One of the enduring forces that shape facilities management thinking is the growing business case for treating buildings as a strategic asset. You may have heard it many times, but the figures behind this are indisputable. For most organisations the total operating cost of their property runs at between 10 and 20 per cent of their annual operating costs. By any measure, that is a significant proportion of expenditure. So it’s no wonder that so many organisations are increasingly aware of the need to look at every aspect of their facilities budget to both minimise costs and leverage their second most expensive asset. While the proportion of this budget that is taken up by specific types of space clearly varies with each organisation, the issue of how to specify and manage meeting rooms is one of the most important of all.
With so many managers keen to encourage communication and with so much time spent in meetings, it is imperative that the use of meeting rooms is maximized.To gauge just how important this is, it is possible to create a ‘typical’ organisation based on average statistics. So a firm with 350 employees which specifies two board and conference rooms (each of 30 m²), six team meeting rooms (18 m²) and 15 small meeting rooms (13 m²), plus a number of other public areas including break-out space, restaurants, receptions, clearly has a strong vested interest in making sure that this space is used as effectively as possible. Many contemporary organisations see themselves as ‘learning organisations’ so shared space is essential and the proportion given over to it will be appropriately higher and will only continue to assume more importance over time.
Of course, the allocation of space is not just about cost. It is also about how to meet the needs of an increasingly mobile and flexible workforce. Research shows that workstations in many organisations are typically unoccupied for anywhere between 60 and 80 percent of the time. And while a large number of the occupants of those workstations may be off site the numbers that are probably attending meetings in-house are daunting. According to the Wharton Center for Applied Research, the average chief executive officer spends about 17 hours in meetings per week, while senior executives spend an average of 23 hours and middle managers 11 hours in meetings per week.
The changing work culture of these knowledge workers also means that they have been demanding more and more control over how and where they work. So much so that it is now the norm for people to expect autonomous control over their time and space. The conclusions are clear. We must provide an environment that makes financial sense for the organisation and which also serves the complex demands of the people who work for it. We must manage things better. We must make better use of the things we own.