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COVID Planning: Tested Methods for Developing Plans for Optimal Space Use and Staff Working

June 16, 2020

EventMAP’s Vernon Chapman discusses some of the projects that demonstrate what can be achieved when space and work schedules are constrained.

Whether it’s in business practices, social interactions or cultural norms, commentators have been quick to suggest that the COVID-19 lockdown will have a lasting impact on the modern world. However, the short term impact has everyone re-examining their workspace and working patterns to see how we can all adapt to the requirements of social distancing. How do we develop Covid secure working environments in a way that optimises our use of space and the way we deploy our staff?

At EventMAP we have long been involved in a range of projects involving a wide variety of public sector organisations, ranging from universities through to policing and healthcare. Although each sector has its distinct requirements, it’s true to say that the same methodologies have application across all sectors. This article details some of the projects that we have been involved with, the methods employed and the results acheived.

Although the motivations behind each of these projects has varied, they demonstrate how the same principles can be employed to manage the constraints around space use and staffing schedules in the current crisis.

Each project was driven by a need to maximise the use of estate, whether by identifying additional capacity to accommodate an apparent excess of people, introducing changes to modalities of work, or a combination of these. With a need to introduce social distancing, similar constraints are being encountered.

Social distancing reduces building capacity – so many questions are being raised, including:

  1. Is it possible to identify under-use of space and modify behaviour to raise its efficiency of use?
  2. Can space be identified and its use easily and quickly modified to accommodate social distancing?
  3. What’s the best way to lay out currently allocated space to maximise the numbers that can be accommodated – but without compromising safety?

As the lockdown is lifted, organisations will, and are, observing increasing demand as staff numbers swell. This, in turn, is forcing managers to consider alternative modes of working, leading to other questions:

  1. Can different work practices be introduced that mitigate some of the pressure on physical estate?
  2. Which roles are best suited to flexible or home working, and how can staff schedules be most efficiently staggered for those that need a physical onsite workspace?

As a result, a number of solutions need to be employed to resolve all of these issues, among which reducing estate capacity and developing more flexible working modalities form a cornerstone. It also begs the question: can all of this be modelled before actual steps are taken to try and introduce changes?To help answer these questions we have a number of case studies, that were undertaken in different times but highlight methodologies and tools that are relevant to the issues we are all currently facing.

Post Secondary Education

To illustrate, a University of Bristol case study involved the deployment of a software planning tool to model an increase in student numbers, with a corresponding increase in service provision within a static estate. The approach allowed the university to take estate data and staff working schedules and combine these with the added complexity of student timetabled activity. It was then possible to model their estate to determine how they could accommodate a projected increase in student numbers, and the corresponding increase in service delivery.

A similar driver was behind a project involving King’s College London. As a leading UK university, it anticipated growing student numbers and thus additional course provision as part of its Vision 2029 initiative. Space was perceived to be highly constrained, and its central London location meant that any acquisitions of additional estate capacity would be costly, and therefore should be minimised where possible. Where additional space procurement was unavoidable the university needed to be able to accurately predict when it would be needed. It therefore undertook a complete review of office space, meeting rooms and teaching space at its five main campuses to identify any spare capacity that could be utilised to avoid unnecessary expenditure on additional building acquisitions.

Healthcare

In the healthcare sector we undertook projects with a number of leading healthcare providers.

Our King’s College Hospital NHS Trust case study detailed one of several projects involving the Trust, that sought to identify spare capacity within the estate. It particularly focused on administration space, due to the increasing pressure to provide additional office space, as well as a desire to identify potential free space for additional clinical provision. Non-clinical space is a particular concern at this time, as staff protection away from clinical areas is coming into focus due to the risk of staff infecting one another with COVID-19. The information in this study formed the basis for some internal discussion as part of their ongoing estate transformation projects.

Policing

Another project EventMAP had a key role in involved a major UK policing organisation. The service had a requirement to considerably reduce its estate (by over 60%), whilst changing the working culture to accommodate more flexible methods of working. Our extensive experience in space utilisation, modelling and workplace transformation formed a key component in the organisation’s space rationalisation project.

In summary

All of these projects highlighted the need to identify capacity to accommodate as many people as was optimally possible, and at the same time understand working practices and culture in an endeavour to modify peoples methods of working – thereby making best use of the space they had available. This work included examining which roles would benefit from flexible working practices such as working from home, shared desk space etc.

Once all of the relevant information is brought together it can then be modelled using our AI-enhanced software planning tools. Using a software planning tool to model available space and modalities of work allows organisations to test various scenarios before committing to any physical plan to manage space. It also allows managers to test modalities of staff working, prior to introducing potentially less optimal disruptive changes.

So, in conclusion, the overall message here is that, when planning and evaluating the changes required to overcome the massive difficulties caused by the pandemic, there’s simply no place for guesswork and intuition when the stakes are this high. The tools exist to develop highly-informed strategies that let large organisations successfully navigate an optimal path forward.

Vernon Chapman

SENIOR CONSULTANT

Diamond

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