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Workday Chaos and How It Impacts Office Efficiency

There’s never enough time to get everything done in the workday. I’d kill for an extra fifteen to twenty minutes daily to write, think and collaborate, but that time is increasingly elusive. And yet, I’ve noticed that I waste at least that much time tied up with trivial office logistics: booking a room, finding a room I’m supposed to be in, waiting for others to find it, and so on. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re an intern or executive, we’re all subjected to time-consuming periods of chaos and inefficiency interspersed through the workday. At Envoy, we’re focused on building technology that makes workplaces work better and eliminating some of these inefficiencies. In the process of researching how offices work as we developed and tested a new meeting rooms product, it became extremely clear just how pervasive the inefficiencies of an average workday are across the country. And that has big implications for how businesses can challenge the status quo and rework their office spaces in the future.  

Our data, compiled anonymously from dozens of customers allowed us to really get a sense of how people flowed in and out of meeting rooms over the course of the day, and how often everything stayed on schedule. 

For example, we found that upwards of 20 to 25 percent of booked meetings never actually happen. This statistic was remarkably consistent across a range of office sizes and industries. At least one in every five reserved rooms or spaces never gets used, with no one checking in to the room via neither a mobile app nor an iPad posted outside of the room. 

Why is so much space sitting unused? Sometimes calls are taken from the road, or an unexpected work-from-home day leaves a pre-booked room empty. Sometimes meetings are diverted to the lunch room or happen on a walk instead. Sometimes a meeting gets cancelled verbally but no one deletes the invite. There are a bevy of these scenarios where a room is booked but sits unused for thirty or sixty minutes.

The implications of empty rooms are significant. When a business starts to grow and hire more employees, offices start to feel cramped and employers often jump at the chance to move to a bigger office. What if they actually didn’t need to move until their headcount was 20 to 25 percent larger? That’d might mean an extra one to two years before moving to a new office and hundreds of thousands in real estate and rent savings. Furthermore, some businesses will spend upwards of $50K just to build a new conference room in their existing office, when our data shows they likely could have instead used their existing space much more efficiently for free by releasing room holds when no one’s using them.  

We also found that there are far more unscheduled meetings than you’d expect. While the average conference room has about 5.7 meetings scheduled in advance, another 5.8 meetings of various lengths get booked on the spot—in our case by walking up to an iPad on the outside of the room and checking-in.

While the average employee has several pre-scheduled meetings each week, a large percentage of today’s business collaboration occurs on the fly, via quick phone calls or huddles among two people or a small group. With the increasing dominance of open office plans, conference rooms play a larger role for short but private conversations. Some of those meetings only last a few minutes. However, sometimes the meetings fill a full thirty or sixty minute window, often to support a pre-existing meeting that didn’t have a room reserved until the last second.

A report from AskCody indicated that 70 percent of employees estimate they spend fifteen minutes or more every day seeking out a place to have meetings. With so many meetings being planned on the fly, that’s a very believable estimate, but it’s unfortunate that we waste a few minutes each time one of these spontaneous moments of collaboration happens that could otherwise be spent making things happen.

Many of the issues in the office are deeply ingrained in company culture. For example, we tracked anonymized data on when meetings started by enabling a “check-in” feature outside of each meeting room. And, to no one’s surprise, most meetings get started late.

Our data showed close to one-quarter of pre-scheduled meetings checked in early. There are still plenty of early birds out there who arrive a minute or more ahead of time to get things started. Another third started within two minutes of the top or bottom of an hour. But fifteen percent of meetings started between two to five minutes late and as mentioned above, close to a quarter of meetings never checked in at all. 

As someone who’s often managing back-to-back meetings, I completely understand why this happens. People run late from lunches or appointments, or need quick breaks between back-to-back calls. And when you’re wrapping up a meeting, there are critical business conversations that can’t just stop on a dime at the thirty minute mark, it’s important to reach resolution on action items before moving on to your next meeting.

This data reflects serious areas for improvement in offices who care about efficiency with their employees. Could workplaces be doing more to create a culture of appreciating and respecting each other’s time? There are always going to be times where an active decision is made to stretch a meeting longer than planned, but far too often these meetings run long for no other reason than a lack of awareness of what time it is.

So, how can we fix this and make the office a more efficient system? If an office wants to make the most of its space and optimize the experience for employees, they need to make sure that spaces are available whenever and wherever employees need them. Last minute meetings are a necessity of modern work, so they shouldn’t be de-prioritized or under-resourced. By opening up these previously booked spaces for impromptu conversations, offices can give employees the space they need to do their best work.

Empty rooms from cancelled meetings and no shows can still be used if they get put back on the “market.” In our experience, about 38 percent of rooms that get released after five minutes of a no-show get filled again right away. Most of the time the space was filled by a newly planned impromptu meeting. Without the proper systems in place, there might be confusion on whether the room is occupied or booked, but this gave employees the clarity they needed to reserve them instantly.  

The office is imperfect. Our efficient utilization of space is nowhere close to where it could be. Perhaps that’s a fact we’re willing to accept for now, but the potential for us to act on some of these insights is massive. Workplaces should start taking action by talking to employees about the real-world, every day difficulties they face in the office. By studying how people create and react to chaos, workplace solutions can help take a lot of unnecessary chaos out of our everyday lives.  

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