Big Data. Better Places.
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Big Data. Better Places.

Steve Miller, CIO, Steelcase

Smart devices let us work anywhere. The cloud keeps information with us wherever we go. And, mobile work policies allow more and more people to choose where they want to work. A Steelcase study of global office workers found that although 77 percent of people have their own assigned workstation, the vast majority—87 percent—spend two to four hours every day working someplace else.

Digging deeper, the study showed 53 percent of people say they can’t find the spaces they need. People are looking for places to meet with colleagues uninterrupted, team spaces to work on tough problems for long periods or a private space for focused work. Yet, leaders tell us they walk around their offices and see empty spaces. So, where’s the disconnect? How can both of these situations be true?

Finding the right space at work can be like entering a busy parking lot, knowing there’s the right space available, but not knowing where it is. This is the challenge we’re using space measurement solutions including Workplace Advisor and Steelcase Find to help us solve. Workplace Advisor helps organizations more fully understand their workplaces so they can create better ones. Steelcase Find, a mobile app, helps employees find the workspaces they need.


Many of the interventions that improve underutilized space and help change a process-driven office into a smart and connected workplace don’t cost a great deal




Like a Fitbit for the Office

Workplace Advisor uses strategically placed sensors and gateways to track precise, real-time space usage. Newly-engineered sensors, precisely located in each workspace, allow Workplace Advisor to achieve great accuracy. In addition, proprietary algorithms apply Steelcase’s deep knowledge of work, workers and the workplace to extract meaning from the data and display it in a real-time, intuitive user interface.

The insights revealed by Workplace Advisor are often surprising. Jenny Carroll, user interaction designer, says one reason is that most businesses are unaware of how their space is actually used. She also notes that 46 percent of space goes unused in a typical workplace.

Work is changing so quickly, you can’t really prescribe how a room is used. People use conference rooms for phone calls. Groups collaborate in open lounge spaces. Some people roam around as they talk on a phone. Having real-time data about your work environment helps you understand user behaviors, how people work, and how space can help them. Workplace Advisor is like a Fitbit for the office.

Your Personal Workplace Concierge

Steelcase Find is a mobile app that functions like a workplace concierge, harnessing information from Workplace Advisor and integrating with Steelcase Room Wizard, our web-based room scheduling system. It allows users to easily find the best places to work based on the type of space they need, the number of people in a meeting, tools and technology required and the amenities of the space.

Steelcase Find will evolve (both the app and Workplace Advisor are offered via a continuous update model commonly used with software products and services) to integrate with Microsoft Outlook personal calendars, so employees can quickly find colleagues as well as book spaces. No time-sucking wandering around in search of a space or wondering if an empty meeting room is available. Locating colleagues and an appropriate place to work is just a few smart phone taps away.

In future updates, Steelcase Find will also let users rate workspaces and give feedback on how they work, giving organizations a deeper sense of what people need in the workplace. Learnings grow exponentially as users rate rooms, available technology, privacy, distractions and other factors. Over time, companies learn what employees need most and why, and can in turn improve the work environment.

Workplace Advisor provides both continuous, real-time data for ongoing management of the workplace and a space measurement study over a fixed period of time, usually one to three months. It pairs data insights into workspace usage with feedback from employee surveys to create a complete analysis of the work environment, which can be an invaluable tool before or after a capital expenditure. Workplace Advisor gives you real-time data, so you don’t guess how well a space is working, it’s a knowable fact.

For example, one of our customers has four large conference rooms, each with the same footprint, technology and whiteboards. Two are traditional boardrooms, and two support alternative postures with lounge seating and standing-height work surfaces. Based on anecdotal evidence, the customer believed the alternative posture conference rooms were more popular. Workplace Advisor proved that they’re used 64 percent of the time, versus 30 percent for the more traditional space—they’re used twice as much.

Data from Workplace Advisor provides early insights on how space is used by industries and individuals. For instance, people at financial firms use their physical workplaces more (65 percent) than people at design firms or advertising agencies (40–50 percent)— maybe it’s just the nature of the industry, or maybe creative teams need different kinds of space than they have today. Another insight: Adding height-adjustable desks increases a room’s use, regardless of industry.

Making a Difference for People

Many of the interventions that improve underutilized space and help change a process-driven office into a smart and connected workplace don’t cost a great deal. It’s often a change in how the space is used, or adding film to a glass wall to improve privacy, or just a re-orientation of the furniture that can change behavior. But small changes can make a big difference to the people who work in these spaces.

These new solutions are an example of technology, big data, and workplace insights coming together to help create a better work environment for people. It’s about making the organization more agile, resilient and responsive.

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