportunity to explore automating their space management processes. Their property team consisted of a group of smart individuals who had seen what technology could accomplish, and they had a vision of how they could do better with space utilisation.

Challenges to automating space utilisation management

Now, as you’re probably aware, implementing new technology can pose challenges, even when everyone’s on board about the need for the change. However, the public sector face even more difficult hurdles to implementing new technology than most:

  • Strict security requirements. Any new software must treat data with the same level of security as the government does. Although the data being stored is classified at the lower end of the risk spectrum (as it doesn’t include any financial data, health data information about the public, or top secret classified data), it still requires stringent controls to be put in place to protect personal data about employees and their locations. Any new system would need to pass extensive, time-consuming security accreditation in line with the Australian Government Information Security Manual (ISM) published by the Department of Defence.
  • Enterprise Bargaining Agreements. Due to strict employment conditions negotiated for government employees, the property team had restrictions on their ability to transition people to best-practice workplaces, such as agile working. Any changes would have to be negotiated and implemented slowly.

The property team realized that getting security clearance to put detailed data into the system, as well as the IT support to implement advanced utilisation technologies like Serraview Live, was going to take some time. However, they knew they couldn’t wait that long to get started taking control of their space utilisation. So they devised an implementation plan in stages to help them reap the benefits as quickly as possible.

Implementing space utilisation technology in 3 stages

STAGE ONE: Taking control of business space allocation

When the property team first implemented Serraview’s space utilisation management technology, the only data they were allowed to put into the system was information about business units and their space assignments. So that’s where the team started. Serraview took care of importing all their floor plans, then they were able to overlay allocation data and easily view color-coded plans showing where teams were located.

While the team couldn’t yet track seat assignments and employee data at this stage, having those graphical floor plans helped the team to drive conversations with business units about space requests and even relocations. The ability to create scenario plans and show a group their new space went a long way toward easing people’s concerns about moving.

Related article: Property Teams: How to Drive Space Utilization Planning Conversations

STAGE TWO: Adding employee data

Additional security hurdles were cleared when Serraview achieved ISM certification, allowing the team to begin tracking employee data in the system. Now they were ready to get a better handle on occupancy and achieve their space utilisation targets. When business units submitted requests for additional space, having those graphical floor plans that showed exactly who sits where really changed the conversation. Groups could no longer “hide” space that they didn’t really need.

At this stage, the property team could actually see the pockets of available space and fill them when new requests came in, rather than having to increase footprint. They could also easily restack and consolidate available space, and reduce their footprint by subleasing that space out to another government department. That new strategy saved significant cost instead of waiting out a 10 year lease with under-utilised space.

STAGE THREE: Implementing utilisation tracking technology

Today, this government department is in the process of implementing utilisation tracking technologies, such as badge swipe/speed gate data, and moving toward collecting utilization data through their IP network using Serraview Live. With that system in place, utilisation information will be automatically maintained with no need for staff intervention.

Tracking utilisation tells you how and when space is actually being used, not just who it’s assigned to. As a starting point, the property team is finding the data useful as proof to gain approval for their strategic plans, and they continue to find more ways that data can help drive down space utilisation.

One idea in the planning stages is a move to an agile working environment, as opposed to the current assigned-seating model. One successful pilot has already been completed and a second is slated to begin later this year. These modern workspaces not only reduce footprint significantly, but also help attract top talent and even promote a culture of collaboration and innovation within an organisation.

Related article: What Does the Agile Work Environment Look Like?

What results can you expect from automating space utilisation planning?

Here’s what this Australian government department has achieved and some of the lessons they learned along the way:

Space utilisation targets achieved: twice!
It takes resiliency along with the right automated tools to reduce space utilisation and achieve the aggressive targets required from the Australian public sector. This particular team had to do it twice! They managed to reduce their vacancy rate from 18 percent down to 10 percent, and they were also able to meet their density target (at that time) of 16 square meters per person. Then in 2014, the government imposed significant staffing reductions, which shot their vacancy back up to 23 percent! At the same time their density target was reduced as well.

Talk about taking the wind out of your sails! It was back to the drawing board for the property team, but now they knew they had the tools and the skills to accomplish their goals. Within a year, they managed to get their vacancy back down, reduce their total real estate footprint by 25%, and are on target to meet the new density requirements.

Proactively managing change
This Australian government property team have learned more than they bargained for in the process of automating their space utilisation management. Not just about how to best use the new tools to reduce their footprint, but about managing change and how others react to that change.

The team found that the visual nature of their new system was a great help in changing people’s mindsets and reducing conflict. For example, previously their business units were focused on their own interests and not very concerned about impacts of change on other groups. As a result, it was difficult for them to accept a scenario that was best overall. That all changed when they were able to see visual move scenarios and the impact their “wants” would have on other groups. Seeing is believing!

The accommodation staff also benefited from being able to see both the current state of their space utilisation and the potential results of their strategic plans. It helped settle differences between team members about how to tackle space planning issues.

Furthermore, the data also allowed the property team to make excess space available to other government departments and agencies. Thus they could decrease their own space holding and apply the cost savings to their efficiency dividend, the annual reduction in operational expenses imposed on the Australian public sector.

Related article: Using Business Intelligence Analytics to Drive Better CRE Decisions

What space utilisation challenges are you facing?

Today’s large organisations, whether public or private sector, are facing the need to reduce their space footprint. Organisations are waking up to the fact that as much as 50 percent or more of their space sits vacant each day due to increasingly mobile workforces, and those wasted costs can be reduced.

To do so, you need to improve space utilisation using the right automated tools. The trick is choosing the one that will bring the best and fastest results.

Here’s a helpful resource that can help jump-start your search for the right workplace management software: 5 Critical Comparison Points for Workplace Management Software.