There’s no denying that the coronavirus pandemic will have a lasting impact on the way we view real estate.
In a CoreNet Global survey of 11,000 business leaders, more than half said they believed their real estate footprint would shrink as a result of more employees continuing to work remotely even after offices reopen.
That means every square foot of office space will be scrutinized—including your conference rooms.
If you want to keep your amazing office in the coming year, you’ll need to show your corporate real estate executive or your CFO it’s worth keeping.
In other words, calculating true conference room utilization has never been more important.
Simply put, conference room utilization is the percentage of time your conference rooms are occupied. While it may have felt like your conference room utilization was high before the pandemic, it was probably a lot lower than you realized.
If it felt like you were always searching for an available room with no luck, there’s a good chance ghost meetings or zombie meetings were working against you. Ghost meetings are room reservations no one attends, while zombie meetings are recurring reservations that no one attends week after week. At one time, someone decided they needed to meet regularly, but they’ve long forgotten about that meeting or found another place to host it.
We call them zombie meetings because they are an endless drain on your company’s productivity and resources.
Both ghost and zombie meetings make people think a room is reserved when it’s actually free—so it ends up sitting empty.
A 2014 benchmarking report of the financial services industry by consulting and design firm HOK found that the average conference room was only occupied about 29% of the time. That was long before the majority of employees began working from home amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Consider the impact that has on your real estate costs.
First, you’ll need to look at the cost per square foot of renting office space in your area.
You can look at JLL’s most recent Q1 report to find your region. This could be a wide range. While the average cost per square foot of real estate in Louisville was $19, it was almost $85 per square foot in New York City.
Then you’ll need to factor in the cost of utilities. JLL’s 3-30-300 rule shows the typical ratio of employee costs, real estate costs and utility costs. If your company spends $300 on annual employee costs per square foot and $30 on real estate, you will likely spend $3 per square foot on utilities.
Given the average conference room size is about 420 square feet and is only used 29% of the time, (and assuming you spend $33 between real estate and utilities per square foot) you are likely wasting over $9,841 per conference room each year.
The payoff of measuring true conference room utilization just got real.
If they calculate conference room utilization at all, many companies are actually just calculating perceived utilization. Perceived utilization is the percentage of time conference rooms are reserved during a normal workweek. Unfortunately, perceived utilization is often inaccurate.
That’s because many common room scheduling systems—including Google Calendar and Microsoft Outlook—don’t give you a complete picture of when your conference rooms are actually occupied. Sure, they’ll show you who reserved the room. But if you look back on a typical week and see your rooms were reserved 80% of the time on average, you’d think your conference room utilization was pretty great.
What you won’t see, of course, are all those ghost and zombie meetings we just mentioned. You have no way of knowing that the sales team booked your largest conference room for its all-hands meeting on Friday morning, but your sales director had to handle a last-minute proposal for a major prospect and cancelled it.
You also may not realize that your developers no longer even use the room they reserved for their standing weekly meeting because several members of the team have been working from home while their kids’ daycare is closed. The one person who is in the office just takes the call from his desk now.
True conference room utilization looks at how often every conference room is actually occupied.
The only way to calculate true utilization is to use a room scheduling software like ours, which has settings that can be adjusted to require hosts to check in.
If no one checks in after a designated period of time (say, 15 minutes) the reservation will automatically be canceled and the room will become available again.
Teem also has a feature known as the Zombie HunterⓇ, which actively monitors recurring meetings. When no one attends a recurring meeting after a set number of occurrences (say, three), the recurring meeting will be removed.
If you implement the “three-strike rule,” our software will send an email alert to the meeting’s host after two missed meetings. (That way, they can’t say you didn’t warn them.)
Teem users can also calculate true room utilization using beacons or sensors, which detect activity and trigger the cancellation of a room reservation if no activity is detected after a set period of time.
While a good conference room utilization rate depends on your industry, Teem has found the most ideal rates are between 3.5 to 6.5 hours each day.
If your utilization rates are lower than that, you’re probably not making the most of your real estate.
If your rates are higher than that, you might actually have too little space to meet your needs.
Conference room utilization has always been important, but with more employees likely to continue working remotely at least part of the time following the coronavirus pandemic, we’d argue it’s even more relevant than ever.
Companies are looking at their real estate from a completely different perspective. An office with an average occupancy rate of less than 30% may no longer be worth keeping. At the same time, the physical workplace is still incredibly valuable.
It helps to establish your brand’s identity, giving clients, prospects and job candidates a better idea of who you are and what you stand for. It’s a place where employees can build meaningful relationships with their colleagues—something that can take longer to do when you’re only meeting online. And there are many tasks that are just easier to do in person.
Think about how your company came up with its last big idea. It may have been during an online meeting, but it’s more likely that it happened after an hours-long brainstorming session after people started to relax and let their thoughts flow freely.
We believe in the power of meeting in person, but we also recognize that it brings very real concerns for people who have grown accustomed to physical distancing to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The CDC still recommends maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet between people. Our parent company, iOFFICE, has developed a really cool planning feature that makes it easy to reconfigure your floor plans for physical distancing and flag conference rooms that may need to be rearranged or recategorized.
For most organizations, safe distancing means operating at a reduced capacity of about 50%—at least for now.
That’s something you should consider as you think about ideal conference room utilization. If you have half as many people in the office on a given day, you’re probably going to have half as many people in a typical conference room.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean your rooms will be empty more often. We actually believe we’ll see an increase in conference room utilization in the coming months as employees begin to come together again after being apart for so long.
Work habits have changed, and some employees may continue working from home several days a week. They might come into the office less often, but schedule more in-person meetings when they’re there.
The only way to know for sure how your workplace meeting habits are evolving—and to plan accordingly—is to look at the data. And that starts by understanding true conference room utilization.
Want to learn more about the workplace data you need to know to plan for the future?