Ten years of time utilisation studies
Dark = percent of time occupied; medium = percent of time temporarily occupied; light = percent of time empty.
Looking back to when we (then DEGW, now Strategy Plus at AECOM) carried out the first Time Utilisation Survey (TUS) for IBM in the early 1990s, we didn’t realise that it would become the start of a database of over ten million observations of around 125,000 workspaces across nearly 500 buildings worldwide!
We initially did these studies in the UK, but it quickly became apparent that clients wanted to understand their space use across geographies, not just within one office. This started to reveal interesting comparisons between sectors and work cultures, and a great benefit of the database as it is now is that we can show clients how their workspace use compares with many other groups: other companies in their business sector, country or region, organisations who have already implemented new ways of working, or organisations who have also implemented desk sharing.
Looking closely at these differences can be fascinating, but the more data we collect, the more the database reinforces a bigger picture that we have long reported but that still surprises people: our workplaces are grossly underutilised, on average at just over 40%. This wouldn’t be accepted in other spheres – NHS beds are occupied 88% of the time and West End musical theatre seats at 73% in 2013 – so why is it acceptable that our offices are used at such a lower level? I discussed this in more detail recently, with Nicola Gillen, in our See Further magazine.
The database now contains nearly all the TUS studies we have done dating back to 2005, and a sample of those dating back to 1995. It’s been a labour of love for me and my colleagues who have worked on it, and I believe the scope of the database is unrivaled in our industry. However, we won’t be standing still admiring our work for long – there’s work to do, as we want to continue adding early studies to the database and look for trends over time in workspace utilisation, giving us an even richer resource to draw from when planning the offices of the future. I also want to find ways to augment the data about space with data about people, as until we can understand what people are doing and their experience of the space, we are still not getting the full picture. It will be interesting to see what that picture looks like in another ten years!
Carolyn Whitehead (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior consultant with AECOM’s Strategy Plus practice in London.